Here’s an idea: Create a way for kids to learn the value of altruism using books as currency. Get children excited about books while at the same time imparting valuable lessons about giving. This is what the nonprofit organization Milk + Bookies has set out to do.

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The program works by arranging events for children to purchase books, which they can then inscribe before the books are given to children in need. The events can take place in the classroom, birthday parties, and book fairs; and the festivities feature music, story time and, naturally, milk and cookies.

The organization was started in 2004 by Los Angeles mom of two, Meredith Alexander, with the help of founding board members Heidi Lindelof and Laura Zimmerman, also moms who reside in the City of Angels. The idea was to help foster "future philanthropists" among the younger generation. And it not only exposes children to how great it feels to help, share, give and be kind, but it gets books to children who don’t have access to their own.

“The idea of instilling the family value of giving back is a daunting task for most parents, or at least it is for my husband and me. The Milk + Bookies program does that as an activity, but we know that time is tight and many people don't have a day for an entire activity to experience the importance of service learning,” Alexander told MNN. “But ... hopefully, most parents have time for the proverbial bedtime story. And this seemed like a perfect place, when everyone is relaxed and quiet, to share a story of helping others and the yummy feelings it brings.”

To further the cause, Milk + Bookies launched the Bookies Bravo Award during the Milk + Bookies 4th Annual Story Time Celebration on March 10. Much of Hollywood seems to have stepped out for the event, with book-loving celebrities like Julie Bowen, Ginnifer Goodwin, Don Cheadle, Max Greenfield, Chris Messina, and director J.J. Abrams there to support the mission.

Brooke Smith, actress Julie Bowen and Mimi Ausland

Author Brooke Smith with actor Julie Bowen and Smith’s daughter, Mimi Ausland, founder of FreeKibble.com.

The new award will be given to books that reinforce the positive message of basic altruism. With so many picture books on bookstore shelves, parents are often at a loss as to which stories come with a message of love and giving, rather than, say, brattishness and bullying.

“Providing a curated library of books that inspire kids to 'read, give and grow' seemed like the perfect service for Milk + Bookies to add to our organization, this award continues to celebrate the importance of books while sharing feel good stories of kindness,” Alexander explained.

The Bookies Bravo Award will recognize six titles each year and will partner with the publishers so that the honored books will bear a sticker identifying them as an official selection. A "kindness seal of approval," of sorts, the award will make it easy to find books that reinforce the message of altruism that is at the core of the organization’s mission.

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The first recipient of the Bookies Bravo Award went to "Mimi & Maty to the Rescue!" the tale of a big-hearted girl and her animal-rescuing antics by Brooke Smith, based on her daughter Mimi, and illustrated by Alli Arnold.

Alexander said, “ 'Mimi & Maty to the Rescue' is everything the Bookies Bravo Award stands for, without being preachy or condescending; Brooke tells the most charming tale of a young girl's love for helping animals.” 

“I couldn't have found a better inaugural book if I'd written it myself,” she added.

For more information, and to find out how to host a Milk + Bookies event of your own, visit milkandbookies.org

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