Behind the Scenes at First Book Canada: Tessa

Tessa Eisenberg is the National Engagement Coordinator at First Book Canada. The first thing you notice when walking up to her office is the giant poster of comments that detail how individuals receiving books from First Book Canada will use and distribute them to the kids they serve.

Can you tell me a bit more about the giant poster on your door? 

This poster came as a result of our recent book distribution that we hosted in June of this year with the help of the York Region District School Board. I asked members who were picking up books to write down what they were going to use the books for. I intend to do this at all future distributions and to create a giant collage that we can use as a reminder for what it is we’re working toward. Something we can look at when we come into the office.

What does your day to day look like?

A lot of my day to day activities revolve around contacting our members. I’m focused on continuing a conversation about what they’re happy with, the specific issues they’re dealing with in their community, what they’re looking for, and how we can create solutions for them. I’m also reaching out to groups that we aren’t currently working with. I do research on where to find new members, from schools that could qualify to health care centres to public libraries.

There’s a great deal of planning involved with the different events we host in different cities across Canada throughout the year. I do a lot of coordination with members in these cities to plan for future years, from Halifax to Vancouver. I also try to establish new locations that we can reach, and find organizations that can work with us to get buzz going.

I know that you get a lot of people who are unsure about registering with us. How do you work through these concerns?

Each individual’s situation is different as are the groups that they are representing and working with on a daily account. My job is to familiarize newcomers to our website with our programming and to fill them in on who it is that we serve, to evaluate their eligibility, and to educate them on how they can join our network and begin to receive resources from First Book Canada. The 70% qualifier is never meant to intimidate eligible individuals or to dissuade them from registering with us but simply to communicate the demographic that we are aiming to serve and why it is that we are able to distribute free resources in the first place. The goal is to make reading and educational materials accessible to those who are directly facing barriers that prevent them from reading within the home or in their classroom or program. We have a number of ways to identify communities and programs that qualify, but I am always more than happy to speak with anyone who has specific questions about their own group’s eligibility.

A lot of our growth in the past year has come directly by way of referral. We rely on our current members to help us to spread the word about the benefits and possibilities associated with a First Book Canada membership.

The goal is to make reading and educational materials accessible to those who are directly facing barriers that prevent them from reading within the home or in their classroom or program.

What’s something that would be surprising to people?

When I speak to prospective new members who have recently found out about First Book Canada and the ways in which we operate, absolutely the biggest surprise is just how easy it is to access our resources and to join our network. Our organization is still fairly new with less than ten years of operation under our belts but we are working every day to spread the word about our work across the country, to reach out to those who we know could benefit from these resources, and to find consistent and creative ways to enhance their programming to the best of our ability.

What’s your favourite part of your job?

My absolute favourite thing about my job in every way is the people that I have had the great privilege to meet and to work alongside to further the First Book Canada mission. I interact with our members, established and brand new, on a daily basis about the struggles that they are facing within their program but also about the ways in which their relationship with First Book Canada has impacted the lives of their students well beyond their in-school hours. First Book Canada has had the immense privilege of being a part of every milestone that follows from the first deep dive into a new book that was picked up from one of our tables. I can say with confidence that my team never tires of hearing a new story about how the books are being used or about the reactions of the students and parents affected by them. The First Book Canada network is vast and diverse and constantly changing as a direct result of these new connections that we are working to make with brand new organizations and community centres and school boards operating across Canada, all of us sharing a common goal: belief in the power of words. We believe in it wholeheartedly and we want to share that gift far and wide as it is immeasurably important and incomparably powerful.

For more information about eligibility and registration, contact Tessa at or 866.732.3669 ext. 0255.