JLN Partner Agency Spotlight: Melissa Spradlin, Executive Director of Book’em

An interview by JLN Vice President of Community Kara Apel
October 2021 


As we celebrate 100 years of the Junior League of Nashville’s legacy, we also believe it’s important to highlight the local leaders who are making significant impacts in our focus areas of literacy and human trafficking.

This year, as part of our Centennial celebration, we will be featuring the leaders of many of the agencies we’ve partnered with over the decades on our JLN blog.


This month, we are featuring our Q&A with Book’em Executive Director Melissa Spradlin.

Book’em’s mission is to create a more literate Nashville and ignite children’s passion for reading through book ownership and enthusiastic volunteers. This year, JLN awarded over $13,000 in grant funding to Book’em to purchase 4,000 books, including additional bilingual books and culturally relevant books for students. Throughout the year, JLN volunteers also help with reading to students in classrooms across Nashville.

What motivated you to get involved in the literacy space?

My parents were both public school educators. I was that lucky kid who got to buy books when the Scholastic flyer came home and go to the public library book mobile down the street during the summer (since we did not have a branch library close by). I was that nerdy kid who loved to read! When I entered college, I knew I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives but not as a teacher. In graduate school, I figured out that I could be in the literacy/education arena without being a teacher and that’s where I’ve been most of my career. Lucky me, indeed!

How can access to literacy resources change the life of a child?

Being able to read well is the first step toward success in today’s world. Being literate opens doors that are closed to many. If you don’t have access to literacy resources, how are you supposed to develop strong literacy skills? From my perspective, books can literally change the trajectory of a child’s life. Other factors matter, but books are essential. Books are magical — they have the power to make us laugh and cry, teach us about anything and everything, entertain, ignite imagination and curiosity, introduce us to people we don’t know, take us to places we’ve never been, provide us with an escape from reality, comfort us, give us courage, help us change our lives, and more.

How has the Junior League of Nashville benefitted your organization and the students and teachers you serve?

Book’em has benefitted from our partnership with the Junior League of Nashville for many years and in many ways. JLN provides funding that is essential to us as a nonprofit. Just as important are the people that JLN brings to us. Our JLN volunteers are leaders who are willing to share their time and expertise. Our students and teachers love them as reading role models because they care passionately about the kids and make their time in their classroom engaging and interesting. These children are thrilled about getting new books and meeting new people. Because of JLN, more kids in need in Nashville are book owners — they have their own home libraries and can read their books whenever they want — even when a pandemic shuts down our school and public libraries. Thank you.

What’s your favorite book?

 Such an unfair question (although we ask it all the time at Book’em)! There are so many great books. I’ll focus on books for young people. Growing up, I loved Nancy Drew (and so many others)! When I read with classrooms now, I love sharing The Undefeated and What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? (Barbara Jordan was one of my professors in graduate school).

What is a book on leadership that you recommend?

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are important priorities for Book’em, so some of our board and staff read and discussed How to Be an Antiracist during our summer book club. While the book is not about leadership, it has many applications for today’s leaders. It was provocative, challenging, relevant, and informative. I learned a great deal. It also reinforced that I have much more to learn as we delve more deeply into how we make a difference in our community, especially for the children we serve.


Learn more about Book’em at https://bookem-kids.org.