Anne Baron: “Giving Life Through Books with Duncan McDougall”

Duncan McDougall started Children’s Literacy Foundation in 1998. This organization has reached 140,000 children, given away $2.5 million of books and touched children in 400 cities and towns in Vermont and New Hampshire.

The Children’s Literacy Foundation (CLiF) “is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to inspire a love of reading and writing among children up to age 12 throughout New Hampshire and Vermont.” (CLiF, n.d.) CLiF provides resources to schools for one select year when CLiF will build up the school’s library and provide support for literacy.

Before he started CLiF  McDougall saw a gap in the system. After taking six months to visit local communities, talking to people about his ideas and getting their input, he was able to form CLiF, which is a living example of his belief that change should happen from the bottom up. Duncan told one interviewer that “if the people will lead then the leaders will follow. So, we’ve got to stand up” (Winters, 2009, May 28). This mindset is conducive in Vermont where there are many close-knit smaller communities that want to come together and help out, but they may just be missing the resources. CLiF is able to provide those missing resources.

CLiF is focused in both Vermont and New Hamshire so Mr. McDougall encompasses literacy on a regional level. The volunteers and all of the staff (including McDougall) go into local schools and libraries where they read, share, donate books, and make literacy fun. CLiF’s idea for success for children is supported by research such as the following:

[R]eading for pleasure was found to be more important for children’s cognitive development between ages 10 and 16 than their parents’ level of education. The combined effect on children’s progress of reading books often, going to the library regularly and reading newspapers at 16 was four times greater than the advantage children gained from having a parent with a degree (Sullivan & Brown, 2013 September/October ).

CLiF believes that every child should have the opportunity to explore literature by reading or writing it. CLiF  does not take money from the government on a state or federal level. It is fully self-sustaining, which is evidenced by their finances. The organization relies “entirely on the generous and loyal support of hundreds of individuals, companies, foundations, and social organizations” (Financials, n.d., para 1). This also demonstrates Mr. McDougall’s belief that every child should have these resources, and he does not want to be hindered by government rules. CLiF has set up their own guidelines for income brackets so that the schools they support help out low income and underserved areas.

Duncan is an effective leader because he is open and engaging. He asks people around him for their input and listens to their suggestions, but at the same time he does not hesitate to get in there and do the work himself. This has been shown from the start when he founded CLiF by taking “donations of new, high-quality children’s books, then loaded up his car and drove all over Vermont and New Hampshire” (King, 2013, September/October). He handed them out to children all over the state. CLiF continues this tradition by inviting local authors, illustrators, and poets to share their knowledge while exploring literature with children. These guests help stir the passion for books in children. CLiF’s use of many volunteers and a multifaceted approach shows that it will have long term effects.

Mr. McDougall not only is a founding member of CLiF a regional organization, but he is also a founding member of LEAP, a local organization. LEAP stands for the Local Energy Action Partners and is based in Waterbury, Vermont. This is a group focusing on reducing the energy used by people in Waterbury.  (Winters, 2009, May 28) This sort of future planning for the health of the planet for everyone is the kind of leader that Duncan McDougall truly is.

Duncan McDougall is also looking to the future with CLiF: “Thirty years ago, someone with a manual labor or factory job could earn a good income. Now those jobs are disappearing. We need different skills to succeed” (King, 2013, September/October). Duncan sees that everyone needs a strong foundation in literacy in order to be successful as a community member. His outlook towards the future, his willingness to adapt with the times, and his openness to involve others make him an effective leader for our children and our times.



CLiF. (n.d.) Children’s Literacy Foundation. Retrieved from

Esser, J.  (n.d.) Children’s Literacy Foundation (CLiF): Opening books, opening minds, opening doors. [Video file]. Retrieved from

“Financials.” (n.d.). Children’s Literacy Foundation. Retrieved from

King, C.J. (2013, September/October). With CLiF, books + kids = SUCCESS. Vermont Magazine, 42-44. Retrieved from

Sullivan, A., & Brown, M. (2013, Sept. 11). Reading for pleasure puts children ahead in the classroom, study finds. Retrieved from

Winters, N. (2009, May 28). Duncan McDougall Founder of CLiFand Waterbury LEAP Discusses Community, Environment and ReCycling. Retrieved from

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APA cite this article in text as: (Baron, 2014)

APA cite this article in References as: Baron, A. (2014).  Giving life through books with Duncan McDougall. Vermont Psychology. Retrieved from

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LaosAnnie Baron is excited to be graduating in May with an Associates RN from Castleton State College. She already holds a BA in Spanish from Tulane University in New Orleans. Annie loves traveling all over the world. Usually she can be found in cities and towns sampling culture and mostly cuisine so that she can bring it back to her own kitchen. She enjoys exploring in cooking and all over the outdoors  of VT. On most days she can be found reading her nursing texts with her dog Jack by her side.