The mercury is expected to inch into triple digits again next weekend, and local toy store Mildred & Dildred hopes to ignite some fundraising heat with kid-tailored fun to benefit two local nonprofits: Katie's Heart and Make Way for Books.

"A carnival is something that we thought would be entertaining and create some excitement this summer since it is kind of quiet, and we figured it would be more fun if it would benefit some of our favorite charities. We chose local and small charities since we are local and small," said Autumn Ruhe, a Tucson native and owner of Mildred & Dildred in La Encantada.

Ruhe said Mildred & Dildred, which stocks toys and books that promote imaginative play, has supported both charities since it opened more than five years ago. She said she appreciates the unique mission of Katie's Heart, which provides toys for children who are hospitalized during the holidays; she also admires the early literacy promoted by Make Way for Books.

Katie's Heart was founded in 2004 by Katie Sutherland with the support of her parents, Dottie and Tim. Katie, now 12, inspired the project after a holiday hospitalization left her concerned that Santa was unable to visit children in the hospital.

Katie became determined to play Santa herself the following year, and Katie's Heart was born. Through holiday toy drives and Hope Collection Boxes, the nonprofit has collected and distributed more than 20,000 new toys and stuffed animals to children at Tucson Medical Center, Diamond Children's center, local clinics and agencies such as Casa de los Niños. It also provides stuffed animals to children and children of family members who receive services from Southwest Ambulance.

"I really love doing this. Bringing the little kids a toy makes their faces just light up - it makes them so happy. It is hard to be in the hospital and be dealing with sickness and not have your family there at Christmas, and having people come in and recognize that you need a little extra love at that time is something worth doing. I want to keep this going forever. Right now we are just in Tucson, and I would like to see it grow," Katie said.

Growth has been significant over the past 15 years for Make Way for Books, a member of the Literacy Connects Coalition.

Make Way for Books has served about 70,000 children since it was founded. It offers workshops and resources for educators and an Early Literacy Resource Center for the public that provides services for families of children from birth to age five.

Make Way for Books for Babies focuses on literacy development in the first year of life and family literacy programs in English and Spanish. The bilingual Book M-A-G-I-C (Making a Giant Impact on Children) program provides children with 21 books and offers various parental resources to foster pre-reading skills before kindergarten.

A partnership with the Pima County Public Library also funnels books into the community through Blue Book Houses - bookshelves stocked by Make Way for Books volunteers - at 27 social service and health care agencies throughout Pima County.

Make Way for Books Executive Director Mary Jan Bancroft emphasized that early literacy development is more important than ever in light of mandates such as Arizona's Move On When Reading, which will be enacted this fall and retains third-graders who fall far below on the Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards reading test.

"Research shows that the early literacy experiences that Make Way for Books provides are critical to future learning. We feel now it is more critical than ever to help young children in our community get the right start so they will be successful," Bancroft said.

Ruhe is dialed into the future success of children in the community both as the owner of a local business and as someone who never outgrew her love for toys and imaginative play.

"We want to encourage kids to read and play and imagine and create," she said. "I feel like creativity is a form of intelligence, and imagination is a muscle and you need to exercise it … it has so much to do with problem-solving and creating scenarios and communication. When you are older, that is all part of the world."

If You Go

• What: Mildred & Dildred Carnival to benefit Katie's Heart and Make Way for Books

• When: 10 a.m.-noon Saturday

• Where: Mildred & Dildred at La Encantada, 2905 E. Skyline Drive.

• Cost: $1 per activity. A donation of one used book per child for Make Way for Books can be exchanged for one free carnival activity.

• The details: Festivities include games such as bowling, catapult darts, digging for prizes in the sand, and remote-control car racing. Other activities include face painting, music and food.

• Proceeds: All proceeds benefit Katie's Heart and Make Way for Books. Also, 20 percent of all toy and book sales at Mildred & Dildred on Saturday will benefit the two charities. For more information, call 615-6266.

Needed: Stuffed animals

Katie's Heart has an immediate need for new stuffed animals to be distributed to children and children of families treated by Southwest Ambulance. For more information, go to or call 981-0204.

Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at