This past spring there was a Little Free Library giveaway, and I wrote about why our front yard would be a good place for one: we’ve got kids of all ages loitering nearby every school-day morning, and most walk past again after getting off the bus at the end of the school day. Many of the kids have limited access to books in their homes. Because books at home are a strong predictor of academic success, this Little Free Library would have the potential to improve the academic attainment of lots of kids. So we came home from the Little Free Library Festival with one of the volunteer-built micro-libraries.
Thanks to my husband and a neighbor with the right tools, the Little Free Library was installed in short order. We planned a grand opening, passed out invitations, and then just before it was time to start, I walked down the row of apartments on our street and invited those who were playing or watching kids play outdoors to come to the party in our yard. We talked about books and I shared information about the public library’s summer reading program. I read Inside This Book: (are three books) by Barney Saltzberg. I had selected it because of its kid appeal and because of the last line in the book, “Because books are better when they are shared.”
After storytime, we cut the ribbon and the kids scrambled to each grab a book from inside. They perused their selections while I got the ice cream out of the freezer. The books were quickly set aside once we started serving root beer floats. As the kids were leaving, one friend pointed out that the library was still full. Apparently, I hadn’t explained very well that they could take a book home, so most of them put the books back, although one girl asked me if she could have the princess book. It seemed most of the others didn’t really get it. The next morning at the bus stop, I explained the “Take a book. Return a book.” principle again. Several of them grabbed a book before their buses arrived.
Then it was the start of summer vacation. Kids came by throughout the summer months to borrow books, and many of them were eventually returned. We’ve restocked a few times with donated books from other neighbors and friends. It’s been a joy to see kids ride up on their bikes, grab a book and start talking about it with friends.
In honor of National Literacy Month (which is September), consider the following ideas for promoting literacy in your neighborhood. You’ll find that it’s as much about building community as it is about encouraging reading.
Organize a book swap. Invite your neighbors to each bring a book (or several) and let the book-related discussions flow naturally. You can have a swap indoors or out with minimal planning and simple refreshments. Or make it a part of another neighborhood event. For example, this year we added a book swap to our National Night Out picnic.
Start a book club. Invite a few neighbors to read the same book and then get together to discuss it. You can start your group with as few as three people – and then ask each to invite another neighbor.
Host a monthly story time. Choose a convenient time for kids and their parents to enjoy picture books together. Include some songs and/or a craft for a winning combination.
Pass out books instead of candy during trick-or-treating.
Set up a Little Free Library in your apartment, condo or front yard. You could use a converted newspaper vending machine, suitcase, or simple bookshelf if you have permission to set it up in a common area in an apartment building. As a steward of a Little Free Library, you’ll enjoy getting to know your neighbors and sharing your enthusiasm for reading and books. Refer to littlefreelibrary.org for details and inspiration.
Whatever you decide on, the task can be even more manageable if you find another supporter of literacy and work together. Come up with a plan tailored to the needs and interests of your community and then put in action. Your neighborhood only stands to gain from your efforts.
By Anita Dualeh