Free books? Yeah sure.
I’m a librarian, so when I see the word books, I’m drawn to it like a moth to the flame.
When I saw the sign on the side of the road in the Detroit neighborhood my mind immediately transported me to the boxes and boxes of old, smelly and water-stained books that tend to be found at church and library ‘give-aways’ I have been to before. ‘Why would anyone want stinky books?’ I asked myself.
I was in the Osborn Neighborhood just outside of Detroit. I was there with three dozen teenagers from Kenosha on a mission trip. We were spending our week working at the Matrix Center, a community oasis bubbling with optimism and goodness.
A little later that day, I noticed a young girl sitting at a lunch table. All around her was noise and typical lunchroom pandemonium. Yet, she had her head buried in a book. I watched, wondering how in the world she maintained her attention. ‘That book must be really good,’ I thought to myself.
Toward the end of the day, I overheard some of our students talking about a book vending machine. ‘What’s that?’ I asked them. They went on to tell me that there was a vending machine that gave out books. Even if they were dispensed in a snazzy way, I still imagined those stinky old books.
The next day I found the vending machine. This well designed and appointed vending machine blew my mind. For, in the machine were BRAND NEW books of all levels and subjects. There were board books for the youngest readers and thick chapter books and series for others.
It wasn’t until I got back to Kenosha and has some time to research that I learned more about the program and the sponsor of this very cool idea.
The program, called Soar with Reading, was sponsored by Jet Blue and Random House Books. Began in 2011, the program has donated over $1,750,000 in books to underserved communities! The program began in Washington, D.C. and this year, the Detroit area won the city challenge to receive five book vending machines!
In addition to free books, the program sponsors ‘guest readers’ who come to the centers and read with students. The website is chock full of resources for families to encourage life-long reading. There are age-appropriate recommendations and summaries to help readers choose books that are just right for them.
Here is a quick video by one of my heroes, Mary Pope Osborne, the author of the Magic Tree House Series.
One of the students on the trip caught this precious moment where Ken Brown, the director of the Matrix Center helping a young student reach the touchpad to make a book selection. Ken was one of those human beings that you meet every so often that just embodies joy. He was kind, compassionate and a fierce advocate for the residents of the Osborn Neighborhood.
When you see companies like Jet Blue and Random House doing such good things I think you have to raise them up and encourage them to continue expanding these fantastic programs.
Free Books? REALLY!