Kids Need Books is sidelined until the COVID-19 crisis abates. In the meantime, here’s a story from last spring.
It’s the weekly book distribution at Alderwood Elementary School. The frail, nine-year-old girl’s thin hair is as fine as silk. She walks along the tables touching titles, stopping to page through a book on insects, then a mystery. Her eyes meet mine and she asks if it’s okay to take both books. “Yes, please do,” I tell her. She picks up the books, smiles, and takes three steps across the gym before turning back to to look at me. “Thank you!” Her reedy voice sounds like music.
Moments later the girl’s mother stops by and thanks me, explaining that her daughter had a brain tumor removed the previous year. Surgery and chemotherapy have set her back and she has fallen behind in school. Mom would like to help her child—read to her and check her homework—but she is a single parent with two other kids. She works two full-time jobs and must carve out a few hours each day for sleep. I tell her how much I admire her strength and courage. She nods and rubs her eyes.
A young Latina mother “shops” for a board book for her two-month-old niece. Ro, my steadfast helper, points out a brand new book about animals, each page filled with vibrant pictures and soft, fuzzy textures. The mother bites her trembling lip, wipes away a tear, and laughs, “I will wrap this up as soon as I get home. Now I have a baby gift. I am so excited!”
The first grade boy eyes the middle grade novels. Jackie, another awesome KNB volunteer, suggests a title more age appropriate farther down the table. He puts his hands on his hips and gives her a look of exasperation. “I can read chapter books, you know.” He points to the books she recommended. “I could read those little kid books when I was in preschool. What I really want is a never-ending story, like this.” His chubby fingers pick up a stack of Magic Treehouse mysteries. He opens the first book and reads aloud—fluently—the beginning paragraph. A moment later he walks away with the pile of books nestled under his arm. When he glances back at Jackie over his shoulder, he is grinning slyly as if the two of them shared a special secret.
The twelve-year-old girl has intense dark eyes. I had met her a month earlier. She is the oldest of four children raised by a single parent father. The family’s story is complicated and convoluted—living in a truck and moving from place to place—the kids always home-schooled. Now they are staying with friends until Dad can find work and get a place of their own. I tell the girl to take as many books as she wants as I don’t know when she’ll be back. She picks up Harry Potter, Anne of Green Gables, The Bridge to Terabithia, and Walk Two Moons. “These won’t take long to read,” she says. “I hope they have all happy endings.”
Kids Need Books runs on donations and is part of the non-profit Interfaith Coalition. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation.
Ah yes, happy endings. I hope that’s true for all these beautiful children.
Margie, the children I’ve met are resilient, but it takes a village to help them be safe and successful on their respective journeys.
Your story is so inspirational to all of us. Thanks for sharing, Joe.
You catch the importance of both how reading expands the world of a child and also gives hope. It will be a wonderful day when KNB will be back in full swing.
JoAnn, we are all itching to get KNB up and running again. It’s so challenging to deal with the uncertainty of the present crisis.
YOU are the happy ending for these children and their parents…and for countless others as well.
Linda, thank you for your kind words. We are all a part of this great story…
Yes, Joe, and sometimes happy endings come without words. How many times as volunteers have we watched a child discover with delight a book among the table of offerings. . .and just hugs it closes as he/she departs?!
Chris, as a longtime, hardcore KNB volunteer, you’ve been at the heart of many of these stories. Thank you!
I keep trying to think how KNB can get back up running sooner, rather than later. So far, no luck, but I’ll keep thinking.
Yes, Steve, keep brain-storming. We need to think out of the box on our way out of this crisis. Thanks for your continued support.
Thank you for sharing about the children and their families. Knowing that so many children have these books tucked in with them is comforting.
Debbie, and thanks for your help in the line of duty handing out books. We will get back on the front lines soon…
Joe, it’s such a lift to read this. Thank you!
Thanks, Cheryl. You’ve been an inspiration as a master of writing uplifting stories.
Thanks, again, Joe! We/You will find a way.
Dick, thanks for your support and your help as a volunteer. Yes, we will find a way.
Joe’s precision in narratives is always powerful, taking us right to the scene, drawing us to the faces of those who might otherwise never be noticed. These essays are touchstones for us to grasp, hold quietly, inquire and believe in the power of community. KIdsNeedBooks is a vibrant energy, kept alive by passionate people who put in the hours. Yet this one endeavor in the community becomes much more than passing on the delight of books, these stories shift us to the wild chance of something bountiful on a spiritual level, alive and well in our city.
Annie, thanks for your support.