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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.

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