By Ginger Young, Executive Director
This piece originally appeared in the Durham Herald-Sun on September 20, 2015.
Casey froze in mid-step.
The circle of classmates around him fell silent. The air in the school library was thick with suspense.
The second grader was at Book Harvest’s Books on Break event in June, filling his Books on Break string backpack with 10 books to take home to read in the summer and to keep forever. He had already chosen nine of his 10 books, each painstakingly selected to match his interests. A joke book, a dinosaur encyclopedia, a Batman graphic novel, and a mystery had made the cut.
Casey had just selected a Disney princess book to fill the coveted last space in his backpack. It was a big hardcover, sparkly and glittery and filled with aromatic stickers. That’s when his friend rushed over, excited to show him two copies of a book about soccer. “Want one?” he asked breathlessly.
That was when Casey froze.
“Is everything okay?” I asked gently, sensing his dilemma.
“I know my baby sister will love this book,” he explained, holding up the Disney treasure. “But . . . “ Before he could explain the agonizing choice that was obvious to all of us, his friend chimed in. “Hey, you should give that book to your sister. You can have the soccer book when I’m done with it!”
Suddenly we could all breathe again.
In that moment, each boy had forged a path of generosity that spread the ripples of reading and book ownership outward to others. Though these moments of transcendent goodness happen all the time in the Book Harvest community, their power to inspire never fades.
At another Books on Break event, two boys were quarreling over a single copy of a book about Rosa Parks. When a volunteer asked what was going on, they explained that a classmate had just given a presentation on Rosa Parks; each boy was excited to give the book to their classmate, knowing that it would hold meaning for her. Even in their dispute, they each led with selflessness and empathy.
Another young reader collected books for Book Harvest as her Bat Mitzvah project. Klara Altmueller rounded up more than 1,300 book donations over six months, setting up collection sites at her library, orthodontist’s office, and neighborhood.
In her spoken program at her Bat Mitzvah at Durham’s Judea Reform Congregation last month, Klara explained, “One cause that’s been important to me is Book Harvest. Book Harvest is a local nonprofit that gives free books to children. I have organized book drives and encouraged others to do the same. Each month, I participate in Well Fed Well Read, a partnership program between Book Harvest and a food insecurity group called PORCH. While families collect groceries from PORCH, I help children pick free books to keep, read and love.”
“Everyone should be able to read a book,” Klara continued. “Everyone should be able to read lots of books. When we have access to books, we can understand views not shared. And that helps us have a better and more fair world.”
I shared with another mom recently how stunned I was at how often I witnessed acts of utter selflessness in our young readers. I told her of Madeline, the five-year-old who set up a lemonade stand, collecting $80 in cash and dozens of books; of Mia, the four-year-old who asked friends to bring book donations to her party in lieu of gifts; and of Jimena, who chose a book in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events to take home, explaining that she and her little brother had been through tough times together, and she wanted to read the book to him. “We stick together, just like the characters in the book,” she explained.
“I’m not surprised,” the other mom replied. “Kids have giant hearts, and they have big imaginations. They know how fantastic it feels to read a good book, and they want to be able to share that with others. Give them books, and they will lead.”