This isn’t a story about one book in my permanent collection. Instead, this is the story of 3,000 books and one organization that I want to make a part of my permanent commitment.
Some of the best opportunities in life take place when we’re not looking for them. That is how I feel about Pages & Chapters: Now that it’s a part of my life, it’s as though it was always there, always meant to be, but I didn’t necessarily seek out the opportunity. I was fortunate enough to have it come to me.
Late last summer, one of my childhood best friends invited me on Facebook to participate in an adult spelling bee as a fundraiser for Pages & Chapters. I believe I signed up that day, and I took to the Internet to learn more about the organization for which the fundraiser would support. Within a few clicks, I knew I wanted to do more than just participate in a spelling bee. Long-term, I wanted to do my small part in such a big cause.
Unfortunately, I’m someone who has taken reading for granted in the past. I cannot pinpoint an exact year when I learned how to read. Weekly trips to the library and bookstore were just a part of my childhood, and at that time, I suppose I assumed that everyone was afforded the same opportunity. My worldview then was narrow and a little selfish.
I haven’t met a child who doesn’t want to genuinely want to read. From an early age, books provide us with an outlet to escape, to imagine, to dream. Reading isn’t the easiest for some, but that doesn’t mean that someone isn’t less intelligent or doesn’t enjoy reading. (Similarly, science was a subject that I had to work really hard at in school, more so than music and English, but I still enjoyed it.)
The pupil just needs a patient and understanding teacher who will offer a hand up through the struggles and that same hand for a high-five when the successes take place.
For many students, Jenny Jackaway Albro is that teacher. Two-and-a-half years ago, Jenny (born just two weeks before me and whom I am now blessed enough to call a friend) founded Pages & Chapters to help Kansas City students tap into their potential as readers – specifically, the organization is about “promoting literacy among urban families so they can write their own future.” Jenny sees the potential in every student, and in us fellow adult volunteers, she sees the potential that we hold to help children grow their passion and abilities.
Pages & Chapters encourages literacy development and growth through Homework Help sessions and monthly workshops known as Open Books, but twice a year, volunteers also spend a Saturday morning distributing donated books in Kansas City bus stops in the event Books on the Move.
The weather was beautiful March 29 for my first Books on the Move, the third installment overall. For three hours, four teams distributed 3,000 books that were kindly donated. We left them on bus stops and benches, and even better, we put them in the hands of passengers and passersby.
I walked the main drags of Midtown Kansas City with Ashley and her husband, Shawn. We talked about our work and our recent reads. I got to see Ashley take a picture of Shawn near the Shawny Shawn’s Beauty Salon sign at 36th and Main streets, and the couple filled in me on their church’s plans with the historic Katz Drugstore building. The breeze was crisp, but the sun shined and warmed our bones with our steady pace.
The public’s reception was warm. We offered books to one man who was walking to open his business, and he let us leave several inside his store. A teenage girl waiting for her bus told me that what we were doing was “totally awesome,” and she grinned down at her new book. One woman politely declined a book, but she said she definitely wanted to learn more about Pages & Chapters, as she is relatively new in town, so we left her one of our informational bookmarks. She seemed genuinely enthusiastic, and I hope we see or hear from her again in the near future.
Two elements in particular will stay with me from this Saturday morning. While distributing the books in any fashion was important, I especially found gratification in placing the book in someone’s hands. As a part-time bookseller, this is hugely important at work, but it took on a different meaning through Books on the Move. For some of these folks, I don’t know the last time they were able to hold a book of their own. True, a book isn’t a roof over the head, a warm meal or health care, but reading is good for the soul, for one’s self-esteem, and I hope, in that moment, we were able to make their day better in some way.
Secondly, we received several donations of The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, which I read and fell in love with in high school. It was a treat to place this book in several peoples’ hands and pass along such an amazing story that I hope they, too, will come to enjoy.
The event is something that I wish could take place every month, but I also know that we, as individuals, can inspire change and a community library on a smaller scale. Each month, buy a copy of one of your personal favorites, or pull one off of your shelves that you loved but don’t think you’ll re-read again someday. Leave it in a public space, with a note for others to read it and pass it along once they are finished. It’s simple, yes, but as I’ve learned through the years, sometimes the simplest gestures are the most powerful.
Books are beautiful objects in that, as a bookseller, volunteer and avid reader, I can place them in someone’s hands, and I’ll never fully know the possible effect that action will hold on that person’s life. It’s a good thing, in this life, to be a part of something that’s bigger than us, and that’s why I am so proud and humbled to be involved with Pages & Chapters.
Posted by Adrianne DeWeese, courtesy of A’s Permanent Collection