Well, fellow readers, here’s the story for today:
You know, I had a whole post prepared. And I ran it past my excellent contacts at Heading Home and some of my book shop friends. And then—well. Many of you know I was expecting a new addition to this book-loving family, and I sort of ran out of time for posting because my doctor said I had to go have the kid already, and the blog post had to wait, so I had this draft, and here I am now, with a baby in a Moby wrap (he loves it, by the way—so did the Changeling) writing to you about something I love and look forward to every year– and it suddenly has extra potency.
What I’m about to say is that, quote from original draft: “Every year, I look forward to something I find particularly meaningful: Book donations for the holidays.” I originally went on to tell you, carefully, that, “Naturally, as a family, we try to make regular and careful donations to causes we care about at both the local and worldwide level— donations for the good of people and the planet, donations for health and literacy, and for many causes we care about.”
But here’s the thing. When I brought home my little Spriggan (huh, where did that come from? Another Cat Valente nickname, I think, but he does feel like a Spriggan to me…) the first thing the Changeling wanted to do was sit and read The Very Hungry Caterpillar to the deeply sleeping baby. A few hours later, I kicked my way into the devastated mess of the room that’s going to be his when I get around to it, and looked at the big box of board books I have to organize, conscious that there are other book boxes in the basement… And I thought, with a pang, “Not every kid has this.”
Now, every year, since moving to Boston, I’ve donated books with glee at local shops and libraries (I remember doing it at the Curious George store, for example, in Harvard Square, when I was starting my PhD). I delight in choosing books I think will spark a kid to love a book—maybe The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander, or one of the Ahlbergs’ amazing collaborations for a parent to share with their baby.
I clearly remember that one year I wandered around a shop, chose three books (that’s my usual amount– one for a baby, one for a young child, one for middle grade), and stood in line behind a woman to pay. The poor, innocent clerk at checkout asked if she’d like to donate a book or a toy for their drive. The woman snapped that she’d “already been asked too many times that season to donate to too many causes,” and as if that weren’t enough started right in on questioning the need for charitable giving at all, that “they” probably don’t need all that help and should work harder. I saw red, slammed down my three books on the counter, went back for three more and came back to tell the clerk I was getting three more for the lady in front of me. She walked off in a huff. This is personal to me: literacy should be accessible, and I think it shouldn’t be a warm fuzzy feeling to give books to kids in need—they shouldn’t be in need at all. But if they are, which is simply reality, well, I’m going to try to help.
This is not a topic to argue with me about, is what I’m saying. Kids don’t ask for poverty. Kids need opportunities for growth, inspiration, and joy. And books provide these opportunities.
This year, as cold weather set in and the nights lengthened and I was thinking about this topic, first while pregnant, now with my baby sleeping sweetly (try to sleep at night, too, kiddo), I got troubled. The need has not diminished: it has expanded. But with Covid-19 still dominating this country, racism continuing to be a powerful issue, and financial stress plaguing both families and small businesses—I was determined that this wasn’t the year to sit out my most meaningful donations.
I wanted to try something else. I wrote to one of Boston’s leading providers of shelter, Heading Home, to ask if they’d be interested in receiving donations of books for children over the holidays. I received prompt, helpful replies indicating what they’re looking for and how we can go about donating. I put together a plan, which I sent to them, and here’s what I want to ask you to do with me:
- I have made a list of recommended books for donation, which you can find at the bottom of this post, or linked HERE as a pdf. These range from board books and picture books to novels, graphic novels, and Spanish-language options.
- I provide purchase links to local independent book shops which will happily help send books to Heading Home. Please support these Boston-area local book shops!
- How to donate: given Covid-19 health and safety concerns, they ask that items be shipped directly to the Family Services office, where case managers can distribute to goods out to their clients safely. Therefore, please order your books from one of the shops I list and have them sent directly to: Heading Home attn. Meaghan O’Donnell at 1452 Dorchester Avenue Boston, MA 02122
- Please include a note that this is for the holiday book drive for children.
- Try to do this by December 10 in order to give plenty of time for Heading Home to do their work, and the book shops to do theirs!
If, for any reason, you have any difficulty, the person to contact is me! Write to me at email@example.com and I will help you as quickly as I can. (NB: I do have a new baby! But I also don’t have many other obligations, and this is something I care about, so do not hesitate to write—just understand if I take more than five minutes to reply.)
A few final reflections: My hope here is to provide help to as many people as possible. The primary goal, of course, is to help low-income Boston-area kids find books that spark feelings of recognition, imagination, or inspiration in them. But I also want to help a brilliant organization that does important work, I want to help all of the book people who work so hard and are going through a hard time right now (authors, illustrators, booksellers, etc), and, as always, I want to support independent book shops at a time when every sale counts. This should be a win for everyone.
A last word: The sentiments in this post aren’t just for the holidays. Yes, as it gets cold and the nights draw in earlier—that’s when these feelings creep over us more dramatically. But these kids need literacy, hope, and joy every day of the year. So keep that in mind, too.
Now for your shopping list and a list of excellent Boston-area book shops! A special shout-out to the two shops at the top of the list who offered me excellent support as I assembled this plan (The Children’s Book Shop and the Brookline Booksmith) and also to the lovely folks at the Eric Carle Museum Book Shop who gave me some very nice graphic novel suggestions!
RECOMMENDED BOOK LIST FOR DONATIONS
For more information or further suggestions contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Whose Knees Are These? By Jabari Asim and Leuyen Pham
Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi and Ashley Lukashevsky
Baby Says by John Steptoe
Please, Baby, Please by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Homemade Love, by Bell Hooks and Shane W. Evans
Picture Books (uplifting)
Hands Up! By Breanna J. McDaniel and Shane W. Evans
You Matter by Christian Robinson
All Because You Matter by Tami Charles and Bryan Collier
I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James
A Girl Like Me by Angela Johnson and Nina Crews
Picture Books (quirky)
Saturday by Oge Mora
I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
Pokko and the Drum by Matt Forsythe
The Menino by Isol
Fox & Chick: The Quiet Boat Ride and Other Stories by Sergio Ruzzier
The Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay
Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
Graphic Novels (mostly older, 8+):
New Kid by Jerry Craft
Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel by Jason Reynolds and Danica Novgodroff
Stargazing by Jen Wang
The Daughters of Ys by M. T. Anderson and Jo Rioux
The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen
Mamá Goose: Bilingual Lullabies/Nanas by Alma Flor Ada, F. Isabel Campoy, Maribel Suarez
La oruga muy hambrienta by Eric Carle
Evelyn Del Rey se muda by Meg Medina and Sonia Sanchez
Un Día de nieve by Ezra Jack Keats
Soñadores by Yuyi Morales
Seasonal picture books:
Silent Night by Lara Hawthorne
Shelter by Céline Claire and Qin Leng
The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper
A Big Bed for Little Snow by Grace Lin
Twelve Kinds of Ice by Ellen Bryan Obed and Barbara McClintock
Older and/or Odder:
Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffmann, trans. Ralph Manheim, ill. Maurice Sendak
Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis
Flamer by Mike Curato
Leave Me Alone! By Vera Brosgol
Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen
RECOMMENDED BOOK SHOPS AND LINKS
The Children’s Book Shop: https://thechildrensbookshop.indielite.org/
The Brookline Booksmith: https://www.brooklinebooksmith-shop.com/
Frugal Bookstore: https://frugalbookstore.net/
Porter Square Books: https://www.portersquarebooks.com/
The Harvard Book Store: https://www.harvard.com/
Trident Booksellers: https://www.tridentbookscafe.com/
The Carle Museum Bookshop: https://shop.carlemuseum.org/
Thank you so much in advance for your support of this plan, and let’s get some books! (Feel free to get some extra books for yourselves while you’re at it, though. Always a good plan, and I won’t judge you. I’m probably doing the same thing.)