Good People Doing Good Things — Larry Abrams

Good People Doing Good Things — Larry Abrams

Posted on September 21, 2022 by jilldennison 

Since this is Banned Books Week, what better than to find a ‘good people’ for this week who is providing books to young people rather than taking them away?  And so, allow me to introduce you to Larry Abrams, a high school English teacher in Lindenwold, New Jersey.  Lindenwold is what is referred to as an ‘under-resourced’ community, in other words many people there are living below the poverty line.  Prior to moving to Lindenwold, Mr. Abrams had lived and taught in a fairly affluent suburb of Philadelphia, so Lindenwold was somewhat of a new experience, to say the least …
“I’d heard of food deserts, but I’d never heard of book deserts. And it occurred to me that I teach in a book desert. Many of the kids in school simply struggle with reading. In my ninth-grade class it’s very typical to have kids reading at a fifth-grade reading level. And if you’re struggling with reading, you’re going to be struggling with writing.”
But what really set him on his current pathway was an incident in 2017, when he asked one of his students, a high school senior and mother of a 2-year-old child, what sort of books she reads to her child.  When she answered that she didn’t read to her child, Abrams was stunned.  He immediately put out a call to friends and family asking for gently used children’s books, and in no time, he had more than 1,000 of them!  And that was the beginning of his commitment to put books in the hands of every child.  He began distributing the books to young moms and local elementary schools and started a nonprofit called BookSmiles.
“It just became addictive. There are millions of kids in America who’ve never owned a book in their lives. I want to change that.”
Growing up, Larry loved visiting used bookstores and reading books that others had enjoyed before him.

“I certainly like the transformative experience of reading, of going into other worlds, experiencing other cultures.”
His organization has since collected, sorted, and distributed hundreds of thousands of books throughout New Jersey and the Philadelphia area — and will soon reach 1 million.  BookSmiles engages the community to help collect books and drop them off in the group’s large collection bins, which are painted with literary-themed artwork and located outside local businesses, houses of worship, schools, and people’s homes. Books are often distributed through teachers, who come to the book bank and select as many books as they want.
Mr. Abrams was recently interviewed by CNN for their CNN Heroes segment.  Below is a portion of that interview.

CNN: Why is it important for children to be exposed to reading as early as possible?
Larry Abrams: Children should be read to because it’s something that is joyous. It’s something that creates a bond between the parent and the child in such a visceral and important way. Reading books creates a moment that will never be extinguished; it’ll always stay with the child. And what’s more, reading books to your kids gives them power. The most important tool that they get are words. There are some kids who grow up hearing lots and lots of words because they’re read to every single night. They are used to hearing sentences strung together when they’re babies. And then there are other kids who never get that. Reading and books helps level that playing field. It gives words, millions of words to these babies who really, really need them.
It’s my hope that every child who receives our books accumulates a library of their own and reads the books so that way they come to kindergarten reading ready. Giving kids books almost ensures academic success. And every child in America should have the chance to be academically successful. Being able to use language and words is power.
CNN: Your organization serves areas that are considered book deserts. What is a book desert?
Abrams: These are areas where people just don’t have access to books. There are book deserts in rural areas in Appalachia. There are book deserts in North Philadelphia. They don’t have (books) in their homes. In many book deserts, there are no libraries, no bookstores. There are pockets of poverty where people just don’t have the funds to spend on a book. There are many families just surviving and getting to the next paycheck. Infant formula is expensive. Food is expensive. Rent is expensive.
Some people are a paycheck away from disaster and they don’t have the resources to go spending money on books. That’s where we come in — to help folks like that. We work on irrigating book deserts by pouring hundreds of thousands of books in. We are changing and improving lives one book at a time.
CNN: Why is it so important for you to involve teachers in your efforts?
Abrams: I’m a teacher and it’s super important to help other teachers. Teachers get a small stipend to go and buy supplies (for their classrooms). But all too often we have to spend hundreds of dollars of our own money to give kids a real quality learning environment. We’re the ones who have to buy Kleenex. We have to buy markers. I hate it when teachers have to go online with their hat in their hand begging for school supplies. That should not happen.
The teachers who really care are committed to paying out of pocket to provide more robust learning environments for their students. And when we’re here to give them hundreds of dollars worth of books, that is a blessing, and they appreciate it. Some of these teachers get addicted to coming to the book bank, and we want them to because they are the best distributors of books that we have. In a lot of towns, we teachers are undervalued. But we really are a mighty force. We are an army. Teachers just get each other, especially those who love the profession and are in for the long haul. So, if I can help them by giving them books, that’s a beautiful thing.

Filosofa gives a big thumbs up to Larry Abrams for his effort to ensure that no child is without books in this time when it seems that others would take the books away.
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