Interview: Learn more about Brooklyn Book Bodega from Co-Founder Rebecca Cohen
- How did Brooklyn Book Bodega start and what did you set out to achieve?
Brooklyn Book Bodega was founded by three moms and grew out of a recognition that our own children loved to read for pleasure and that part of that was about access to a variety of books in their own homes. We researched and learned that children who grow up in homes with 100+ books have better life outcomes.
Despite the resources and wealth in Brooklyn—parts of our own community are classified as “book deserts”. We believe that there should not be barriers to book ownership. Every child should have easy access to books that he or she wants to read.
We decided to do something about it. Serendipitously, we connected with a friend who worked at a local NYCHA community center—Ingersoll Cornerstone Community Center in Downtown Brooklyn. They had received tons of books the previous summer and had a lot of books leftover. They invited us to help them give them away. Our first event was in December of 2018.
We began hosting events where families could choose books to start or grow their personal libraries. At our first event at a Downtown Brooklyn NYCHA community center in December of 2018, we gave away 275 books to 35 people. Fast forward thirteen months to January 2020 in which we welcomed visitors from all five boroughs and 43 different zip codes. On average, we give out 1,613 books to 216 people at each public giveaway.
During the pandemic, we shifted gears and focused on making a difference for kids, teens, and families through book distribution alongside other essential items. Books are essential. Literacy matters. With the support of 475 volunteers and over 100 community organizations and businesses, we have distributed 43,653 books to 11,360 children during the pandemic.
- Brooklyn Book Bodega has emphasized the importance of quality literacy in the home. Can you tell us a little about your philosophy regarding what children should see in their literature? (bilingual literature)
Kids who read for fun are more likely to read to learn. Additionally, we think of reading as a muscle. Just like exercising, you want to be active, vary what you read, and read a ton. If you don’t, your muscles start to shrivel up.
Kids who exercise their “reading muscles” are kids who find reading rewarding. The rewards that they find in their books are: representation, knowledge, answers, and questions. If you never see: yourself, your language, your family make-up, etc. in books, then you are less likely to want to or to enjoy reading.
The importance of bilingual literature and literature that represents the whole of the child reading cannot be overstated. That’s why we partner with so many booksellers and publishers. Since all of our books are donated, we cannot control the content. Our partnerships allow us to request specific titles, authors, and languages that represent our readers’ cultures and backgrounds.
Brooklyn Book Bodega’s mission is to ensure that all kids have access to books that they WANT to read. We believe that representation matters. We want to make sure that books act as both windows and mirrors for children and their families. What that means is that all kids—no matter their culture, race, religion, or family’s socio-economic status—should see positive representation of themselves in the books they read. They should be able to smile and feel that they—their language, and culture—are seen, loved, and valued in literature and the book world. And, that books should act, too, as windows showing readers people and places that they might not otherwise be exposed to—helping to build empathy and understanding across lines of difference.
- What services does Brooklyn Book Bodega offer to help address children's literacy rates in Brooklyn?
We are a need-blind organization, so if someone reaches out to us asking for books and has a plan for supporting their community through access to books, we will fulfill their request. This open door policy has paved the way for great collaborations and partnerships. We think of the Brooklyn Book Bodega community as part of an inclusive tent with people from diverse socio-economic, racial, and cultural backgrounds.
It has been really rewarding to get to know our community in a deep way. We have forged unexpected partnerships and friendships through our amazing volunteers and partners. There are so many great organizations in Brooklyn working on behalf of kids and families. It is exciting to learn about all of these organizations and then figure out with them how we can elevate literacy together.
We give away books to anyone who asks; we provide a newsletter with resources for families and educators. We have tip sheets about how to reinforce and build literacy skills at home. We have ablog andvirtual events page on our website where we share author interviews, reading tips, and resources.
- What impact do you believe purposeful, representative literature can have on young readers? (bilingual, representative literature)
We have worked with over 100 organizations to ensure that children have books that serve as both windows and mirrors for them—windows to a world that is new, and mirrors that positively represent their life, culture, or experiences. Our recipients tell us:
- Having the opportunity to provide enrichment materials over winter break brought our team (and of course the students) so much joy! We also really appreciated that the books were varied and had diversity in their characters.
- The books we have distributed so far have increased physical access for students who may be lacking books in their homes and/or are disenchanted from screen reading. They have also provided so much needed variation, and for the striving reader students that received specific bundles, they have appreciated knowing that their interests have been heard and books have been curated for them.
Bilingual, representative literature helps children to understand the world around them. Readers who see themselves represented in books receive the message that they matter—that their family matters, that their language matters, that their culture matters, that their skin color matters, that they are important and valued. Representation and the lack of it should not be a barrier to enjoying reading.
Literacy is incredibly important in our society. If a child has the ability to independently build knowledge he or she is on a path to success in life.We like to think of it as a virtuous cycle: give a kid a book today that he or she wants to read and it is an investment in that child’s future. A kid who reads for fun, will read to learn, and a kid who can learn on his or her own has a world of possibilities.
- How can we get involved from home?
There are many ways to get involved at Brooklyn Book Bodega while including your family and neighbors. Your support provides Brooklyn children and their families with access to books, an opportunity to build their own library at home, and literacy-based community programming.
- Host a book drive in your neighborhood with your kids and neighbors
- Fundraise for Brooklyn Book Bodega
Volunteer to sort and book stamps on weekday mornings at our warehouse
- Donate your new and gently used children’s books at one of our book donation locations in Brooklyn
organization. Your donation is 100% tax deductible.