It was on my heart to do something this holiday season. At the outset, I wasn't sure what that meant. I prayed about it. Then I prayed some more. An idea started to crystalize...
This year, I met and connected with lots of people through the blog and Twitter - loving supporters of literacy and authors of beautiful picture books. When hurricanes put many in our nation in great danger this year, I saw this amazing community step up in major ways - getting creative with fundraising ideas (like this effort by Clear Fork Publishing) and keeping the spotlight on regions' ongoing needs.
Might this love carry over to supporting Chicago kids? I had a hunch it might. So in November, National Picture Book Month, I put out a call for books for the phenomenal organization Leading with Literacy, based in Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood.
Maybe we'll get 30 or 50. A month an a half later, 408 books were sitting in my family room. With every delivery, I was overwhelmed. Books arrived from New York and Massachusetts, from Missouri and Nebraska, from California and Washington. The whole country was loving on Chicago kids. All the wonderful titles donated can be viewed HERE.
At long last, delivery day - Dec. 14 - arrived. It's a day I'll never forget. Pastor Michael Neal, founder of Leading with Literacy, put together a delivery day schedule for me and my dear friend Chaz, and we spent the entire morning and into the afternoon delivering books to fabulous kids in Bronzeville and beyond.
We were greeted with so. much. love. Hugs, smiles and energy. Tons of energy! Here's a carousel slideshow of our day (to scroll through, click on the right-most photo). Two Chicago news crews - ABC 7 and CBS 2 - even came out to cover the event. There was so much excitement in the air.
When we handed out the books, some of the children asked if the titles were theirs to keep. Yes! Write your name in it. Share it with your brother or sister or cousin. It's yours.
I asked one child what her favorite book was, gesturing at the classroom's reading nook. "This one," she said, gripping the book we had just given her to her chest.
And on and on it went, in classroom after classroom. My heart was overflowing. With love for the passionate kids I met, with respect for the phenomenal teachers leading them, with appreciation for the authors and publishers who gave their work, for friends and family who put together incredible, thoughtful donations. It was a beautiful Christmas moment. I mean... these giggles!!
But perhaps the thing that blew me away most of all was Pastor Neal's amazing ministry. He spends countless hours every week in the schools, connecting with kids and supporting teachers and principals. His passion is literacy, as well as trauma - helping people deal with traumatic life events. You can read my Q&A with Pastor Neal here.
Because of Pastor Neal, the amazing books you all helped me collect are now in the hands of children who are learning to love reading. Who may not have had a book of their very own until this week.
Thank you, Pastor Neal, for your tireless service to others. Looking forward to Holiday Picture Book Drive 2018!