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Who We Are

November 18, 2013

Books Are Magic is an all-volunteer 501(c)(3) non-profit organization devoted to building home libraries and fostering a lifelong love of reading. We partner with public schools to give 12 books to each child the school identifies as needing books at home before the end of the school year. Research at the University of Tennessee demonstrated that having a twelve-book library over the summer months reduced the summer loss in learning in at-risk students. We are committed to allowing children to choose half of the books themselves, and their teachers make other selections for them.

Books Are Magic was created by two parents who know first-hand the power of books. Founded in 2011, Books Are Magic now serves elementary schools in Wake County, NC. In 2014, we gave home libraries to almost 600 children.

Books Are Magic is also an active partner in the WAKE Up and Read literacy collaborative (www.wakeupandread.org), and one of our founders serves on its leadership team. As part of WAKE Up and Read, Books Are Magic helped give books to more than 5,000 children in Wake County.

We are able to do this through donations of new and gently used books, volunteer assistance, and financial and in-kind contributions. We do not sell any books. If donated books are unusable due to content, condition, or age level, we will either trade them for appropriate books or donate them to other non-profit organizations that provide free books to the community. The book recommendations listed on our website are our own recommendations—we read the books before we suggest them, and we do not accept compensation for our endorsements.

If you would like to get involved or would like more information, please contact us at info@booksaremagic.org. Please also visit our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter.

I Read Because I Have To

June 4, 2013

​I cannot imagine my life without the mountains of books I have read. I had a happy childhood with loving parents and lots of time outside and everything I really needed. Jeanne Birdsall and Tanya Anderson and others have written eloquently about how books saw them through horrific times in childhood. Books were a salvation to them as they have been to so many. And even though I was lucky to not face the things they faced as children, books have been one of the most important things in my life, and they have been a salvation to me.

​Looking back as an adult, I can see that as a child my need to live in a world of imagination was visceral and urgent, almost as important as needing to eat and drink. There was not a day that went by that I did not spend hours pretending, and there were few tasks I undertook that I did not improve with a little make-believe. I confess that even as an adult I spend a fair amount of time imagining. It is part of me. As an intense child, imaginative space was vital need. Books gave me a limitless outlet. And fortunately for me, I had access to as many books as I wanted.

​In my childhood, books were there for me when I needed an escape, when I lost friends, when my heart was broken, when I felt misunderstood or out of step or lost in the crowd. I am profoundly grateful to the middle grade and young adult authors that breathed life into the characters and stories I adored. Books brought me friends, sometimes books were my friends, and I devoured them in giant stacks. Books made me understand I wasn’t alone, allowed me to see the world through different eyes, and they helped me find myself. I discovered worlds I could inhabit when I was bored or lonely. I found characters like me or–better yet–characters with traits I wanted to possess. At different times in my life, I needed Ramona Quimby, Kit Tyler from Witch of Blackbird Pond, Katie Welker in the Girl With the Silver Eyes. I needed Bridge to Terabithia, Deenie, Huck Finn, and lots and lots of Stephen King (The Talisman saw me through my teenage years). Later I needed Jane Austen and the Brontes and Nabokov, Barth, Agee, and Wallace Stevens and T.S. Eliot. As a brand new mother, newly moved back to my hometown after seven exciting years in New York and lonely with a sweet newborn who would not sleep unless she was being held, my sanity was saved once again by books–I picked the fattest, most complicated books I hadn’t read yet and got to work while my daughter napped on my lap. Tolstoy, Dickens, Thackeray, Ellison, Wharton, Morison–thank you.

​I don’t know whether most book lovers feel this way, but I am sure that there are many others who are pulled to read as they are pulled to breathe.

​At Books Are Magic, we give twelve books to elementary school students who the school identifies as needing books at home. I’ve read the studies, and I care very much about improving literacy and opening doors to academic success. But I am also deeply motivated by my passion for reading and the outlet it has provided me. Maybe the books we give will ignite a spark in a child or provide an escape or an adventure. Maybe we will help set a course for a lifelong love of reading.

​Or maybe the spark has already been lit, and a child like me is aching for a stack of books of their own to consume. I’ve met them–they stand in front of the shelves with their eyes wide and ask “Is this for real? Are you sure? I really get 12?” I can see these kindred spirits across the room. The third grader who took home Witch of Blackbird Pond and The Wonder of Charlie Anne. The basketball player fifth grade boy who came in talking about Linda Sue Park and listened, spellbound, as we described The Secret Garden. The kid who exclaimed over Fever 1793 (“Yellow fever! I read this! It’s complex, scary in places & really good.”) and then picked it so he could reread it. The boy who stood speechless in front of the advanced chapter section and then picked the fattest books he could “so it will last me all summer.” The girl who could barely contain herself as I described Beholding Bee (“She has to make her own way in the world? I really, really want that one.”). The ones who say “Can I come here every day?”

​Summer is almost here. I know that the 900 libraries we’ve sent home since 2011 are being read. I know that there are kids who are losing themselves and finding themselves in books. I know that my children are doing the same. I know that again and again, for the rest of my life, I will always reach for a book and breathe deeper as that part of me finds its home. Whatever each reader needs right now, I know that books are magic.

Communities of Readers

May 17, 2013
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Our mission (and sometimes, mania) is to build home libraries for kids who need books by sending home 12 books before summer break. We hope that this will improve literacy and foster a lifelong love of reading. But we also aim to play a part in sparking conversations about books and to build communities of book lovers.

Teacher Carrie Gelson wrote an inspiring piece for the Nerdy Book Club about a book club she created at school so that she could remain a part of her students’ reading lives, even after they left her classroom. The ways we can create communities of readers are limitless, but it is vitally important that our schools strive to foster such communities.

In addition to building home libraries, we also have another project we dream about and advocate for, one that we hope schools will adopt and run with. We call it our Bookshelf Project. In a nutshell, it boils down to this: an honor system bookshelf that is freely and openly accessible to all students in a school in a high traffic area of the school. We supply a set of books, which will be maintained and replenished by the school.

Here is what a bookshelf can mean to a school: regardless of how frequent library time is and regardless of who has lost library privileges, books are available all the time to all kids. If you need a book, you can borrow a book. If you want to keep it for a day, three weeks, all year, forever, so be it.

In the first school where we set up a bookshelf, students mobbed the shelf each day while waiting for the bus. Conversations about books sprang up between reluctant readers, kids recommended books to each other, kids got hooked on series and came back over and over for the next ones. The librarian sent students who had lost books and couldn’t check out books from the library out to the shelf. Children started donating books they were finished with to the shelf so they could share with friends. Some kids came to the shelf every single day.

It is a simple idea and one with tremendous potential. We could see a 4th grade class adopting the shelf and maintaining it, with reluctant readers becoming reading mentors to other students. We can imagine book reviews or recommendations, illustrations of favorite scenes, kid-written newsletters with suggestions from the shelf. There is no stigma about the shelf—everyone is gathering around it. There is no pressure at the shelf—kids can browse at their leisure. In schools where a high number of students lack books of their own, where classroom libraries are scant, or where library time is not once a week, the shelf is a valuable bridge to make sure all kids have access to books all the time. And it can help foster a community of readers for whom conversations about books are an everyday thing.

Signed Books

April 19, 2013
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When I was a kid, Suzanne Newton was the author in residence at my school. On her last day with us, I got up the nerve to ask her to autograph my well-loved copy of M.V. Sexton Speaking. I already treasured the book, but to have it signed by the author was another thing entirely. It was a vivid connection with the magical person who wrote the words inside, the person who had breathed life into the characters that were so real to me. The author had held my book in her hands, and that meant something to me.

I love books. I want all children to love books and have the unique joy of finding refuge or adventure or hilarity or solace or hope in the imagined world of a book. I want them to revel in owning their own books and to see themselves as members of the club called Readers. And I want these children, who do not have many or any books of their own before we bring them to our giving store, to be as excited about the books they take home in their bags as I am about the books I love. I cheer when I put one of my favorites into a hand because I know what is in store for this reader.

So imagine my joy when author Kimberly Newton Fusco contacted me and offered to donate signed copies of her newest book, Beholding Bee. I love her book. In fact, I haven’t been able to put it on the shelf yet because I’m not ready to put it away. It is a luminous work. The protagonist, Bee, is original, authentic, and inspiring. An orphan with a large birthmark on her face, Bee lives in the back of a truck in a traveling show. She triumphs over huge obstacles, and her kindness, wisdom, strength, and resilience make her a true heroine. I was already looking forward to being able to introduce children to this remarkable book, but I was reduced to tears of gratitude at the chance to give kids copies signed by the author.

You see, the children we work with prize books, too. They just don’t have books to call their own. When they learn that they get to pick and keep a big stack of books, they grin, they cheer, they jump up and down, and sometimes they burst into tears. I simply cannot wait to put Beholding Bee in a child’s hand and say these magic words, “The person who wrote this book, she signed it for YOU.”

Why I Read Children’s Books

February 8, 2013
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Books are one of the most important things in my life. This has always been true. A passionate English major, my shelves are lined with works by Milton, Shakespeare, Donne, Jonson, Austen, Dickens, Chaucer, Dafoe, Hardy, James, Twain, Eliot, Brontë, Thackeray, Trollope. I have a shelf of Tolstoy, Chekov, Dostoyevsky, and Chernyshevsky. There are Marquez, Delillo, Lahari, Barth, Eugenides, Agee. You get the picture. But with only a few exceptions, most of the books I’ve read this year are children’s books, and I’m better off for it.

I started reading children’s chapter books a few years ago when my avid reader’s reading level far outstripped her age. I wanted to make sure the books she was reading were appropriate for her. And I wanted to be able to suggest books I thought she’d love. Those motivations have changed as she’s gotten older and has become adept at choosing for herself. We don’t always choose the same books to read, but when we do, we have great conversations.

Another reason I read children’s books is that I spend a lot of my time distributing books to children with Books Are Magic. Since we give books to kids who need them, I felt like I should know more about modern children’s books so that I could answer questions and make good suggestions. Reading a lot of children’s books has made me much better at helping kids find the right book, and it has been great to engage the kids I meet about books we’ve both read.

But here’s the other part—I think the books being written for children right now are better than the books being written for adults. When I’m reading contemporary adult fiction, I am frequently frustrated and underwhelmed. There are exceptions—certainly there are some great writers writing now. But I have never in my life abandoned so many books halfway because I was just sick of the plot, the characters, and the writing. I am so tired of reading about how contemporary culture is devoid of meaning, how we are addicted to unhealthy choices, how corrupted and debased we all are. I’ve read it so many times. It was fresh when DeLillo wrote White Noise, but that was more than two decades ago.

I find the books being written for children now to be more inventive, original, creative, evocative, and probing than many of the adult novels I’ve read in the last ten years. The narration and prose of books like Newbery-winner The One and Only Ivan (Katherine Applegate) or May B. (Caroline Starr Rose) are fresh and original. Writers like Linda Sue Park (A Single Shard, The Kite Fighters, When My Name Was Keoko, A Long Walk to Water, and others) make pain, loss, and yearning palpable, yet manage to inspire with power of the human spirit. Had I not been reading children’s books, I would have missed Grace Lin, whose Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is one of the best books I’ve ever read. I wouldn’t have discovered the Mysterious Benedict Society (Trentan Lee Stewart) which wins for sheer inventiveness. I wouldn’t have read Kate DiCamillo’s stunning The Magician’s Elephant or her transcendent The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. I would have missed Kate Messner (The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z., Marty McGuire, Capture the Flag), whose breadth of style and subject are truly impressive, all delivered with wit and an authenticity that makes her one of my child’s favorites. I would have slept more if I hadn’t discovered Percy Jackson (Rick Riordan) or Septimus Heap (Angie Sage), but I would have lost the thrill of being compelled to keep turning pages instead of going to bed. I wouldn’t have been captivated by When You Reach Me or Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead, whose plots and prose are simply breathtaking. And I would never have read Fever 1793 or Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson, whose writing is simultaneously visceral, genuine, and beautiful. I could easily list fifty more books here that I’ve read and loved by authors who are writing right now. (Not to mention the magnificent books and somewhat older books I’ve also read.)

The vibrant tradition of children’s literature is alive and well–and well worth reading. If you just pick up something like Three Times Lucky (Sheila Turnage) to read with your child, lucky you. You will certainly share something special together, maybe have some great conversations, and you might just find a book that speaks to your heart as well.

Within Reach

January 17, 2013
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Last evening, our third-grader brought an old favorite downstairs: “The Snow Queen and Other Tales,” a collection of Hans Christian Andersen stories. I hadn’t seen her with that book for a year or two, and when I said as much to her, she explained, “For homework I need to read a text and practice using context clues to figure out words I might not know. I thought it would be fun to read back through this one.”

In fact, her language-arts homework assignment every weeknight starts with “Find a [fiction/nonfiction/biography/folk and oral traditions/reference/etc.] text and read it for at least 20 minutes.” It struck me last night: How do the kids who have no books at home get their assignments done? Do they? Or do they just give up?

True, they have access to school libraries. But the sad reality is that by second and third grade, library time rarely happens. Kids are expected to visit the library before and after school. Except, if you ride the bus, you often arrive two minutes before the final bell in the morning, and at day’s end you’re often not allowed to leave your classroom until it’s time to walk straight to your bus. If you carpool, you’re in the carpool line.

True, they have access to classroom libraries. But some teachers’ libraries are larger and more varied than others. Our daughter’s wonderful teacher, for instance, is young and in just his fourth year of teaching. He’s made a great start, but his library is a little smaller than those of some other teachers. It’ll get there–in the meantime, though, it’s hard to imagine how it could cover nightly assignments across a number of genres. Plus, how many third-graders are likely to look ahead at all of the homework assignments for the week, browse for and select the right array books to cover them, and return those books at the end of each week?

True, their parents could take them to the public library each week. But many of these kids’ parents are working two and three jobs; afternoons browsing at the library aren’t on the day’s schedule.

In that moment, watching our daughter cozy down with an old favorite book, I felt grateful all over again to be part of Books Are Magic.

ALL kids need books within their reach at home. Beyond all the academic and social benefits of book ownership, all kids need the opportunity to do their homework as assigned. They have the right to enjoy those feelings of responsibility and accomplishment.

They have the right not to be reminded, every weeknight, that they don’t have the same resources their classmates have at home–shelves and shelves of them, right within reach.

That’s why Books Are Magic gathers donations of a wide variety of new and gently used books. It’s why we set up “book stores” by genre to distribute books to the kids who need them–so they can shop and choose a variety of books to help build a complete home library.

Books Are Magic is starting the new year in a wonderful position: ready to serve more kids in more schools with more books. As we expand, those needs will continue to grow. Can you be a part of it? Can you…

donate some gently used books?
organize a book drive at your school, church, workplace, or in your neighborhood?
use the Paypal link above to donate a few tax-deductible dollars right now?

We look forward to having YOU work with us to build home libraries for all kids who need them. It might take years of work, but we are convinced our goal is within reach. Will you help us get there.

‘Tis the Season for Reading

December 10, 2012
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This is a season of so many things, bustle and decorations, Angel Trees and holiday parties, wrapping and shopping and cooking and meltdowns and joy and singing and exhaustion. For me, it is also a season of books.

As you go about your holiday activities, give a moment to think about incorporating books in your holiday. There are a few important ways you can enrich the season with the gift of reading.

Books provide an unparalleled escape from holiday stress. A trip to the library or local bookstore to stock up on a few books might be just the break your kids need to help them find quiet moments in the hustle or to give something to do while stuck in holiday traffic, traveling, or waiting in lines.

If you are making holiday Angel Tree or Secret Santa donations, or if you’re participating donating to a local shelter, please remember to include a book. Books truly are gifts that keep giving, and many children who do not have much may not have any age-appropriate books at home. Why not tuck a book in with the outfit you’ve purchased? It may give just as much warmth as the sweater you’re giving.

For other children on your holiday list, don’t forget to give a book. You might spark or fuel an interest, open a new door, or provide hours of entertainment. Bookplates are another great gift that allow children to take ownership of their own libraries.

But what if you have no idea what kind of book to give for an angel tree or to a relative? There are great book ideas in our recommendations list for different ages and interests. General rules of thumb, though, if you’re at a loss—for an angel tree gift, it is hard to go wrong with a wildly popular bestseller, and there may be a certain caché to owning a book that everyone else wants (such as Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Harry Potter, the latest Magic Treehouse book, Cam Jansen, A Series of Unfortunate Events, A to Z Mysteries, the Lightning Thief series). Please remember that 67% of low income homes lack any age appropriate books, so it may be that the book you give will be the first in the child’s own library.

Classics are always reliable, and many kids haven’t read Tom Sawyer, Heidi, The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, or Hans Brinker. Caldecott and Newbery Award Winners are also good bets. And buying books from a series is also a good idea—if a child likes it, she automatically has an idea of what to check out on the next trip to the library. Nonfiction books with lots of information are also popular, such as almanacs. Some other nonfiction recommendations include the Child’s Introduction to (the World, the Night Sky, Ballet, the Environment) series; Heart and Soul by Kadir Nelson, Lives of Extraordinary Women by Kathleen Krull, Into the Unknown by Stewart Ross, and Unlikely Friendships by Jennifer Holland.

Whatever you choose, a book gives the joy of reading to a child.

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