Larry Abrams (Cherry Hill, NJ), is the founder of BookSmiles, a non-profit that promotes literacy and the joy of reading by giving books to children who need them most throughout Philadelphia and New Jersey.
Larry was teaching in a high school in Lindenwold, NJ where he found many of the kids were struggling with reading. He said, “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.”
In 2017 after finding out that one of his students wasn’t reading to her 2-year-old child, he asked family and friends to donate some of their gently used children’s books. He received more than 1,000 books, which he distributed to young mothers and local elementary schools.
“It just became addictive,” Abrams said, and BookSmiles was born. “There are millions of kids in America who’ve never owned a book in their lives. I want to change that.”
He said, “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. 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.”
It’s important that children 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.”
BookSmiles holds book drives accepting new and gently used children’s books for infants through high school. They ask that the donated books be books that you would be proud to give to a child. So far, they have given out close to 1.5 million books and they’re still going strong. WOW!
Recently BookSmiles teamed up with two local food banks where they bring thousands of books each month to be distributed to families in need.
Larry said, “We are changing and improving lives one book at a time.”
We know that’s so true. We love his mission to get books to all children. We’re thrilled to have Larry as part of our MKRO family and proud to award him our Kindness Grant.
We’d also like to acknowledge the many people who sent in their fantastic ideas for kindness projects. While we wish we could give our grant to every kindness project submitted, there were so many wonderful ideas, we regret we have only a few to give. We want to thank each and every one of you for submitting your ideas and hope you continue to spread kindness everywhere you go.
Is there someone who inspires you with their kindness? Nominate them for the Matt Kurtz Kindness Award of $250.
Do you have an act-of-kindness project you want to do but need help funding it? Submit your idea for the Matt Kurtz Kindness Grant of $500 and let us help you spread kindness.