Larry Abrams, a teacher at Lindenwold High School, has collected thousands of children’s books to give out to families in the Lindenwold community.
About five years ago, Cherry Hill resident and Lindenwold High School English teacher Larry Abrams was talking with one of his senior students when he was hit with a realization.
“She had a small child at home and I asked her, off the cuff, what are you reading to your daughter?” Abrams said. “She said, ‘Mr. Abrams, she isn’t old enough to understand. I don’t read to her. She’s only 2.’”
“I then talked to her parent to parent,” Abrams continued. “I said, ‘this is what you need to do. This is what I did for my children. My daughter was reading when she was 3 years old. She was reading ‘Good Night Moon’ and ‘God’s Paintbrush.’ You can do the same for your daughter.’ She said, ‘Mr. Abrams, we don’t do that in my culture.’
“I was ashamed, because I didn’t have any children’s books to give to this student of mine,” Abrams added.
Abrams began to look further into the subject and realized there were many kids in the Lindenwold community who did not read books at an early age. Last year, he decided to do something about it. Abrams began collecting book donations and giving them to families in the Lindenwold community.
Abrams’ project has now morphed into a new nonprofit named BookSmiles, an organization dedicated to providing area children with free books with the hopes of improving child literacy at an early age.
Prior to teaching in Lindenwold, Abrams taught in Moorestown for three years. He is passionate about teaching English and tries to encourage his students to develop a passion for reading and writing.
“I’m trying to give my Lindenwold kids that Moorestown-type of education, but most of them are coming to me with below-grade reading levels,” Abrams said.
When Abrams looked further into it, he realized the biggest issue was many parents in the Lindenwold community simply couldn’t afford the luxury of purchasing kids books. According to the United States Census Bureau’s 2011–2015 American Community Survey, Lindenwold’s median income in 2015 was $45,883, well below the Camden County median income of $62,185.
“If you are literally living paycheck to paycheck, or even sub-paycheck where you’re living in debt, you’re not going to buy books,” he said.
Abrams decided to begin collecting donated new and gently used books to give to families in Lindenwold. He asked for books for ages 0 to 10, but wanted to focus on books for infants and toddlers as he believes reading to kids from birth is extremely important for the child in their future education.
To spread the news about his project, Abrams hung flyers at his synagogue, Congregation Beth El, and began contacting schools, organizations and people he knew from Cherry Hill, Moorestown, Haddonfield and Voorhees.
Abrams never expected to get the response he did. Thousands of books came pouring in, giving Abrams an ample supply.
“I got this avalanche of books around November of last year,” he said. “I’m seeing incredible generosity. Two families so far have given me nearly 400 books.”
Once he received the books, Abrams brought them to Lindenwold, where he would give them out at various school events.
“We had a breakfast with Santa, it was a tradition at my school,” Abrams said. “So instead of having fake presents under the tree as part of decoration, I thought, why not give the kids who come to this thing books? Before Christmas time, I put books on a rack and told the kids to take them, they’re free Christmas presents.”
Abrams also has a rack in his classrooms with some of the donated books. He encourages to students to bring the books home to their families.
The number of books Abrams collected in one year is staggering. Abrams said he has collected more than 10,000 books, with about 7,500 having been given to families. Abrams has 3,000 additional books still waiting to be given to a new family.
With BookSmiles having been so successful in penetrating Lindenwold, Abrams is looking to expand the program to other low-income towns. He is working with Women with Voices, a nonprofit group distributing school supplies to low socioeconomic communities in New Jersey, to get books in the hands of families in Camden and other communities.
To keep the organization going strong, however, Abrams said he needs more books. He hopes local residents donate some of the old children’s books sitting around their homes.
“Grab a few out of the pile and save them for grandchildren or if they have sentimental value,” Abrams said. “The rest of them, just let them go. I will come to your home and pick them up or you can drop them somewhere.”
“Every child deserves a library,” Abrams added.
To donate books, visit www.booksmiles.org and click on the donate books tab at the top of the home page.