One of my favorite things about The Smile Project is the way our work has connected us to so many bold and inspiring people around the world. It was through one of these connections that we came to “virtually meet” Larry Abrams, the executive director of BookSmiles, a nonprofit that promotes literacy and the joy of reading by giving books to children who need them most throughout Philadelphia and New Jersey. I’m proud to share their story here.
Liz: Let’s start in traditional Smile Project fashion. Give me a “Happiness is.”
Larry: Happiness is seeing kids and teachers smile when they receive our books.
Liz: What is BookSmiles?
Larry: We are one of the largest children’s book banks in the United States. We obsessively collect used kids books, sort them, and get them into the hands of kids who might not ever visit a bookstore. We level the playing field, serving as a bridge between communities of kids who have robust libraries and those living in book deserts.
Liz: What is the driving force behind what you do?
Larry: Equity. Owning great children's books doesn't have to be a privilege and book ownership among kids shouldn't be predicated by zip code. ALL children can own and share books. We can irrigate book deserts by upcycling quality kids books, steering them away from recyclers, pulpers, and landfills, and getting untold tons into the homes and hands of children in need.
Liz: What does service mean to you?
Larry: Creating BookSmiles was motivated by decades of teaching high school English in an underserved district. Providing babies with books gives them power. It helps ensure that they get to kindergarten ready to read. Obsessively getting books into the homes and hands of children in need is an act of kindness that helps break intergenerational poverty.
Liz: How can people get involved?
Liz: Do you have a favorite piece of advice to leave us with?
Larry: If you don't ask, the answer is always no.