Helping Children From Low-Income Communities Discover Their Love for Reading
Photo: Michael Graydon
Lawyer Kim Beatty takes respite from her day job to help children discover the love of reading.
Children’s stories Harriet the Spy, Something from Nothing, Goodnight Moon, Lemony Snicket and The Secret Garden are not the typical literary titles you’d expect a litigation lawyer with a 20-year career to have lining her bookshelves, but Kim Beatty isn’t just anyone.
Last May, the mother of teenage sons Christopher and Chas traded in her law texts to build the Children’s Book Bank — a charitable Toronto-based organization and bookstore replete with literacy support and programming, as well as free second-hand children’s books — where she now holds court, reading to the two- to 12-year-old crowd.
“Today, I read Sody Salleratus by Aubrey Davis to a class of kindergarten students, and that’s always fun. I like books where the kids participate in the exercise of reading,” says Beatty, who ventured into this new chapter in her life three years ago.
Restless from juggling work at a law firm with volunteer book drives for different charities around Toronto, Beatty craved change. She contemplated, then rejected, the idea of applying for a position with a non-profit company, the Furniture Bank. “It wasn’t what I really wanted to do. I was thinking that I would go into something in the non-profit sector, but how and where?” The answer came out of the blue.
“I was working on the computer and somehow the whole concept of a book bank hit me,” says the 50-year-old. “I immediately Googled ‘book bank’ and I found one in New Haven, Conn., and started doing research.” Six months later, along with a huge helping of family support and the start-up brain power from a devoted group of 12 women, Beatty found the change she was seeking. In May 2008, she was ready for business.
“Initially, I was a bit jealous or protective of the concept and the vision, and reluctant to delegate and share the load. We couldn’t have lasted, though, without those 12 people who sat around my table all those weeks. The Book Bank is about a group of women who have rolled up their sleeves. I just happened to take the lead and be the person to get it going,” she says.
For a mom whose boys grew up hearing her say “yes” in the bookstore and “no” in the toy store, it’s only appropriate that Beatty’s days are now filled with collecting, receiving and sorting through all of the previously loved books that have been donated by local families, schools and businesses. She also speaks with parents about literacy support, trains volunteers, creates ongoing business and marketing initiatives, answers e-mails, telephone calls and more.
“I do everything from cleaning the bathrooms to reading to the classes,” she laughs. Beatty estimates that her organization gives away as many as 200 books each day to the children who walk through her doors.
“There was a little boy in our early days of opening who was maybe about 11 years old, and he came to the counter and said, ‘When do I have to bring the book back?’ And we said, ‘No, you can keep it.’ And he said, ‘What do you mean?’ We said, ‘It’s yours. You keep it. It’s forever and ever.’
And he sort of looked up and said, ‘I must be in heaven.’ There’s not a day that goes by where there’s not something amazing that happens. We have the enthusiastic support of the community and these incredible families that we have come to know. There’s a wonderful moment every day,” says Beatty.
With dreams of growing the Children’s Book Bank into a national, sustainable service much like a food bank, Beatty doesn’t miss her days as a practising litigation lawyer, preferring an environment that is equal parts kids and books.
“I cannot imagine a world without books. Reading is critical to imagination, enjoyment of life, empathy and dreaming. The idea that some kids don’t have access to that is heartbreaking. And donating a book is so easy. We’re simply matching supply to demand, and it’s wonderful.” For information, go to childrensbookbank.com.
A version of this article appeared in the April 2009 issue with the headline, “Book Club,” p. 66.