A New Brunswick mother spends her summer putting free books into the hands of children.
Julie Letkeman launched the Book Buggy last June and has since distributed more than 1,400 free books in playgrounds in communities outside of Saint John.
Letkeman says the Book Buggy is her way of improving children’s literacy in a province where only 56 percent of the population can functionally read and write, according to Statistics Canada.
“I wanted to start the Book Buggy to help a little,” she said.
The project was inspired by a book bus that made its rounds where Letkeman used to live in British Columbia. She says it was a valuable service and thought a similar program would be well received in New Brunswick.
Letkeman said fostering a love of reading can open doors and minds.
“There are so many books out there. … Books can tell stories, teach things, and help children deal with their trauma. They are like magic.”
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This summer, Letkeman plans to visit two churches outside of Saint John each week. So far she has visited playgrounds in Hampton, Norton and Quispamsis. She had hoped to schedule three events a week but held off given the high cost of fuel.
Six plastic bins full of lightly used books accompany them to every location.
Local individuals have donated most of the books, but Letkeman has also received a few from Frontier College, a national nonprofit literacy organization.
“The people have been exceptional with their donations and the quality of the books has also been fantastic,” she said.
She said the collection covers a wide range of subjects, genres and reading abilities.
“Everyone can certainly find something that interests them,” she said. “We have logbooks for our tiny tots and some books for even slightly older teenagers, maybe around 15-16 years old.”
While most of the books are in English, some are also in French.
Children show appreciation
Layla Kennedy is 10 years old and a self-proclaimed good reader.
She originally declined Letkeman’s invitation to take some books with her until she found out they were free.
“It’s pretty good for people who really like to read,” she says.
Kennedy and her friend Saphia Buckley each took three books, including one from their favorite series, The Baby-Sitters Club.
Fifty-six percent of the New Brunswick population is functionally literate… I wanted to start the Book Buggy to help in a small way– Julie Letkemann
“What I like most about reading is that they add so much detail that you can do it like a movie in your head,” she says.
Buckley, 9, said her favorite things to read are about animals and crime scenes.
“Sometimes when I’m reading a book and it’s really good, I play that page over and over again,” she says.
Buckley thinks the Book Buggy is a good program to help kids read more and improve their imaginations.
The future of the book trolley
Letkeman plans to continue the program over the next few years to gather more information about which communities are most interested in free books. She hopes it will evolve to have a wider reach.
“I’m hoping to collect enough data to make it interesting for a community group or to work with the school district to make it a bigger project,” she says.
People interested in donating books or picking up books can follow the Saint John and Area Book Buggy on Facebook.