Photo: Alicia Gajraj. Kids from pre-K to 12th grade look at books featuring Black and Latino characters at P.S. 43 on Nov. 7th.

Parents, kids enjoy thousands of free books at giveaway event at Mott Haven school

Dozens of parents and children got to go home with free books earlier this month, thanks to a giveaway event at a Mott Haven elementary school hosted by the nonprofit organization Behind the Book.

The two-day book bash took place on Saturday, Nov. 6, and Sunday, Nov. 7, inside P.S. 43 Jonas Bronck School.

Five thousand books were on display for kids from pre-Kindergarten to 12th grade, written in English and Spanish by authors of color, and featuring Black and Latino characters.

Kids were also treated to an hour of storytelling on Saturday by a drag performer from Drag Queen Story Hour NYC who read the picture book “Don’t Touch My Hair!” by Sharee Miller.

Myra Hernandez, a program coordinator and curriculum specialist at Behind the Book who lives in Mott Haven, said she was happy to be providing free and good-quality books that reflected her community.

“There has been a need forever of seeing ourselves in books and having books that represent our realities from small, diverse publishing companies,” Hernandez said. “To show books that are more reflective of the community like Mott Haven is validating.”

The book bash was held inside P.S. 43 for the first time. Usually, Behind the Book holds its events outside where there is a lot of foot traffic.

The nonprofit serves students from pre-K to 12th grade in Manhattan and Bronx public schools where there are large concentrations of low-income students. The organization regularly holds book bashes like the one at P.S. 43 to inspire kids to read and write, teach them about different cultures and help them build deeper connections with books and their authors.

After the success of book bashes in Harlem and Washington Heights, the organization has been trying to inspire kids in Mott Haven to make reading a priority.

“The South Bronx is one of the poorest communities and their kids do not have a lot of access to certain books, so it does not allow them to see bigger,” Jo Umans, the executive director of Behind the Book, said. “It’s really important to give away books, so kids have a good choice of what they like to read.”

The books in the Mott Haven giveaway were donated by sponsors like Brookfield Properties, Bank of India and the D&S Davidson Family Foundation, and meet New York standards for science, math and English education.

Kiara Jaiman, who is 10 years old, visited the book event with her family on Saturday and Sunday. A book lover, Kiara grabbed stories for herself and her neighbors.

“I like how there are books for everyone, for little kids and adults,” Kiara said. “They are also free and good quality.”

Jessica Spencer and Tunichia Grant, both volunteers at the giveaway, said they enjoyed setting up the stands and recommending books for the kids to read.

“Books help children that come from lower-income neighborhoods find an escape,” Grant said. “You read a book and you can get lost in it. Learning how to read, getting better at it, looking up context and words you have never seen before can help kids in the long run.”

Jessika Noralez, who brought her daughter Jayceann to the event, said she hoped to pass on her love of books to her child.

“I want to instill what I experienced to my daughter, so she can read just as much, become well-spoken, educated and have a mind of her own,” Noralez said.

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