In a borough with 1.4 million residents and just one general interest bookstore, what’s the best way to get kids interested in books?
Anthony Tucker, an assistant principal for early childhood education in The Bronx, decided the answer was to take books to where children play.
This spring, Tucker and a Boys 2 Men team of students and adult volunteers began doing just that. They tacked up two sturdy plastic Welcome to Literature bins in the playground at the Andrew Jackson Houses NYCHA complex in Melrose and filled them with an assortment of paperbacks aimed at young readers.
On June 18, another Boys 2 Men team plans to install a second set of book bins at the John Adams Houses playground on Tinton Avenue.
Youngsters are invited to borrow the books or just keep them to have something around to read. Already, the bins have been replenished a couple of times, and more Playground Libraries are planned for other NYCHA housing developments.
“If people want to see change, it starts with what we do today,” said Tucker, who oversees three Learning Through Play centers for 3K to pre-K children in School District 7. “With minimum resources and one good idea, you can make a large impact.”
This year’s effort is a re-launch from a few years ago when 10 playground libraries were in the works, but then COVID halted everything. Several schools in District 7 have a Boys 2 Men chapter, and student members are researching books that should be added to the collection, scouting future locations, and helping replenish book bins when they become empty.
“They are very excited to be part of something like this,” Tucker said.
Tucker himself grew up in a NYCHA apartment in Harlem and recalls having no books around, but heading to the playground every time he got out of school. “I didn’t read for fun – it was a chore,” he said.
He hopes to change that dynamic by putting books in kids’ hands, right where they live. Parents, too, are invited to check out books to read to their children.
“Anything kids choose to do going forward, they have to know how to read. Reading is something that will be a game changer,” Tucker said. “It will allow them to be autonomous.”
The challenge is to keep the bins replenished through continuous donations. The Boys 2 Men team hasn’t been successful in attracting support from the city Parks Department yet, but they have received book and monetary donations from individuals who hear about the Playground Libraries through social media, Craigslist and word of mouth.
Donations can be made by contacting Tucker at Anthony.firstname.lastname@example.org.