'Bookies' bring learning to local kids during pandemic

Posted 8/18/20

Boys & Girls Club, Wissahickon branch, recently received 80 bags of donated books from "Books on the Go,” a project organized by the library volunteers at J. B. Kelly Elementary School in …

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'Bookies' bring learning to local kids during pandemic

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Boys & Girls Club, Wissahickon branch, recently received 80 bags of donated books from "Books on the Go,” a project organized by the library volunteers at J. B. Kelly Elementary School in Germantown. Kelly Lemberger (left), executive vice-president of literacy, education and training initiatives, Boys & Girls Club of Philadelphia, receives the books from Lynn Selhat, a Kelly library volunteer and founder of Books on the Go. (Photo by Janet Boff)

by Erin Flynn Jay

Lynn Selhat, founder of the non-profit organization Books on the Go, started collecting books during the early phases of Covid-19 because she would see a lot of people on sites like nextdoor.com and Buy Nothing Facebook pages giving children’s books away.

Selhat thinks the quarantine may have increased donations of books because people were using the extra time at home to clean out their houses. Books on the Go donations are continuing now, as there is an easy no-contact porch drop-off for donors.

Selhat said they focused on Northwest Philly because she and her colleagues are volunteers in the school library at the J. B. Kelly Elementary School in Germantown. “When we started collecting the books in March and April,” she said, “we thought we could somehow get them directly to our students before the summer started. But because school never reopened, we weren’t able to do that.”

The next-best way of reaching as many of J. B. Kelly students as possible was to work with non-profit partners who are in the vicinity of their school. That is what led Books on the Go to Face-to-Face Germantown and Boys & Girls Club of Philadelphia, which has numerous branches in Northwest Philly. 

“Of course, many of the students who are getting these books are not students at J. B. Kelly, but we feel a strong commitment to education and in particular to students in Northwest Philly,” said Selhat.

As long as books continue to arrive on Selhat’s porch, they will continue to bag them up and give them away. Books on the Go is currently scheduled to deliver about 100 more bags of books (roughly 400 books) to two additional Boys & Girls Club branches in the Northwest. They are also researching the possibility of distributing books through other non-profits in the area such as food banks.

Selhat started Books on the Go because students at J. B. Kelly — and most students, for that matter — will be learning online for the foreseeable future. “There are many wonderful online resources for them, but there is something very important about having a physical book to read.”

Books on the Go is a project developed by the library volunteers at the Kelly Elementary School. Kelly is one of the vast majority of Philadelphia schools whose libraries were shuttered roughly 10 years ago due to budget cuts. Since then, a handful of school libraries, including the one at Kelly, have been reopened by volunteers. During the quarantine, Kelly library volunteers, several of whom live in Chestnut Hill, started seeking book donations with the hope of giving books directly to their students during the summer.

As of July 30, they have delivered more than 600 books via Face-to-Face Germantown and the Boys & Girls Club of Philadelphia, Wissahickon branch and Wayne Avenue branch.

Books are placed in individual bags according to grade level, with roughly three to four books per bag. Each bag includes a flyer listing all the free online book resources available to students.

Selhat said the individual bags are great because they pack them roughly a week before delivering them, avoiding any concerns about Covid-19. The bags are all placed in large cardboard boxes and delivered to the partner locations.

If you have books to donate, here are the kinds of books they are looking for: From K to 6th grade; In good condition; With diverse characters; Kid favorites include early readers, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” “Captain Underpants,” “Dog Man,” “Fly Guy,” “Pete the Cat,” anything by Mo Willems, “Peppa Pig,” princess, pirate, Disney, Lego, superheroes, “Manga,” mysteries, science fiction, choose-your-own-ending stories, “Hero,” “I Am Enough” (audiobook), “I Can Change the World,” etc.

For information on where to drop off books, email lynn_selhat@yahoo.com

Books on the Go can be reached on their Facebook page. Lynn Selhat is an academic editor and writing coach. She has been copy editor of the Academy of Management Perspectives journal since 2006 and head of the writing support program for doctoral students at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania since 2012.

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