Bronx Resident Bringing Mobile Bookstore to Borough

Lifelong Bronx resident Latanya Devaughn is on a mission to bring a bookstore on wheels to her borough. Now, after two years of soliciting donations for books and funds, Devaughn recently announced the acquisition of the bus that will bring her passion project closer to reality. We spoke earlier this week about her bibliophilic endeavor, the challenges posed by the pandemic, and what she hopes a mobile bookstore will do for the residents of the Bronx.

“My lifelong dream has been to open a bookstore. I’ve had other jobs but owning a bookstore has never left my heart.” Devaughn explained. Growing up, it wasn’t always easy to buy books since there were few such shops in her neighborhood. “I’m used to traveling outside of the borough to get to the bookstore. Even when we had one in Bay Plaza, I still had to travel very far to just purchase a book.” A bookstore on wheels would alleviate some of those transportation issues for fellow Bronx bibliophiles.

Like many New York bookworms, Devaughn credits the stacks at the Strand for sustaining her reading habit without breaking the bank. “I read a lot as a kid. My fondest memories growing up included going to The Strand. I spent hours there and came home with more books than I could carry.  The Strand left a huge impression on me because the books were affordable.”

Providing access to affordable books in a bid to increase literacy rates is sorely needed in the Bronx, where 70 percent of third grade students in the South Bronx cannot read at grade level, just over half of high school graduates are adequately prepared for college, and 41% of all Bronx residents lack basic prose literacy skills. Breaking this cycle is essential, and Bronx Bound Books will join a number of similar initiatives.

Raised by her grandmother, a public school teacher at PS 5 Mort Morris, Devaughn recalled witnessing firsthand how illiteracy holds people back. “I remember seeing my grandmother reading to her friends who couldn’t read for themselves. Her friends trusted her to read their leases, prescriptions, bills, and letters. I saw that as a huge responsibility.” Providing opportunities for people to become self-sustained readers is an important step towards social and economic independence.

A grant from the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (underwritten by Lowe’s Home Improvement) helped put Devaughn’s fundraising efforts over the top. Now, Devaughn can’t wait to get on the road, but the bookmobile needs some TLC first. “I hired an amazing interior designer. She’s helping me bring the vision to life. Bronx Bound Books will look comfy and cozy–think Tiny House meets Tiny Bookstore.” Devaughn hopes the renovations will be complete by April in time for National Poetry Month and Indie Bookstore Day, held on the last Saturday of the month. No matter what day she launches, “We’ll have a full selection of books,” plus “‘pre-loved’ (pre-owned) and new books.” Devaughn plans to incorporate a lending library into the bookmobile as well. 

It wasn’t easy getting to this point: with the pandemic throwing Devaughn’s plans into chaos, she, like many Americans, spent the early days of 2020 just trying to make sense of the situation. “I was totally unmotivated for weeks. All the plans and partnerships were put on hold. I was really gearing up for a very active year. We made huge strides in 2019. I hoped to carry that momentum forward.” Soon, Devaughn realized that keeping the dream alive meant evolving, and so pivoted by hosting virtual story times and author talks. “The response and viewership was incredible–way more than I expected.” The intrepid bookseller has even set up shop at local farmers markets in recent weeks. “I could not ask for a better welcoming response from the community. We have so many weekly supporters, and they also tell their friends. Now, we’re getting more requests from other parts of the Bronx.”

Devaughn is counting down the days until the official launch of Bronx Bound Books, and so are fellow Bronx residents. “So many people I meet share those memories [of the bookmobile]. They tell me how happy they felt when they saw the bookmobile every week. I hope to continue that joy.”

Devaughn is still raising funds so that she can hire a local artist to create a mural that would grace the exterior of the bus. “I love my community and strive to always hire within my community. We have so many talented and creative people living in The Bronx. It brings me great joy to showcase this.”

To donate or to learn more, visit the Bronx Bound Books website.

Some Few Books to Be Chewed and Digested

Below we offer a rundown of three titles to share with loved ones, and, given the givens of 2020, not a one deals with sleigh bells or other traditional trappings of the season. Yet each is a reminder that hope remains a powerful antidote to overwhelming despair. Hang in there folks, and stay safe.

For young adult fans of historical fiction: The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep: Voices from the Donner Party, by Allan Wolf, Candlewick Press, 416 pages, $21.99.

From the author whose previous books explore, among other things, the sinking of the Titanic and a teenage murderer, you may be wondering how on earth this title makes an appropriate holiday gift. Trust me when I tell you that this chillingly poetic account of the ill-fated 19th-century Donner Party expedition is perhaps one of the most intriguing and expertly crafted stories to appear between hard covers this year. With the voice of Hunger serving as a sort of Greek chorus interspersed among multiple narrators, there’s more to this tale than mere hunger pangs–it is a bone-chilling examination of love, ambition, and blind faith in manifest destiny, all based on Wolf’s near-obsessive research on the subject, as evidenced through the accompanying historical notes, biographies, and further resources. No detail is spared, while middle-grade readers will finish the book pleasantly surprised that they devoured a novel written almost entirely in verse.

For adult offspring: Offerings: A Novel, by Michael ByungJu Kim, Arcade Books, 288 pages, $24.99.

Michael Kim’s debut novel draws heavily from his thirty years of experience in the world of international finance wherein a brilliantly woven narrative explores the simultaneous pull of family loyalty versus duty to one’s profession. Here, during the throes of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, Korean-American immigrant and now genius investment banker Dae Joon–known as Shane to his American compatriots–is summoned to his birthplace in a bid to save the country from financial ruin. As the family jangnam, or first-born son, Dae Joon was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the ranks of academia, but the siren song of Wall Street proved irresistible. While Dae Joon toils relentlessly to save the Korean economy from collapse–and, as it turns out, unravel a sordid tale of financial corruption–a mysterious illness threatens the life of his father. Throw in a mysterious romantic interest, and there’s plenty competing for Dae Joon’s time and attention, each creating a cohesive story that’s all but impossible to put down. Offerings has–dare I say it?–a cinematic quality to it, no easy feat for a writer. Here’s hoping there’s a second offering in the works.

Courtesy of the Folio Society

For lovers of the great outdoors: The Complete Flower Fairies, by Cicely Mary Barker, forward by Roy Vickery, Folio Society, $149.95. Orders for Christmas delivery must be made by December 10 and 17 for standard and express delivery, respectively.

Struck with epilepsy as a child, South London native Cicely Mary Barker (1895-1973) was homeschooled and honed her artistic talents via correspondence courses. By 1911, her watercolors and drawings were gracing postcards, and in 1923 the first book in a series illustrating seasonal flora appeared as Flower Fairies of the Spring. The internationally bestselling Flower Fairies eventually encompassed eight charming volumes that, nearly a century after their first appearance, are now being offered as a limited-edition set by Folio Society. Botanist and Honorary Secretary of the Folklore Society Roy Vickery provides a nuanced explanation of why this collection extolling the virtues of the great outdoors remains a perennial favorite, even among cooped-up urbanites worldwide.

Tomie dePaola Dead at 85

Sad news out of New Hampshire: on Monday, beloved children’s book author and illustrator Tomie dePaola died at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center due to complications following surgery for head injuries sustained from a fall in his barn last week.

Born in Meriden, Connecticut, dePaola delighted generations of children with his tales of kindly and cheerful characters such as the beloved titular witch in dePaola’s Caldecott Honor-winning Strega Nona: An Old Tale (Prentice-Hall, 1975). Over 15 million copies of dePaola’s 270 + books have been sold worldwide and translated into twenty languages. 

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In a statement, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu praised dePaola as “a man who brought a smile to thousands of Granite State children who read his books, cherishing them for their brilliant illustrations.” An outpouring of remembrances from authors and illustrators are popping up across social networks as well.

 

 

Thank You for Being a Friend: Abby Reviews Two Picture Books for Kids and Adults

Abby looks at two titles today: a new picture book for grown-ups set to the lyrics of Andrew Gold’s theme song for The Golden Girls, and Castle of Books, Alessandro Sanna’s  joyous introduction to the worlds waiting to be unlocked by the gift of reading. Both are uplifting celebrations of friendships and a reminder that we’ve all got each other’s back, even when going gets a little dark. Brighter days ahead–

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La Dolce Vita: Abby Reviews Paolo: Emperor of Rome

With Italy and its people in our hearts, Abby brings you Mac Barnett’s latest children’s book about a dog who yearns for freedom in the Eternal City. The book will be available March 31 in both Kindle and print format.

If you’ve never heard of Barnett, check out Barbara’s 2014 interview with him when the Caldecott winner spoke about what he called the literary bargain children happily make when choosing something to read.

 

Abby Launches Video Book Reviews for Kids

Ok, we’re all home, but we can keep boredom at bay with great books. Abby, our roving 5th grade reporter, has stepped up with video book reviews for kids of all ages. Accompanying each review will be pertinent data (publisher, price, etc.) and links to where books are available in both digital and print format.

Here is Abby’s welcome video for a series we’re calling, “Book Reviews from Inside the Hot Zone.” The Hot Zone refers to where we are currently located–that this, a stone’s throw from New Rochelle. Be safe everyone. We will get through this together.

 

 

Green Day

Mother Earth needs our help. Easier said than done, right? The challenges are enormous and it’s tempting to simply buy a reusable grocery bag and call it a day. But every little bit–including that reusable grocery bag–helps, and plenty of options exist to make the world a cleaner place. But where to start? According to Jen Gale in The Sustaninable(ish) Living Guide: Everything you need to know to make small changes that make a big difference (Green Tree, 296 $16), taking Draconian measures to “go green” aren’t necessary to make significant change. Gale knows, because she went to those extremes by undertaking an entire year without buying a single new item for her and her family, which she chronicled on her website. That experience, though difficult, revealed that she and her family (which included two young children) were capable of becoming more thoughtful consumers. But going whole hog isn’t for everyone, and this book grew out of a desire to permanently change her behavior without having to pull up stakes and move to Amish country.

Sustainable(ish) provides easy, achievable ideas on how to reduce consumption and help save the planet. Topics run to the usual suspects, like reducing food and plastic waste, as well as the more unexpected and thought-provoking, from an examination of the astounding amount of waste that goes into producing our clothes to how the most mundane of items, like markers and baby wipes, can be toxic for the planet.  Each chapter follows a similar pattern of laying out the statistics, providing Gale’s experience with the problem, and a series of suggestions for the reader to implement that become progressively more involved.

Engagingly optimistic, there is much here to help readers find their way to a cleaner, greener future, but financial stats provided in pounds and UK-based resources will leave many American readers wondering where to turn for further guidance, but that is easily remedied via a quick online search. Our choices matter, and Gale helps us take realistic action that will benefit the health of our planet and the next generation–in other words, this is the earth-friendly guidebook for all of us.

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