Donating Character-Developing, Idea-Generating, World-Building Books: The Beginning by Rhonda McCormack
In the mid-1970s, my older sister convinced my parents to buy me a monthly subscription to the Dr. Seuss Beginning Reader club. When a book arrived, we’d crack the spine and turn the pages, lingering over the rhymes, humor, and art. As the 70s gave way to the 80s, my sister invited me to read MAD Magazine with her. We’d lie on her bed, quietly leafing through the magazine until we’d smirk or laugh at a punch line. Then, for some reason, it felt necessary to discuss what made that particular thing funny. There were times when she’d have to clarify a joke, but she never questioned my ability to grasp cultural or political concepts. In fact, she’d pluck obscure words from the books she read and challenge me to spell, define, and use the word in a sentence by the end of the day. I liked this game and the family dictionary got a lot of non-school related use in my preteen years. As I closed in on junior high, my sister encouraged me to check out library books meant for older readers and even introduced me to Stephen King—her favorite author. I jumped from Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Beverly Cleary’s Ramona the Pest to The Shining and Night Shift. At the time, it didn’t occur to me that she was teaching me to read up. Nor did I notice that she was gifting me a pastime—to seek out words in all forms. And I certainly didn’t consider that that kind of giving was contagious.
But it was.
And here I am.
A giver of books.
They’re my favorite holiday and birthday gifts. Especially for the kids. It’s not a stretch. I am an early childhood educator turned kidlit writer/artist. I am someone who views books as art. I mean, take the cover and endpapers, the choice of fonts, the layout of the chapters and illustrations or photographs, all formatted to enhance the story or characters. It’s an amazing collaboration of elements. If done well, those elements create an entire world—and an entire feeling—to explore. And feelings matter. Processing, emoting, when done in a responsible way, changes a person. Grows a person. This is why librarians, educators, reading organizations, and readers advocate for author and character diversity. There are deep and lasting benefits for a reader who sees self—or a future self—in print. Whether through voice, circumstance, personality, or ambition, seeing ourselves in a story isn’t just like looking in a mirror. It’s like looking into our soul. Equally important are the benefits of reading about people we may not know in real life, and the more we learn about and feel for diverse characters, the more we can positively relate in our daily interactions.
This is where things take a serious turn for me. And it’s also the reason I was driven to take book giving to the next level—through donations. Donating feels like a natural next step from the gift giving my sister inspired in me, but when I add books to a donation of money, clothing, or supplies, it feels like I’m acting on a secret message she trusted I’d find someday. That message? One book read leads to many more, and if reading becomes the go-to pastime of large swaths of folks, we’ll grow smarter, more interested, and more interesting as a people, allowing a richer human experience.
Man, doesn’t that sound nice?
And also heavy.
So, where to begin?
First, remember, satisfying pay it forward activism has that in-the-moment feeling. Like, when you see or hear about an organization in need and it ignites an immediate and intense desire to give.
Second, be thoughtful and creative, but don’t overthink it. Donations can be small and simple and still make an impact. For instance, I recently read a Top Ten Nerdy Book Club post regarding novels featuring gender non-confirming characters and decided to choose four titles to include with a clothing donation I was making to my local LGBTQ+ youth center. In addition, I ordered the books from my go-to independent bookstore, where they sell diverse reading material and bring in diverse authors for talks and signings.
My last suggestion is to attempt to make book donating a habit. For me, a seeker of unique picture books and YA novels, Little Free Libraries and my public library’s donation bin have made it an easy transition from buy-read-shelf to buy-read-donate. I like knowing a book that I loved for being different, artsy, nuanced, or thought-provoking is now waiting on a library shelf to be found—and when it is, it’s set free in the world. A world that currently feels chaotic. Scary. Divided.
But that’s the thing about a book. It’s like an open door held by an older sister, who gives us a great, wide welcome before filling us full of words, art, and life-changing, world-building ideas.
Rhonda McCormack is the art novelist, collage artist, and daily activist behind storm row studio, a not-so-big workshop in Scottsdale, Arizona. Day-to-day, she drafts manuscripts for submission, creates art pieces for sale, and completes at least one political or cultural act in the name of dignity, equity, and equality. Her recent past includes a five-year art showcase at Homeology, an eco-home interiors boutique, and independently publishing her YA novel, wildflowers. It could be said that her writing is for teens and young adults. That’s true and she writes for anyone who likes stories about sorting out the world’s mysteries and triumphs. In the end, with all she creates, she aims to find lovely freshness and edgy otherness. You can find Rhonda at stormrow.blogspot.com or on Twitter: @rmackwrites.