Book Joy Lands In Dwight

Jamiah Green | November 12th, 2020

Book Joy Lands In Dwight

Books  |  Dwight  |  Arts & Culture  |  COVID-19



Jamiah Green Photo. 

Emily Kirchner looked over a table decorated with books, trying to find the right ones to bring back into her classroom. There were the classics: Don Freeman’s friendly bear Corduroy and Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day. She could take a ride with Ms. Frizzle on the Magic School Bus or play with Clifford the big red dog. From the corner of her eye, she spotted Keats’ lesser-known Goggles! and inched in to take a look.

Saturday, Kirchner was one of the attendees at the Sojourn Market Book Box, a giveaway and pop-up book fair at the corner of Edgewood Avenue and Garden Street in the city’s Dwight neighborhood. The initiative is a semi-weekly market started by New Haveners Timothee Anderson and Dishaun Harris (a.k.a. Native Parxis) to support local entrepreneurs, growers, and neighbors. Saturday’s event was organized by Aleshia James, a literacy coach at Lincoln-Bassett Community School.

“The point of the event was to create a space where kids can build their confidence in reading again,” James said, surrounded by books and bright purple tablecloths that flapped in the breeze. “I want kids to be able to find their voice and worth without seeking validation from no one else.”

She added that COVID-19, during which New Haven Public Schools have remained remote, has created a specific lack of literary resources for children. Because classrooms and libraries are effectively shut down for the year, students aren’t always able to access the books they want—or need—to get ahead in reading. As outreach administrators scramble to track down missing students, other students are showing up and still falling behind.

Hours before the event, James set up the book fair with colorful balloons, music, crayons and coloring books, and speakers for a potential open mic. She laid out dozens of books, from phonics levels (“Mouse Makes Words” was an early favorite) to stacked copies of So, You Don’t Want To Go To School? Snacks sat nearby in COVID-19 safe baggies, each individually packaged for kids and families who might show up.

As they began to arrive, James turned on audio of children reading stories, their young voices coasting over the crowd. Throughout the event, she said it was important to her to offer young New Haveners a space where they could find characters who look like them. Alongside classic titles and beloved characters like the aardvark Arthur Read—whose anthropomorphized friends celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Christmas—readers could find books like Elizabeth Howard’s Aunt Flossie’s Hats.

Around the tables, families chattered. Kids snapped up books and walked away with snacks. Kirchner, a teacher at Kindercare in Hamden, came out to support James and search for books for her classroom.

During COVID-19, she said it’s been particularly hard for her students to acquire new books as schools remain largely closed around them and cases continue to rise. In her work as a preschool teacher, she enjoys seeing students’ faces light up when they sound out words and connect with the characters in their books.

“I always think it's important for kids to keep reading,” she said. “I want kids to be able to explore their imagination. My message to them is, you are capable of being anything you want to be.”