New Haven’s social justice bookstore is facing coronavirus the best way it knows how to: with the power of words. Read in isolation and online, that is.
That’s the story at People Get Ready Books, where co-owners Lauren Anderson and Delores Williams are using a three-pronged approach to shepherd the New Haven community—and their small business —through the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We have been following the news about school in particular and from different vantage points,” Anderson said Friday afternoon, reached by phone. “It just felt natural to do. It seemed like the easiest, lowest contact way to bring a little bit of book joy. ”
“Good morning New Haven,” she started. “It’s our first day off of school today. And I know some of us are not feeling ready. So People Get Ready … is gonna try to help a little bit.”
People Get Ready Photo.
Behind her, the empty bookstore sprawled out like a big hug, hundreds of titles snuggled neatly on their shelves. A rainbow stretched cheerily across her sweater. She held up Sarah Lynne Reul's The Breaking News and started to read. The book, which follows two siblings as their parents learn about a community emergency while watching TV, teaches kids and parents to navigate traumatic news in real time.
“Sometimes bad news can come from the TV,” Anderson explained as she guided viewers through the illustrations. In one, a family sat bright eyes around a kitchen table, suddenly distracted by the television. In another, a mom sat by herself on the edge of a sofa, eyes glued to the television. A third, and the young narrator brought readers into her school bus, where students around her looked scared.
Anderson lingered on each one as if she was sitting before a packed room of young readers and not a screen. To an image of kids drawing, she encouraged viewers to doodle if they were feeling anxious. In another, she paused on a suggestion of “community helpers,” and wondered aloud if people were doing the same in New Haven.
At home, thousands of parents tuned in with their kids. Friends shared it. Then friends of friends shared it. Parents weighed in, cheering in the comments and posting photos of their kids as they watched. Before long, the video had over 5,000 views.
They have said that they plan to hold readings each day at 9 a.m. as long as schools remain closed. On Sunday, Anderson explained to readers that she also intended for bilingual readings to be part of the series. She and Williams have also considered doing a joint virtual poetry reading for adults, because the bookstore has so many copies of Betts’ Felon after Friday’s reading was cancelled.
In addition, People Get Ready has partnered with Libro.fm, a grassroots provider of audiobooks that supports independent bookstores through its listenership. When readers sign up, they can choose a local bookstore to support from a drop down menu. When they make a purchase—either a book, a membership, or a gift membership—part of the profit goes directly to the bookstore. If they want title recommendations, People Get Ready’s social media account is active and ready.
So too, it turns out, are members of its low-carbon dropoff bike crew, or the “Book Pedalers on the Yellow Bookbus Bike.” While Anderson and Williams had intended to wait until later this year to test out the program, they rolled it out—literally—over the weekend as parents started asking for books. They are also providing book and curbside pickup by appointment only, with no entry into the store.
People Get Ready Photo.
As the bookstore heads into its fourth day of a new approach, the videos have attracted hundreds and sometimes thousands of viewers each day. Many are New Haven parents; others come from outside the state. They are candid: in one, Anderson tells viewers that she is starting to feel tired, and she knows that parents and kids probably are too.
“I’m trying to focus on the potential or the possibilities for silver lining,” she said Friday afternoon. “It could be transformative to have people prioritize human connection.”
As residents are advised to go into isolation mode, Anderson added that she is hoping the readings and drop offs help New Haveners feel a little more connected to each other, and to the outside world. There’s joy and humor there too, she said: Friday she picked up the book backwards because nothing was scripted or practiced.
“I’m hoping that’s like the charm in it,” she said. “It’s getting over the shyness hump a little bit. I’m not really one to post pictures or lives tream, and De isn’t either. But the point of bringing books to people with some love for this moment? That part feels easy and natural.”