NEWARK, NJ — Mayor Ras Baraka and Newark Chief Education Officer Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson announced Sept. 1 that the Mayor’s Book Club is combating summer reading loss, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, by distributing more than 10,000 books to Newark residents. They range in topics and reading levels, from colorful books for preschoolers to age-appropriate works for elementary and high school students, as well novels for adult readers.
With schools closed for the spring and summer, libraries limited to curb service due to the pandemic, and virtual learning a reality for the fall, the Mayor’s Book Club developed an alternate plan for getting books into the hands of eager residents. The new books were donated to Rutgers University’s Office of University-Community Partnerships by First Book, a nonprofit social enterprise that provides, among other essentials, new books to educators serving children in need. Diane Hill, Rutgers University–Newark assistant professor of professional practice and assistant chancellor for University-Community Partnerships, offered the books to the Mayor’s Book Club. With the cooperation of the Newark Board of Education, where the books were stored, and the city’s departments of Public Works and Recreation, more than 300 boxes of books were transported and prepared for distribution.
“Despite the challenge of COVID-19, we are working harder than ever to connect more and more city youth with great books that can educate, empower and inspire them to achieve greatness in their own lives and the world at large,” Baraka said. “We have done so with the creativity, unity and energy that defines Newark, and are bringing over 10,000 books to our families. A love of reading can foster a lifetime of success.”
Since mid-July, Baraka’s Office of Comprehensive Community Education has distributed books to city residents at Newark’s Summer Fun Movie Nights and pop-up play events, with the help of teacher volunteers, and the Division of Recreation, Cultural Affairs and Senior Services staff. Also, books were delivered to 110 students attending Newark’s two in-person summer school sites, First Avenue and Thirteenth Avenue schools.
“There’s an abundance of interest when residents see us setting up the tables of beautiful, hardcover books,” Richardson said. “Books are free and for all ages — from toddlers to adults. Wherever we go, Newark residents appreciate the books so much. Residents are used to going to the library, and since most learning is now remote, parents and grandparents are ecstatic to get books into the hands of their children. We keep it safe: We practice social distancing, we distribute masks, and the books that residents take home come from our stockpile of untouched books. Continuing the Mayor’s Book Club in a safe and thoughtful way during this time has been essential.”