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Pilsen, Little Village, West Loop

With School Libraries Closed, Open Books Literacy Nonprofit Is Giving Free Books To Pilsen Kids

Open Books, 905 W. 19th St., opened a free bookstore for kids in late September. The nonprofit has also adopted a pay-what-you-can option for grown-ups.

Launched in late September, the bookstore and warehouse, 905 W. 19th St., opened up a free kids bookstore allowing parents or guardians to load up for children.
Curtis Shaw Flagg
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PILSEN — No child should be without books. That’s the ethos of Open Books, a bookstore and literary advocacy nonprofit in Pilsen and West Loop.

And the mission has become more important in the past few months: With schools closed because of the coronavirus pandemic and children learning remotely, the nonprofit is hoping to keep students reading by offering free books to children in Pilsen.

“Particularly now, … libraries in schools are shut down, children are cut off from access to books that they typically might have otherwise,” said Executive Director Eric Johnson.

As part of that work, Open Books, 905 W. 19th St., opened a free bookstore for kids in late September. The nonprofit has also adopted a pay-what-you-can option for adult books, Johnson said.

The free bookstore is a direct way to get books into children’s homes, he said.

“Being able to have books in the home is a pretty critical factor in pushing literacy along and keeping kids reading — and giving them the resource in order to do so,” he said.

Open Books was founded in 2006 for repurposing used books. Over the past 15 years, Johnson said, the nonprofit has evolved to provide literacy programs serving thousands of students from first to 12th grade.

Every year, the nonprofit receives 1.5 to 2 million book donations it resells at its bookstores to support its literacy programs. Organizers also donate books to teachers, educators and schools to get them into classrooms and inside children’s homes.

The books are now going directly to parents and caregivers to get them into children’s hands.

“In non-COVID times, we bring students into our space, we go into CPS schools. We impact many other kids by distributing books by partnering with teachers and schools,” Johnson said.

“In COVID-times, we have been bobbing and weaving like the rest of the universe, [figuring out] how best to navigate this whole thing.”

Open Books, 905 W. 19th St., opened a free bookstore for kids in late September.

Johnson told ABC7, who first reported on the free bookstore, that 60 percent of families have zero books at home. This initiative is particularly important for families already lacking in-home educational resources, he said. That’s why they decided to launch in Pilsen.

“In the neighborhood, we constantly hear from families and other community members of the need and access to books. Right now, it is pretty critical,” Johnson said.

The bookstore is open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. weekends.

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