A New Brunswick mother is spending her summer getting free books into the hands of children.
Julie Letkeman started the Book Buggy last June and has since distributed more than 1,400 free books at playgrounds in communities outside Saint John.
Letkeman says the Book Buggy is her way of helping to improve child literacy in a province where, according to Statistics Canada, only 56 per cent of the population is functionally literate..
"I wanted to start the Book Buggy to help in some small way," she said.
The project was inspired by a book bus that made its rounds where Letkeman used to live in British Columbia. She says it was a valuable service and thought a similar program would do well in New Brunswick.
Letkeman said fostering a love for reading can open doors and minds.
"There are so many books out there. … Books can tell stories, teach you things, and they can help kids deal with their traumas. They are like magic."
Fuelled by donations
This summer, Letkeman aims to visit two communities outside Saint John each week. So far, she has dropped by playgrounds in Hampton, Norton and Quispamsis. She was hoping to schedule three events a week but held back given the high costs of fuel.
Six plastic storage containers full of lightly used books go with her to each location.
Local individuals have donated most of the books, but Letkeman has also received some from Frontier College, a national charitable literacy organization.
"People have been extraordinary in their donations and the quality of the books have been fantastic as well," she said.
She said the collection covers a wide range of topics, genres and reading ability.
"Everyone can certainly find something they are interested in," she said. "We have board books for our teeny-tiny tots, and some books for even a little bit older teens, maybe around 15 to 16 years old."
While most of the books are English, some are also French.
Kids show appreciation
Layla Kennedy is 10 years old and a self-proclaimed good reader.
Originally she turned down Letkeman's invitation to take some books, until finding out they were free.
"It's pretty good for people who really like to read," she says.
Kennedy and her friend Saphia Buckley each took three books, including one that's from her favourite series, The Baby-Sitters Club.
"Fifty-six per cent of New Brunswick's population is functionally literate ... I wanted to start the Book Buggy to help in some small way" - Julie Letkeman
"What I like most about reading is that they add so much detail that you can make like a movie in your head," she says.
Buckley, 9, said she most likes to read about animals and crime scenes.
"Sometimes if I read a book and it's really good I keep replaying that page over and over," she says.
Buckley thinks the Book Buggy is a good program to help kids read more and improve their imagination.
The future of the Book Buggy
Letkeman plans on continuing with the program for the next few years to collect more information on what communities are most interested in free books. She hopes it will evolve to have a wider scope.
"I'm hoping to gather enough data to make it of interest to a community group or in collaboration with the school district to make it a bigger project," she says.
Individuals interested in donating books or picking some up, can follow the Saint John and Area Book Buggy on Facebook.