I've recently been in touch with a New Orleans group, Books2Prisoners. They have been delivering books to prisoners in the area for some time and have now started to gather books for the juvenile detention centers as well. It's all slow going, as you can imagine, and yes - every book they had stored was destroyed back in Katrina.
First a little background on why I think you need to donate your ARCs and review copies to kids in jail. First, keep in mind that juveniles are held at detention centers before they are tried - so many of these kids are just waiting for something to happen in their cases. More importantly though, crime in New Orleans is out of control - everybody knows it, we are all talking about it and shaking our heads and precious little is being done to change it. Just the other day, one 17-year old shot and killed another for the strangest of reasons - a fist fight escalated to guns because the shooter's mother apparently told him to do it.
Yeah, it's looking more and more like Baghdad everyday.
You can read an excellent update on NOLA crime here, and also a report from the Children's Defense Fund last week which states, in part:
As the violence in New Orleans and Louisiana continues to escalate in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Children's Defense Fund (CDF) released Protect Children, Not Guns 2007, its annual report that details how each and every day we continue to lose children and teens to gun violence throughout America.
The report was presented at the Civil Rights-focused Samuel DeWitt Proctor Pastor's three-day Conference which met here in New Orleans culminating with the Rev. Al Sharpton and prominent ministers condemning President Bush, Governor Blanco, and Mayor Nagin for their lack of action in the recovery from Hurricane Katrina.
While gun violence plagues cities and towns across the U.S., news accounts last week report that New Orleans has experienced some of the most pervasive gun problems and is now considered the nation's "murder capital."
You can also read about the impact of Louisiana's high incarceration rate on the state's children at an older article (from 2005) that predates Katrina but expresses "...the Kids Count survey ranks Louisiana 49th in the United States when an array of indicators for child well-being are factored together, among them rates of child death, single-parent homes and households where parents don't hold full-time jobs."
To combat all of this, Nik Bose at Books2Prisoners contacted me to spearhead an effort to collect ARCs and review copies from bloggers and reviewers and use them to build libraries in several New Orleans area juvenile facilities. They are already working with the Youth Study Center and also plan to bring books to Bridge City, Jetson and Swanson. (NPR ran a piece on New Orleans juvenile centers last year. There's also a much more indepth piece on juvenile detention before, during and after Katrina at the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana.) The books will be initally processed at The Iron Rail, a community book and music collective, which is where the group already holds their weekly meetings.
They are looking for books from the middle grade reading level and up, primarily dealing with multi-cultural themes and characters. As many of you kid lit reviewers know, it isn't easy to find juvenile or YA books that have African American characters. Nik is more than happy to take any book - the group will sort through them and deliver those books to the kids that they think will work best and donate the rest to other area groups (libraries, etc.) in need of reading material.
In other words, there are certain books they are looking for but they are so desperate they will take whatever you've got.
I wanted to ask the Sci Fi and Fantasy reviewers in particular to dig deep on this effort - I think SFF titles are often overlooked for teen readers but can resonate the deepest, as many fans of the genre will attest. Ethnic issues are dealt with differently in SFF titles (when you are dealing with aliens or faeries, humans are just one more part of the mix, not the whole deal), and because of that, it is often SFF authors that children will remember the deepest and return to throughout their lives.
Please understand that this is not a momentary thing we are doing - these kids are in serious trouble and if the one thing we can do for them that might make a positive difference is send some books, then you can bet we need to keep doing it for months and months and years and years to come.
We need to send them books and we need to keep on sending.
Here's the mailing address:
Books 2 Prisoners
1631 Elysian Fields PO Box #117
New Orleans, LA 70117
ATTN: Nik Bose
And Nik has asked that you please send a brief email and give them a heads-up that books are on the way. As they receive their packages at a box, they don't want them to stack up and will make sure someone checks often when they know something is coming. The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, I am putting together a wishlist at Powells Books for the group for those folks who want to send something but do not have the piles of ARCs that some of the rest of us have. Any recommendations for multi-cultural titles will be heartily accepted. I'm also looking for good SFF and mysteries to add. I thought I would put it up at Powells so folks could buy used copies, and thus spend a little more (grin).
Finally, for those of you with adult titles that won't work for this effort, may I suggest you head over to the Camel Bookmobile site and donate five books to Kenya? I read about this at the NBCC blog today and I can not believe there is a camel bookmobile - or that regions of northern Kenya suffer from an 85% illiteracy rate. I will be sending my five books this week and will certainly be looking for a copy of author Masha Hamilton's book aas well.
So, this is the part where I tell you that books matter (but you already know that) and ask you please to do something with the many free books you have that might just make the world a better place. I'm not naive - I know that a book can not cure poverty, or broken homes or a crappy education or gang violence. But I'm also not a fool and I do know that without some movement towards positive change, nothing will happen at all. It's easy to shake your head and turn off the news and go back to your middle class lifestyle with all of its clean countertops, minivans and trips to the Gap. This is the harder part, and believe me, I'm no easier to motivate than anyone else, but I feel like with the world going to hell in a handbasket, I have to do something - we all have to do something.
This project resonates so strongly with me because I come from a life that needed the library desperately, that saw one comic book purchase every payday (every two weeks) because that was all my parents could afford. I spent all year waiting for Christmas and the chance to own some books of my own. We weren't poor, but we were close - we could see it and feel it and taste it. We lived paycheck to paycheck and I have never forgotten how close you can be to having nothing; how small the distance is from security to loss.
A book is just a book - on one level. But it's also the whole world if you haven't seen it before, it's places and people and ideas you never knew existed. Every great reader out there knows a book can change everything when it is the right book at the right time.
Something Wicked This Way Comes and A Wrinkle in Time - are the ones for me. They taught me how to be brave and I've never forgotten those moments when I learned that; those moments when a book changed my life.
Send all questions and suggestions to colleenatchasingraydotcom.
UPDATE: I have started a list at Powells. You access the wishlist lookup here, and use my email (as listed above but with the correct symbols instead of "at" and "dot") to go to the list. Pretty damn easy, I swear. Be aware that Powells will request the mailing address I have listed earlier in this entry - there is no way for me to pre-enter a shipping list. I'm using Powells though because it is very very easy to select inexpensive used copies of books (most of the ones I have listed are around $5!!!). If you want to help but don't have books of your own to send, then this is the perfect way. I'll be adding to the list constantly as more folks make suggestions. And thank you to everyone who has already linked to this entry - each and everyone of you rock!