Operation BB Blasts Off! The mission is to get books into the hands of tweens and teens
Updates at end of post
An idea is born and a little girl with a big heart takes off on a really cool mission. I’m not going to lie here, I’m biased because she’s my little girl. But please read about how this project came to be and how you can help get books into the hands of tweens and teens who might not own books of their own AND support a little girl trying to learn how she can accomplish big things and make a positive difference in this world.
On Monday, Thing 2 (age 9) and I were at J C Penney when we saw that they had a massive amount of backpacks on clearance for some prices between $2.50 and $3.00 each. It was an amazing price and I was feeling myself pulled to them. I wanted to walk away, but I couldn’t. “I wonder if there is a place that needs donations of backpacks,” I said to Thing 2. And that sentence sparked her imagination.
“What if we put books in each backpack and gave them a backpack full of books?,” she wondered. And then she got excited. And I mean, really excited. She explained her vision to me and it was pretty awesome.
So we talked a bit because I wanted to see how serious she was, and she was both serious and passionate. As she explained what she thought she wanted to do, I realized that she saw an opportunity to do something good and that I needed to help her. This was one of those make or break parenting moments. What I said next really mattered.
So then I called her Dad on the phone and said, “Hey, it would be totally cool if I spent a bunch of money on backpacks, right?” I told him why, what Thing 2 wanted to do, and he said yes. We had just gotten paid, so that helped. He really likes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, so that also helped. Not every parent would have the opportunity to say yes, and I knew we couldn’t fully fund what she wanted to do, but I knew we could buy the backpacks and I knew how I could help her achieve her goals. I knew that I could use my skills and my privilege to help her achieve her goals, to help her learn how to grow a thing, and to help her be a positive force in a world that desperately needs more positive forces. And I still have enough faith in humanity to know that there are indeed some people out there who would help me help her help others. I was not wrong and I thank you for that.
On the way home, I asked her what she wanted to name her project. She’s going through a space phase and everything with her is space related, so she said what about Books in Backpacks. Then she said, what about Operation Books in Backpacks. Over time it became Operation BB: Books in Backpacks. Having an operation is very space sounding. The books in backpacks part is just pragmatic. There were even a lot of space themed backpacks there! She also loves dinosaurs and sharks. Sadly there were no dinosaur or shark backpacks. A full 10% of the backpacks she selected were space themed, go figure!
So then we went home and I helped her make an Amazon Wishlist and she told me what some of her favorite books were and we got started. I had a couple of requirements. One, I wanted to help her make sure it was a diverse list. She’s met me so she got that part. Two, I told her I thought the books should be paperbacks because they are both less expensive for donors and often easier to carry. So a list was made.
We talked about where we could donate the backpacks. I talked to her about children’s homes and foster care. We donate to the local food bank regularly and a few years ago The Teen and one of her besties did a project where they collected books to donate to the local food pantry’s backpack program, which I am sure inspired Thing 2’s idea. We posted online and we found a DFW person who hosts a foster kid closet. When kids are put into foster care, they often are moved from place to place with very few belongings and stuff their belongings into trash bags. This is one of the organizations we will be donating to. We have several places lined up that we can donate backpacks to and make sure they get into the hands of kids who need them.
We went to the dollar store and bought some coloring books. She wanted each backpack to have 2 books, a coloring book and colored pencils. A bulk order of colored pencils is on the Amazon Wishlist and she did received a box of them. She’s 9, she still likes to color. Also, coloring is very popular right now.
Here Are the Very Basics
Scout’s Dad and I buy backpacks and then we ask for donations of books to fill the backpacks. Scout stuffs the backpacks and delivers them to various agencies in the DFW area who serve children and teens in various states of crisis. We are working with a local “foster closet” who provides basic items to kids put in emergency foster care and have been told that the backpacks are amazing because often these kids carry their belongings in trash bags. We are also donating to some specific gift drives during the holiday season. I have also contacted a local teen homeless shelter to ask about donating there as well.
What’s in each backpack?
2 Books, a coloring book and a 12 pack of colored pencils
Why 2 books?
As Scout explained it to me, she was worried that they might get a book they don’t like and so she wanted them to have 2 so that maybe they will like one. Also, she said, if these kids don’t really have a lot or are homeless, then they might really need two. As a librarian who has worked with tweens and teens in poverty, I believe that she’s not wrong and the more books, the better.
How are the books chosen?
Scout chooses either books she has read and loved or would like to read. I, her librarian mother, try and help her make sure that the list is diverse and inclusive. For the sake of cost, we are only putting paperbacks on our wish list.
Why new books?
Children and teens in need of donations often are forced to accept hand me downs and used goods on a regular basis. There is nothing wrong with this and it has a lot of environmental benefits. However, occasionally, it’s nice to receive something new that has belonged to no one but you and we hope to help give kids that feeling. Make no mistake, we gladly accept used book donations in good condition and have scoured the shelves of Half Price Books ourselves to find the newest looking books we can to fill some of our backpacks. But whenever possible, we like to put new books in our backpacks because we just want these kids to have that moment of affirmation that comes from owning something shiny and new. Also, using an Amazon Wishlist allows us to set up a means for book donation without putting her safety at risk because it doesn’t reveal where she lives. It’s a mom thing.
Why coloring books and colored pencils?
The best answer I can come up with is, she was 9 when she started this and likes to color. From a professional standpoint though, she doesn’t realize the therapeutic qualities that coloring can provide and how this was actually a really good idea.
We’re focusing on middle grade and YA fiction because these age groups (tweens and teens) are often under-served by charitable organizations for a variety of reasons. We have, on occasion, gotten books for younger children and we most definitely get those into the hands of kids who need them.
Thanks to some generous donors, we have already put a few backpacks together. Thing 2 was very excited to put the backpacks together. I mean, REALLY EXCITED. Two of the books on her list have fish on the covers and one of the coloring books had a fish on the cover, so she made sure those books go together. She did find some space themed backpacks and has some space themed books on her list. We bought Star Wars coloring books for those bags. Some of the backpacks are loosely themed, another thing that I found interesting about her thinking.
Then on Wednesday night, a tragic school bus accident happened near us. The local high school announced that they were collecting 40 backpacks and school supplies to replace those lost in the accident. The kids effected attended a nearby middle school. I took the remaining 27 backpacks that I had and dropped them off then stopped at the store to buy some more. Thankfully, as of right now, there are still a lot of the backpacks left and at such a good price.
She asked about continuing the project when there are no more backpacks and it looks like we can buy bulk orders of backpacks online for around $3.50 to $4.00 each in the future. They aren’t the fun designs we currently have, but they’re cool colors and such. She was happy with that.
As I mentioned, she is going through a space phase so the same day we bought the backpacks her astronaut Halloween costume arrived. She hasn’t taken it off much at home. I helped her put together a flyer to promote her operation (done on Canva, I know some of you will ask) and she is, of course, in the costume. As a mom, my heart has been touched by how excited she is to do this, how compassionate she has been in thinking of others, and how creative she is in going full space themed here. I’ve got to admire her branding ability, without her even knowing really what branding is.
I also want to say, as a mom and a librarian, I have been excited to see her excited about books. You see, Thing 2 was diagnosed with dyslexia in the 2nd grade and reading has been and is a challenge for her. This is the first year she has really been excited about books. The struggles she has trying to read have left her often feeling “stupid” (her words, not mine). She’s behind her friends at school and she knows it. So I was stunned when she said she wanted to fill the backpacks with books and not say candy or stuffed animals or Legos, all things she also has a lot of passion for. This is the first time she is showing real interest in reading and seems to understand that giving another kid a book would mean something to them. My heart has grown ten sizes this week for a lot of reasons.
I don’t know if we will try and fill the 100 backpacks she wants and be done or if we will continue. I just know that as her mom, I want to try and support her in this because I love how compassionate she is being. I love how excited she is. I love how she is thinking creatively and problem solving. And I love that we get to spend time together as we do this. I hope that not only is she learning and growing, but that she is building positive skills and memories that she will keep with her for a lifetime.
Thank you to everyone who has shared the information, sent us books, and sent her encouraging words. It means a lot to me as her mom and she has thought it was pretty cool herself. Maybe the younger generation will save us after all.
Update: December 8, 2018
We delivered an initial 45 books to a local “foster closet” that allows kids put in emergency foster care to get items they need in their emergency situation. They were delighted to receive the backpacks because as they explained to us, these kids often just carry their belongings in trash bags.
We have another 30 middle grade backpacks set to donate. That will put her at 75 backpacks. We’ve just ordered another 24 for the teen drive mentioned below. Plus we bought 1 backpack for her to fill with books and donate to our Angel Tree child because she wants to try and donate 100 backpacks full of books by the end of 2018. She has already says she wants to continue into 2019.
The local children’s advocacy center is working with the schools specifically to do a teen drive so we are currently trying to fill as many teen backpacks as possible. The final date for donations is December 14th. We’ve added some YA titles to the Amazon Wishlist which you can find here: http://a.co/cYl740j. If you have other titles that you would like to donate, please email me at kjensenmls at yahoo dot com and I will tell you how you can get those to me so that I can get them to her.
Scout is really excited about all the things she has been able to do with your help and she has asked to continue this as an ongoing project, which her father and I have decided to continue to support. Yay for young girls changing the world!
Thank you to everyone who has, who will, and who continues to donate and support not only my child, but the concept of making sure that as many children as possible are able to own a few books.
Sadly, JC Penney is out of the super cool backpacks with designs, so now we are ordering backpacks in bulk online in plain colors. I think they have more teen appeal, so that part is cool. They do have some cool colors.
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About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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