Pre-teen starts “Books N Bros” because representation matters
What do you do if you’re a book lover, but none of the characters or authors look like you? You could a) keep reading books you don’t identify with or b) start your own reading list, darn it. If you’re 11-year old Sidney Keys III you do the latter, and you make a cool book club for kids while you’re at it because representation matters.
Sidney from St. Louis started the reading club called Books N Bros, and it’s purpose is to celebrate African American literature and promote literacy among his peers.
“Every time I go to the library at my school, there aren’t many African American literature books there,” Sidney told the radio program “St. Louis on the Air.” The young man was inspired by a visit to EyeSeeMe, a book story in University, Missouri that promotes African American children’s literature. Sidney’s mother shot a Facebook live video from inside the store. In it, you see a captivated Sidney, sitting on the floor reading a book.
“He hadn’t seen [a bookstore] like that before and I certainly never had, so he was making himself comfortable on the floor, reading a book,” Sidney’s mom, Winnie Caldwell, said. “… When you get to a point when he is 11 years old and it was so shocking for him to relate to someone on the cover in a positive aspect rather than it be some negative urban story we see a lot. I would like to make sure he sees himself in being whatever he can be.”
The Facebook video of Sidney in the bookstore quickly went viral, garnering over 63,000 views and over 1,700 shares. Clearly, this mother and son had hit on something. They thought about what they wanted to do next and a book club came to mind.
Not only is the idea brilliant, it’s filling a very critical need that we’re seeing around the U.S. Boys are falling behind in reading in every state, according to The New York Times. The article pointed to a report done by the Center on Education Policy that found in elementary school 79 percent of girls were deemed “proficient” in reading, compared to 72 percent of boys. Similar gaps were reportedly found in middle schools and high schools.
So what is happening here? There are many theories, but one that holds weight seems like common sense among anyone that’s read a book before. You like to read about characters that are like you. Sure, you’ll read books about characters, cultures, and time periods that are as far away to you as Antarctica, but most readers enjoy storylines and characters that they can identify with. If you don’t have books that you can identify with, you may become disinterested in reading all together. As a result, one could assume time spent reading decreases as does literacy, which is exactly what Books N Bros tries to combat.
“My motivation is I already love to read but it would be awesome, even better, to read with other people. I want to keep doing it because I don’t know what will make me stop reading because I love to read,” Sidney said.
The book club focuses on boys from ages eight to eleven. They meet once a week to discuss the book that decided by members in the previous month. Books and Bros has about seven to ten members and the boy and his mom say it’s growing every month.
Some of the book club favorites so far have been “Danny Dollar Millionaire Extraordinaire: The Lemonade Escapade” by Ty Allan Jackson, which is about a young boy with an entrepreneurial spirit. Fitting for a boy that was inspired to start a book club. The author of this book actually saw the viral video and joined one of the book club meetings via Skype.
The kids have also read “Hidden Figures” and “Supah Dupah Kid.” In February, for Black History Month, the group read “A Song for Harlem: Scraps of Time,” by Patricia McKissack, a St. Louis-based children’s book author.
The membership is 20 bucks and each member gets a worksheet to go along with the book as well as a snack. What they get out of the book club, however, is invaluable.
They get literature, they get culture, and they get representation. Representation matters in pop culture, entertainment, and yes, literature. Because sometimes you have to see it to enjoy it, to identify with it, and to believe it for yourself.
And what we see, is a very bright future indeed.