Leah’s Literacy project

Teen collects more than 1,000 books so more kids can read.

Photo courtesy of Lisa Epstein

For the past six months, 13-year-old Leah Littlefield has collected new and gently-used children’s books.

When students at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center’s Religious School become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah they have to complete a number of requirements involving study and worship. They are also required to do a mitzvah (social service) project. Leah has always been an avid reader, so, inspired by her love of books, she decided to do a project supporting children’s literacy.

Her project, which she called “Spreading the Joy of Reading” had several components including working with a young student learning to read, and making and selling bookmarks to raise money for a literacy organization. But the primary component was collecting new and gently used children’s books to be donated to literacy organizations.

Leah set up drop boxes at several locations including the Edgartown Library, West Tisbury Library, The Hebrew Center, and at her school, Falmouth Academy. She wrote a letter that was sent out with her Bat Mitzvah invitations requesting that everyone coming to the service bring a new or gently-used children’s book to contribute to her project.

This past Sunday, it was time to hunker down at the Hebrew Center and count and prepare the books for distribution. Leah was surprised that she had well over her goal of 500 books.

“One of the best things about having so many books donated was being able to read them!” Leah wrote in an email to the Times. “I collected more than 700 books and probably read about 30 of them this summer. Donations ranged from Goodnight Moon to Harry Potter and everything in-between.

“One donation that was interesting to me was a book called “Shlemazel and the Remarkable Spoon of Pohost.” It is a folktale about a man who lives in a Eastern European village called Pohost, which is the same place my great-grandmother came from before she emigrated to America.”

“We will be taking all the books off-Island tomorrow,” said Leah’s mom, Lisa Epstein. They will deliver them to Horizons for Homeless Children, a non-profit Massachusetts organization that creates playspaces and provides early education to children who are living in homeless shelters, and are looking for books for kids age six and under.  Many of the brand new books for younger kids will then be given out as birthday gifts.

“Most of the rest of the books we are delivering to Reach Out and Read,” said Lisa. “Their national offices are in Boston and they will distribute the books to hospitals, clinics and pediatrician’s offices all over the country. Leah has requested that some of the books from her project go to Boston Children’s Hospital and some go to participating Reach Out and Read locations on the Cape and Islands. There are several here on the Vineyard.

“I remember when Leah was young she would always be given a new book when she went for her annual physical at Vineyard Pediatrics,” Leah’s mother said. Some of those same books, now gently-used, are going back to Reach Out and Read, since Leah purged many of her own books for her project.