Open Books is helping Pilsen children stay on track with reading: '60 percent of households in Chicago simply have little to zero books'

CHICAGO (WLS) -- With the COVID-19 pandemic keeping many families, especially children, at home, a Chicago literacy organization is making sure children in Pilsen don't fall behind on their reading.

Open Books, a literacy program, offers free children's books, pay what you can adult books, as well as children and family programs in Chicago. Executive director of Open Books, Eric Johnson, said they've adapted to these unprecedented times and have opened up a pop-up store that allows residents to safely access books.

"Having been closed for most of the pandemic, we decided to do a pop-up store outside where people can access books, in free air in a very safe way. Pay what you can model so we're encouraging people to come just to simply browse what we have and load up on books especially during the pandemic," said Johnson.

Open Books also collaborates with local organizations in communities in need of books. Evelyn Figueroa, executive director of Figueroa Wu Family Foundation, said having a literacy program that distributes books to those in need, could make a huge difference in those communities.

"With people with lower educational attainment, for people that live in poverty, it tends to disproportionally affect Black and brown people. Books is a huge solution for this type of disparity," said Figueroa.

Johnson said in a time of a pandemic, books are necessary in areas with lack of educational resources.

"60% of households in Chicago simply have little to zero books. In times of a pandemic, again when children aren't in schools, this is particularly critical when they are not getting physical material they usually have access to," said Johnson.

Open Books location in Pilsen offers a variety of genres for the community. Whether it be fiction, non-fiction, even cook books. One section that Johnson said is vital to the community is the Spanish Literature aisle. Johnson said their large collection of Spanish Literature is due to the help of Libreria Donceles, an exhibition of Spanish books and programming from artist Pablo Helguera.

"Latinx and Black children are seeing themselves or someone like themselves and their experiences reflected back at them through the pages. They find agency and empowerment through that," said Johnson.
Copyright © 2020 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.