Jason Reynolds, the 2020–2021 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, is demonstrating yet again how seriously he takes the responsibility of raising awareness of the importance of children’s literature.
Being Reynolds, he is raising such awareness in his usual unconventional way that commands attention. Plus, in the process, he is giving indie bookstores in Washington, D.C., some badly needed stimulus. On Tuesday, Reynolds made public via social media that in honor of Giving Tuesday, a day when people are urged to donate to nonprofit organizations of their choice, he “bought just about the ENTIRE inventory” of his 14 books at most of the indie bookstores in his hometown that stock children’s books, and invited anyone who wanted a free book to drop by the stores in person.
“ALL I ASK,” Reynolds tweeted, “Is that you not be greedy. And also, if you’re picking one up, and it’s the last, and there’s a kid who wants it, PLEASE let it go. Love y’all.”
The books are—rather, they were—available at Politics & Prose, MahoganyBooks, Loyalty Bookstores’ Petworth location, Kramerbooks & Café, Sankofa, East City Bookshop, Solid State, and Busboys & Poets’ D.C. locations.
“I had to contain it,” Reynolds told PW, noting that he’d heard from participating booksellers that the books “went fast, it was pretty crazy. I had to set a geographic boundary for myself or it’d get out of control.”
East City Bookshop’s children’s book buyer, Cecilia Cackley, reported that immediately after the store opened for business at 1 p.m. Wednesday, its two phone lines were jammed with calls from people inquiring about the books. The first two books, according to East City’s tweet, were handed out to a mother and daughter within 10 minutes of the store’s opening. Cackley reported that all 30–40 copies of books by Reynolds in both hardcover and paperback formats that the store had in stock were gone within an hour to a mix of families and teachers.
“It was a great opportunity for parents to get books for their kids, and for teachers, who told us, ‘I’m going to give books to my students who don’t have access to books during the pandemic.’ Schools are closed, libraries are closed,” Cackley said. “We love Jason and we always have a good number of his books on hand.”
About a mile and one-half south of East City Bookshop, MahoganyBooks, a Black-owned bookstore in the Anacostia neighborhood, gave away all 15 books in its inventory in two hours.
On the other end of town, Donna Wells, manager of the children’s and teens department of Politics & Prose, reported that Reynolds purchased almost 100 books, including boxed sets of his Track series. By the end of the day on Wednesday, the books were all spoken for, as “people were coming in to pick up their books throughout the day.”
Describing Reynolds as one of Politics & Prose’s “favorite authors,” Wells said he has “a big heart” and “continues to find innovative ways to engage kids in reading. He recommended that people buy a book when they came in to pick up their free book, and they truly listened. We had a nice bump in children’s and teen sales these past couple of days and met a number of first-time customers.”
Reynolds declined to disclose how many of his books total he ended up purchasing Tuesday, responding, “A lot, I bought a lot. I’ve written 14 books, and they’re in hardcover and in paper.” He decided to do this, he said, because he usually visits indie bookstores in Washington, D.C., on Small Business Saturdays—both as a featured author and as a customer. This year, however, since he could not do that because of Covid-19 restrictions, he decided to donate on Giving Tuesday to those businesses he usually supports with his time and dollars on Small Business Saturday.
“Bookstores are struggling,” he said. “Kids can’t get the books they need, many of them because their parents are out of work and don’t have the money to afford books. Teachers can’t get the books they need. Why not make it easier for everyone to buy books? And the bookstores are covered, because the books are already paid for.” As an added benefit for indies, he noted, “While people are picking up their books, maybe they’ll grab something extra.”
His literary philanthropy, Reynolds declared, “comes from a place of love.” Love for his readers, love for young people in general, love for his hometown, and love for indie bookstores. “There’s no extra to put on why I did this.”