In large part due to the pandemic, the office of California Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris tweaked an annual holiday tradition: instead of sponsoring a toy drive in California’s 74th Assembly District as the office usually does, it organized a book drive. The drive was spearheaded by Jess Huang, an aide to Petrie-Norris who is a nonfiction author. Approximately 250 signed copies of books donated by 49 children’s and YA authors—including Martha Brockenbrough, Minh Lê, and Marieke Nijkamp—were provided shortly before Christmas to seven nonprofit organizations serving children and youth in Petrie-Norris’s district in coastal Orange County: Children’s Hospital of Orange County, Families Forward, Memorial Care Social Services, Power of One Foundation, Save Our Youth, Share Our Selves, and Stand Up for Kids.

“We wanted to do a book drive instead of a traditional toy drive this year,” Huang explained, noting that her connections with children’s authors eased the way when she issued the call for signed books. “We wanted young readers to have books that could help them escape into their imaginations during these challenging times. We also thought that signed books were not only a meaningful memento, but something that the children might not have received otherwise. California is under stay-at-home orders and these kids cannot meet these authors in person at bookstore events.”

Nijkamp, who is Dutch, wrote in an email to PW of her participation in the book drive, “I try to get my author copies as much as possible in the hands of readers who might not otherwise be able to get their own books. In pre-pandemic times, school visits were a great way to do that, but obviously, that’s more complicated right now. When I heard about Assemblywoman Petrie-Norris’s book drive, it sounded like a lovely idea to spread joy and kindness, especially in these hard times. The fact that the book drive was focused in Southern California was never a big issue to me. While I’m based in the Netherlands, as a writer with American publishers, I consider American teens my main readership."

This isn’t the only time that Nijkamp celebrated the season by shipping her books to be given to young people. She noted that she also has been donating books “to teachers with students who could use a pick-me-up around the holidays, so those books went all across the world! It really was a pleasure to be able to spread a little cheer.”

Much closer to home, local author Sarah Nicole Smetana told PW, "I’m always thrilled to give back to my community, and am so glad I was in a position to do so. When I was growing up, I never felt like books—or really any media—accurately represented the Orange County I knew: the thriving music scene, the destructive volatility of the weather and the fires. That was a huge factor in crafting my novel, The Midnights, and a big reason why I was so thrilled to participate in this book drive."

She added, "Donating books seems like such a tiny, simple thing, but I know it will bring so much joy to the readers. It’s really amazing that the Congresswoman and her team organized this event."

Brockenbrough, who lives in Seattle, said that she participated in the book drive “because I could. I’ve had book drives in past years that people from around the country have participated in, and I was so grateful to receive boxes of books from my colleagues. This was me returning the favor.”

For her part, Petrie-Norris said she had hoped that the book drive would both “help support our local-area nonprofits and spark a little bit of holiday cheer. It was a privilege to partner with the authors, who were all incredibly generous with their time and resources. I was particularly pleased to work with local authors Julie Abe, Jessica Patrick and Sarah Nicole Smetana, who each stressed the importance of getting books into the hands of young Orange County readers. It brings me so much joy to provide our book drive recipients with a creative outlet, and help spark a love of literature that can last a lifetime.”