Dear friends,

I often get asked the question, “What makes Open Books unique?”

My answer to that question is simple:  community.  We aim to improve literacy in partnership with community.

A vivid example, local muralist Diosa came to our team with a proposition – to turn our pay-what-you-want bookstore and warehouse in Pilsen into a work of art worthy of the Pilsen community.  We didn’t hesitate to say ‘yes’ to Diosa’s vision:

In fact, as Diosa began her work last month, our 19th St. neighbors, watching Diosa move an unbearably heavy ladder a few feet at a time, pooled resources to rent her a mechanized lift.  The community saw what Diosa was doing and they responded.  The community invested in what they saw – the transformation of our pay-what-you-want store into a public masterpiece that welcomes children and adults alike.

With this letter, I aim to provide this and other glimpses of how Open Books is driving literacy with community in Chicago.

My hope is that you, as a member of the Open Books community, will also consider making a year-end, holiday gift – today or any time from now through December – to help Open Books achieve a greater impact on our community of children and families.

Open Books friend and champion, Anna Piepmeyer, shared with me a recent exchange she had with a former Open Books student and volunteer writing coach, who were paired together years ago.  As she reflected:

I could have never foreseen that [the student and volunteer] would still know each other, so many years after they practiced writing together in our program.  Thus, the power of books.

Anna’s words reveal the power of the Open Books experience to build community, in which lasting relationships emerge and books and literacy bind us all together.

The COVID-19 pandemic splintered our community for a spell, but we have emerged stronger than ever.  Our work to build and inspire community continues to expand:

  • Now in its first full year, our North Lawndale Reads campaign engages thousands of Lawndale residents to strengthen their access to free books (tens of thousands granted so far) and resources to model reading anywhere – at home, at the bus stop, at the doctor’s office.

  • Four new program sites in North Lawndale, including three Chicago Public Schools (Dvorak, Herzl, and Penn) and the Carole Robertson Center for Learning, have welcomed Reading Buddies, through which our staff and volunteers provide weekly one-on-one and small group support for emergent and early readers.

  • We launched our Early Childhood Residencies – a new model through which our team is embedded weekly at three unique partner locations, such as at-home daycares or health centers – to teach early literacy skills and strategies for families.

  • In addition to our ‘classic’ book granting to children via school teachers, our team has built 11 free book nooks – in businesses and community organizations across the West and South Sides, including such spots as Gage Park Latinx Council, Mile Square Health Center (Auburn Gresham), and Southwest Creative Studio (Chicago Lawn) – that we continually replenish for children and adults alike.

And, there is so much more in store beginning in 2023.  BUT, we need your help to make it all happen…

Please consider making a gift to Open Books today or any time before the end of the year, and be part of our community to improve literacy in Chicago.

Whether it’s $25, $50, $100, $250, or more, every gift we receive this month will help us seize countless opportunities to impact our city’s children and families.

Thank you for your generosity.  All of us at Open Books wish you the very best for a safe, healthy, and joyous holiday season.


Eric B. Johnson

Executive Director

p.s.  I always welcome the opportunity to discuss Open Books and what we’re up to with friends like you.  Please send me a note at [email protected] and we can connect in person, through screen, or by phone.  Thank you again!