Cultured Books & Music in St. Petersburg had just started a popular children’s program in January, the Int’l Children’s Film Festival, in conjunction with Deuces Live St. Pete and The Royal. They paired books and snacks that complimented the films, and the events were a big success, slated to be a year-long program. Then COVID-19 sent everyone into lockdown. What’s a popular children’s bookstore to do to keep kids engaged and reading?
“Our first thought was, ‘How can we keep this alive?’” said Lorielle J. Hollaway, owner of Cultured Books and self-described book-pusher. “The Book Report Project came from that.”
After feedback from Instagram followers, Hollaway launched a fundraiser in May to help with the literary initiative. Despite little publication, they raised an initial $2000, with Cultured Books matching the amount. Donations included $250 from a little girl named Lily, who raised the money in her community because she wanted to help get the program started.
The Book Report Project has one main goal – to remove financial barriers that prevent access to books. The average cost of a children’s book is $18.69, says Hollaway, which is why she set $30,000 as a crowdfunding goal through IFundWomen, a support network for women business owners.
The Book Report Project lets kids buy a book with alternative currency – a book report. To begin, kids are given a survey. In exchange for completing the survey, they can choose a book to keep. After reading their chosen book, they create a book report in one of four categories: Musical, which can be rap or composed music; Poetic, which includes found poetry; Artistic, a drawing, painting or collage; or a traditionally written report. Once they turn in their book report, they can choose a new book. The cost of books is covered by The Book Report Project fund.
“It’s fun and educational. We wanted to make the program easy for families to bond over books and accessible for everyone,” said Hollaway.
According to The Book Project, 80% of children in Florida from low income families are not proficient in reading by the time they reach the third grade. Kids are more likely to read what interests them, which makes choosing books they want a good way to keep them reading.
Particularly now when everyone is looking for a sense of normalcy, kids are reading more and searching for something fun to do, says Hollaway.
“They’re looking for fun titles, activity books or escaping into graphic novels.”
Cultured Books is located in St. Petersburg along the Deuces Corridor, 833 22nd St. S. For more about The Book Report Project and how you can help, click here. Visit culturedbooks.com or find them on Facebook and Instagram.