Philly's 'Traveling Tree House' hits the streets with free children's books

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (WPVI) -- "I always had a love for reading," said middle school teacher Leonard Chester. "It just reminds me of, like, my childhood and when I couldn't afford those books at the book fairs."

Today, Chester is making sure this generation of children won't need to reach into their pockets to read a good book.

The Dobbins High School teacher is also the Outreach Director at Tree House Books, a free library in North Philadelphia dedicated to distributing tens of thousands of books to area children. In 2019, they donated over 81,000 books. But when the COVID-19 pandemic took root, their yearly total dropped to roughly 50,000.

"Our giving library couldn't be opened because of COVID," said Tree House Books Executive Director Michael Brix. "We thought, what's something that we could start that would replace that for now, but then also have a legacy and be able to outlive COVID?"

Their answer came in the form of a bookmobile. They got the project rolling thanks to donations pouring in from across the community. This morning, the 'Traveling Tree House' took its first mobile book fair to Smith Playground.

"We're really excited about being able to pull up to neighborhood spots and just open it up and allow kids to come in and choose books for free and take it and build their own home library," said Brix.

A home library seems more important than ever, given many Philadelphia children are learning at least partially in a remote setting.

"Our kids are lacking motivation right now," said Leonard Chester. "Even me as an educator, you know, I miss that in-person interaction because you really get to know the kids."

Chester says the Traveling Treehouse is key to keeping the literacy engine chugging in Philadelphia.

"Not only will this impact this generation, but this will also impact generations to come," he said.

North Philadelphia residents can expect the Traveling Treehouse to appear at playgrounds, festivals, and more throughout the spring and summer months. To learn more about Tree House Books and its opportunities for children during the pandemic, visit their website.

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