Anquonz Young likes to read books, especially the ones with pictures that describe animals.
At 11 years old, Young said the new Free Little Library that recently came to his neighborhood – the St. Charles Parish Housing Development in Boutte – has made it possible for him to get a book.
“I think it’s good because it’s our turn to learn,” Young said. “You can bring the book home and you can bring a book home to read to your brothers and sisters.”
Young does do this because the Little Free Library is easy to reach, although he initially thought it was something else.
“When I first saw it, I thought it was a birdhouse,” he said. “But the first time I went there and read that it was a library, I got a book.”
A Little Free Library is a national movement where anyone can build a small box or kiosk that can resemble a nicely decorated birdhouse, place it in a community and fill it with free books that can be shared among people who live there. The library can be as basic or elaborate as desired and the books inside depend on who uses them.
The local libraries are brightly colored, playful designs by Terrell Cornwell, who wanted them to appeal to children.
Two libraries recently installed in Boutte and Hahnville developments are for children while a third one planned for the Des Allemands development will have books for the older residents.
Celeste Uzee, member of the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners, proposed the idea, which she said is a cost-effective alternative to the book mobile, but also an option to keep “good old-fashioned picture books” in the hands and minds of youngsters.
“It’s just a pleasant and pleasurable thing,” Uzee said. “You pick out a book and bring it back when you want. It’s less costly and works for the child.”
All the books in the libraries were donated, an assortment that Uzee hopes to grow for older children like “Goose Bumps” with short chapters.
To donate a book, contact Uzee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“They’re also about building community where children and adults can interact,” she said. “There’s a reason to go down the block and talk about the book you’ve just read. The more people walk around and talk to their neighbors the stronger the community is.”
They are the first Little Free Libraries in the parish, as well as the first in public housing in Louisiana, Uzee said.
Housing Authority Executive Director Benjamin Bell said he saw immediate appreciation for the libraries.
“They just couldn’t believe they could just take a book and take it home to read it,” Bell said of the children who used the library books. “Owning their own book is a big deal to these children. Many of them haven’t even been to the library so it’s kind of interesting to see the look on their faces to open a book, close it and get another book.”
Bell mused they only have to remind the little readers to close the little library door after they take a book.
For Nicole Ballestas, a resident of the Boutte development, the library offers her five children, ranging from seven months old to nine years old, the opportunity to read and have fun.
She doesn’t have transportation so it’s a great help that they can just walk down the street to the library rather than try to find a ride to the library.
“The kids really enjoy going over there and looking at a book while they’re outside playing,” Ballestas said.
Anquonz’s mother, Veronica Young, was equally appreciative of the new addition to their community.
“I honestly think it’s lovely,” said Young, who has six children. “My own children head down there, get a book and read. I go through the pages with them and help with it. They honestly think it’s very interesting.”
If it hadn’t been for the recent heavy rains, Anquonz said he would have gone back to the library sooner to work on his third book. He’s especially fond of the one about dinosaurs.