Blogging mom of 2 turns love of reading into family project that pays it forward
MIDDLETOWN — About three years ago, Charnaie Gordon began blogging about books as a way to chronicle those she read to her two young children, and others she enjoyed herself.
What eventually became a highly popular repository of book suggestions, reviews, discussion and tips — Here Wee Read — has blossomed into an ambitious project she began last month with her daughter, Madison, 5, and son, Barrington, 4.
50 States 50 Books is a community service-based project inspired by a passion for reading and desire to help close the literacy gap one state at a time, according to Gordon.
The mission is simple: help close the early literacy gap by providing free, diverse books to deserving or underprivileged children, schools or other kid-friendly organizations in need throughout the United States.
Last month, Gordon began her initiative by donating a set of 50 diverse books to New Haven Reads in New Haven.
“We get a range of different types of donations — some people come in with a couple books, others come in with upwards of 20 boxes of books,” said Victoria Smith, New Haven Read book bank director.
Founded to “share the joy and power of reading,” New Haven Reads increases the literacy skills of children to empower their academic success by providing individually tailored one-on-one after-school tutoring, educational family support, and a community book bank, all at no cost to participants, according to its website.
“Our goal is to donate at least 50 new or gently used diverse books to 50 deserving or underprivileged kids, schools, libraries or organizations in each of the 50 U.S. states by December 2020,” Gordon said.
Since she was young, books have always been her passion, said Gordon, a computer programmer by day.
To this day, her favorites include classics, such as the 1968 children's book “Corduroy” written and illustrated by Don Freeman, and “Good Night Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown.
Her readership grew modestly on the blog until she happened upon a social media phenomenon called bookstagramming — a community of visually minded people who post lovingly composed photographs that convey their love of text, and offer book suggestions.
Gordon wasn’t on Facebook at the time, so her introduction to Instagram was particularly thrilling, she said.
“I took to Instagram instantly. That’s where I started to learn there’s this whole big industry out here of people who love books just as much as I do,” Gordon said.
Within three years, her Instagram followers list exploded to 29,400. Soon, publishers began asking her to review books on her site.
Now, she and her children have at least 1,000 books at home.
Story time at the Gordon household is what her children look forward to each day. Mom will choose two books and the children can each pick two.
One day, Gordon realized that there was a need for books with diverse subjects for children. As she began finding them, she recommended them to others by reviewing them on Here Wee Read.
The reception was so great, Gordon realized she’d found her niche.
“People saw it was new and different, and that nobody else was doing it, and started to take to it,” she said.
As she visited libraries, bookstores and browsed online, Gordon found a wealth of titles for children: about people from different cultures, races, ethnicities, immigrants, people with handicaps, children with special needs and LGBTQ issues.
“Books that are off the beaten path that not everybody hears about all the time,” she said, suggesting “Julian is a Mermaid” by Jessica Love.
It’s a book about a little boy and his grandmother who take a ride on the train. He sees a group of beautifully dressed people in mermaid costumes, gets intrigued and begins daydreaming about being a mermaid.
“He wants to follow them: he’s curious where they’re going,” Gordon said of the book for ages 4 to 8.
“Some people don’t want to read an LGBTQ book,” to their children, she said.
“It’s really (about) making kids aware, because they’re going to hear about it one day eventually anyway, so why not be the parent to talk about it?
“In a very innocent way, you can explain to the child that people are different, and we have to accept people for who they are and what they are,” she said.
Gordon’s daughter started reading at 24 months.
“At first I thought it was because we had read the same book over and over again, and she was just memorizing them,” she said, but then took the kids to the library and picked out some simple books she had never read with her daughter.
Gordon recommends the Bob Books series for early readers, which allowed her daughter to grasp simple concepts.
“For a 2-year-old to be reading like that — she was reading the entire book. That’s when it hit me: ‘Wow! She can really read.’”
Gordon will label objects around the house, such as doors, tables and chairs, with index cards, as a way to get her kids used to associating objects with their names.
“Doing things like that — not necessarily trying to force the reading down your kids’ throats — they get familiar with seeing the words over and over again, and then eventually they’re reading,” she said.
Gordon didn’t grow up in a household of book lovers, so she’s thrilled to begin a new family tradition.
“My love of reading: I didn’t necessarily get it from a family member, because I didn’t have that growing up, but I always knew if I was blessed to be a parent, that was something I wanted to do with my kids.”
There are three ways to get involved in the 50 States 50 Books project: Groups can sign up to be considered for book donations for a certain state; people can donate new or gently used books, or give money to help cover the cost of shipping books to different states and purchasing new or gently used books.
For information, visit http://50states50books.net, hereweeread.com or newhavenreads.org.