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Local teen shows civic engagement by sharing love of reading

Published by USC Bedrosian Center on

We’re really excited to share this blog post, and just in time for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books too! Victoria Keating is a high-school student who volunteers with The Book Truck, a nonprofit organization based in Sherman Oaks which strives not only to donate books to teens in need, but to transform volunteer passion into conversations and love of reading to underserved teens and children.

Not only is reading a basic building block of a solid civic education, studies have shown that reading fiction improves the readers ability to empathize with others. Connection, communication, and empathy are necessary components in democratic societies. Thanks to Victoria for sharing her post with us, as well as Julie Sandor and Elizabeth Dragga for sharing their love of reading with so many teens.

(For more on our love of reading and books, check out our book club podcast, an audio book club discussion led by Raphael Bostic!)

The Book Truck

by Victoria Keating 

Do you remember the first book you read? I’m sure mine was Goodnight Moon or something along those lines. But really, the important question is, do you remember what book gave you your love of reading? I believe there is one book out there (The Book) that makes you realize how great reading can be. For each person it might be different. Perhaps you haven’t found it yet, but it is out there.

That concept of The Book is what sets The Book Truck, a non-profit organization that works to give free books to teens, apart from other organizations that encourage reading. The Book Truck works its hardest to ensure that the books given out are books that will genuinely capture their recipient’s interest. Through passionate conversations and recommendations, the Book Truck strives to find books that will ignite or fan the spark of love of reading. In this way, it’s a very personal and open interaction for the volunteers and the recipients.

When our school book club and community council heard of The Book Truck, we immediately thought of collaborating in order to volunteer. We never knew just how personal the process was until we began working with the Book Truck. Our first step was a meeting with Elizabeth Dragga, the executive director of The Book Truck. I believe it was from that meeting that we realized just how special the process was. The meeting was casual and warm as we immediately fell into conversation over great books to read. At the end of the meeting, we figured out our three step plan: book drive, Book Sort, and then the event.

The Book Truck gave us autonomy in running our own book drive. Our little group made our own signs and gave announcements. For a week, we collected books in our library. By the end, we had collected over 300 books. That weekend, we met again to sort through the books: our Book Sort. In order to make finding books that interest our audience quicker, we sorted the books into The Book Truck’s special system of genres such as Paranormal Romance, Graphic Novels, and Fantasy. As we placed the books into different piles and labeled them with stickers, we shared book recommendations and became familiar with what we had gathered. It was very fun and yet another time to bond over books.

Finally, the Book Event came. We were going to work the Celebration Orientation for teenagers graduating not only out of the foster system, but high school as well. We had done some training beforehand to learn such things as how to find what genres a person likes even if they themselves do not know and how to talk about a book even if we haven’t read it. But the training could not compare with the real deal. The real deal was being able to passionately recommend and converse about books. Each conversation was a different experience and each book given left a sense of accomplishment knowing that that book would be thoroughly enjoyed.

That day, we gave away 356 books to over 160 teens. For some, they had never been given such good condition books for free. With so many different types of books, almost everyone went home with a book or two in their hands. I have no doubt we gave someone their Book that day.

And, as I said before, it wasn’t only the teens who benefited, but us as well. We had such an amazing time that we are holding another book drive this year with the Book Truck in our efforts to work up to the Celebration event again.

Victoria Keating is a current senior at the Harvard-Westlake School. Her favorite book is And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.

Bedrosian Center