CACHE's program bringing books to families

Simanta Buch
CACHE

Everyone deserves to be a main character.

This is the premise of Loving Little Minds Home Library Project, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that distributes monthly multicultural children’s books to families with kids aged 0-6 to battle systemic racism and empower kids to have constructive, open conversations around race and diversity.

My husband Brian and I founded this project last summer in the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, when the country was reckoning with its own relationship with race.

A young reader enjoying the book “Who Was Martin Luther King Jr?”

Like many others around us, we wanted to do something to help. As a kid, I loved reading and telling stories, often writing my own when I didn’t have my nose in a book.

But growing up in southeastern Massachusetts as a first-generation Indian-American, I didn’t have access to textbooks that told a fair story about people of color. Units on India in the classroom, for example, were one-dimensional, short, and sometimes insensitive.

I also don’t remember having access to fictional books that told multidimensional stories about people like me. I found that the limited access I and those around me had to diverse perspectives had ripple effects — in how I was treated in the classroom and in how I frequently tried to blend in rather than embrace my own differences.

I knew even then that the limited exposure my classmates had to my cultural differences actually meant that I’d have a more tolerable classroom experience if I hid them.

I work in scientific publishing and graduated from Boston University with degrees in English and Journalism. Brian is an educator at the Arlington Public Schools with degrees from the University of North Carolina and Tufts University. We live in Medford with our two kids, Arya (4) and Kiran (2), who both are avid contributors to the project via their enthusiasm for the titles we pick and for putting Loving Little Minds stickers in books.

Spending time coloring the book “When I Grow Up” and learning about inspiring women

Back in June, we started a GoFundMe campaign to raise $4,000 to send books to 50 local families for free — one curated children’s diverse title per month, on the theme of a cultural holiday, social justice, or a story with a character from a marginalized population as the lead.

Brian and Arya would often hand deliver these each month, Arya taking pride in putting them in mailboxes as dad brought her along on the routes he mapped out, which were peppered with playgrounds to keep things interesting.

About nine months in, we now send more than 100 books per month to families from North Carolina to Texas to California, and so far we’ve bought more than 600 books from small businesses and/or authors.

We have partnered with libraries and local educators to ensure we are finding beneficiaries who otherwise would not be able to have access to these books. We commit to sending 6 months’ worth of free books to families, and at the moment, the free sign-ups have a waitlist that should be opening back up in the summer.

Family photo of  Simanta and Brian Buck with their children (left) Kiran and (right) Arya.

In addition, we offer a paid subscription model, where families can sign up to receive 6 or 12 months worth of curated diverse children’s books delivered to their home. Part of the subscription fee goes towards supporting our mission of getting these books to kids who otherwise would not have access to them.

Families can find out more information about subscribing at www.lovinglittleminds.org/subscribe.

We cater towards two age groups — 0-2 year-olds and 3-6 year-olds, and we share our monthly book picks on our social media accounts (Instagram: www.instagram.com/lovinglittleminds; Facebook: www.facebook.com/lovinglittleminds; Twitter: www.twitter.com/lovnlittleminds).

 We usually pick a title that lines up with a timely holiday—the festival of Diwali ("Let’s Celebrate 5 Days of Diwali!" by Ajanta Chakraborty and Vivek Kumar), Martin Luther King, Jr. Day ("Who Was Martin Luther King, Jr?" written by Lisbeth Kaiser and illustrated by Stanley Chow), or Earth Day ("Baby Loves Green Energy!" written by Ruth Spiro and illustrated by Irene Chan), for example.

During the month of December, when the focus is sometimes on gifts and excess if we’re lucky, we picked "Last Stop on Market Street" written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson.

“Lola at the Library with Mommy” is an example of the books provided by Loving Little Minds organization.

This book follows a boy and his grandmother on a city bus, showing us that joy and gratitude can come from unlikely places, even in lifestyles that aren’t traditionally rich. At the moment, we package all of our books from our home in Medford.

With 100 books to deliver each month, we are looking forward to when the pandemic ebbs and we will be able to have more in-person help in stuffing envelopes.

For Brian, the motivation for Loving Little Minds came from the opposite side of the classroom. As a white kid growing up, he learned about BIPOC voices frequently categorized as “the other” — a group of outsiders who were portrayed as angry, fed up, and looking for some type of change.

Back then, he found his community only took the briefest glances at these voices, never stopping to examine them and make deep, empathetic human connections.

As an educator, he found that the faces in his classroom simply did not match the faces in their books. He wants to help students engage in the experiences of diversity so that they have empathy for perspectives unlike their own.

We have been humbled by the enthusiasm for this project and the mission. Many have been so generous with their time and resources to help us build this initiative, and we are honored to have received their support. We are 100% volunteer-run.

My talented friend and former colleague, Kristin McAleavey, designed our website (lovinglittleminds.org). Another colleague, Kip Lyall, an illustrator who strongly believes in representation, designed our nonprofit logo, which gave us an anchor from which to begin our work.

My close friends Marina Nasman and Juliana Waltz serve as our Treasurer and Secretary, respectively. They’ve done a lot of footwork in getting our name out there and in finding beneficiaries who wouldn’t otherwise have access to these books.

We have worked very closely with The Book Rack in Arlington with a goal to partner with local businesses, and they’ve been incredibly supportive of our mission from the start.

We have also worked with the independent and locally based publishing house Mango and Marigold Press, which shares stories about the South Asian experience.

For our inaugural book pick back in June, we selected "Finding Om" (written by Rashmi Bismark and illustrated by Morgan Huff), which is a story about an Indian-African girl and her relationship to her grandfather. It is a gentle and beautiful book to introduce mindfulness to children.

We’ve met and connected with some very talented creators via our social media accounts. Authors and illustrators whose work aligns with our mission have been willing to partner with us to get diverse books into the hands of children.

Recently, we worked with Pratha Shetty, an author based in Mumbai and Paris, who has published a coloring book called “When I Grow Up,” which features women from all around the world who have overcome adversity to achieve world-changing accomplishments.

We also simultaneously partnered with The Crayon Project (thecrayonproject.org), a Bridgewater-based nonprofit that distributes multicultural crayons to schools and organizations with a mission to spread awareness and respect for diversity among young children.

We were able to send the coloring book and a box of multicultural crayons to kids in celebration of Women’s History Month this past March. These kinds of initiatives help us to simultaneously support and highlight authors and projects who are working towards a similar mission of bringing awareness to multiculturalism and inclusivity in our future leaders.

Some of our best ambassadors have been the families who have taken part in our program. They’ve told us stories about how receiving diverse books has been the best decision they’ve made for their family during this tumultuous time, because it gave them an entry point into having conversations around race and diversity when they didn’t know how to begin.

We are immensely grateful for the caretakers who have chosen to have their families participate in our program. Their earnestness in wanting to ensure the kids in their lives are able to appreciate diverse perspectives is what we believe will begin to transform our future.

At the moment, our focus is on raising funds via our website and corporate sponsorships to ensure we are able to reach as many families and kids as possible (and maybe invest in a color printer!).

We’d ultimately love to be able to work with schools and institutions that serve children to be able to donate curated book bundles. Those who’d like to support our mission or participate in any way can learn more at lovinglittleminds.org.

Simanta Buck is president of Loving Little Minds.