DL Mullen, owner of Semicolon Bookstore & Gallery, poses with a selection of books. TNS
Gulf Today Report
Providing access to books for students who may not be able to afford them is an ongoing mission for Semicolon Bookstore & Gallery, one that the owner Mullen is passionate about.
West Town’s Semicolon Bookstore & Gallery will host #ClearTheShelves for Chicago Students, a K-12 book giveaway on May 23. The programme aims to promote literacy in the Chicagoland area.
“We are going to do a giveaway because that’s what we do best: We give away books,” said Semicolon owner DL Mullen, a Streeterville resident. “We are just really trying to expand the minds of all kids, of all ages, of all races, of all backgrounds. It’s statistically proven that families that are on the lower end of the financial spectrum don’t have many books in the house or don’t have any books in the home at all. At the very least, we can provide some books in the home... and that’s a start.”
Mullen and her employees, she managed to retain 80% of them during the pandemic, are putting together 500 bags, featuring five or six new books each, pens and Post-It notes, for students. Students may pick them up at the door of the bookstore from 1-5 pm.
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Mullen has chosen books that she considers “life-changing.” Each bag of books will be categorised by grade — elementary schoolers, middle schoolers and high schoolers — and will be centered around a theme. Students in the 9-12 grades can look forward to reading materials under such headings as “Strong Female Lead,” featuring the works of Octavia Butler and NK Jemisin, or “Level Up,” featuring Toni Morrison’s “Sula” or Colson Whitehead’s “The Nickel Boys.”
For middle schoolers, Mullen pulled together young-adult titles, and for the youngest students, the books all have leading characters of colour or those who have some type of disability, Mullen said.
Mullen said the retail value of each bag is $65, but students get it for free. She launched a $25,000 Gofundme campaign in March to support the project; at the time of publication, more than $2,700 was already in the coffers.
“Books are not at all cheap, especially when you’re giving them away, and that’s OK,” Mullen said. “We’ve had an excellent group of people coming out of the woodwork to support us, like artist Joe FreshGoods, who has supported us to the tune of $5,000-$10,000. There are a lot of people that are beyond us, that are noticing that these kids just need books and they’re trying to help and we appreciate that.”
Semicolon has already provided Chicago Public Schools students with more than $8,500 worth of donated books since it opened its doors a year ago, Mullen said.
“It’s necessary, and I think that’s the position that independent bookstores are supposed to be in,” she said. “We know that our margins are slim to nonexistent, but we should still be helping out the community in the most effective way that we can and that’s through giving people books. I have a strong belief that interest incites learning. Parents will come into the store with their kids and say: ‘They hate to read,’ and the real thing that needs to happen is they need to find something that they’re interested to read.
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