On an outdoor stage at Durham’s Golden Belt Campus, two young girls in bright pink T-shirts and pigtails, members of the Bouncing Bulldogs jump rope troop, jump in sync to “Who Let The Dogs Out,” matching their jump rope swings with the song’s shrill whistles. In the audience, a human-sized turtle speckled with golden scales plays peekaboo and dances with nearby children.
Beside the stage and spectators, a long row of tables spans the field, piled with children’s books for all ages. Kids and their parents line up at each table, “shopping” for donated books at “Dream Big,” the 13th annual book drive and celebration sponsored by the Durham-based nonprofit Book Harvest. Every book is free.
Arianna, a third grader whose forehead is decorated with a pink and white unicorn, clutches a large shopping tote full of chapter books. She takes each one out to show her parents and younger brother. The one she’s most excited for? “The Land of Stories” by Chris Colfer.
She can’t decide between her favorite parts of the event. “It’s either the show, or when you see the books you like,” she says.
A table close by holds neat piles of Spanish-language books for early readers. One child, barely tall enough to see over the table, considers “La Gata Jet,” a book with a friendly black speckled cat on its cover, before picking “Harry, el perrito sucio,” a book about a dirty dog, and running excitedly from the table to show his mother.
Dream Big is both a book distribution event and book drive. Near the outdoor stage a line of cars snakes through the street, where volunteers greet drivers and move boxes full of books out of trunks and backseats.
Over 75 volunteers help run the event, says Bria Davenport, one of its organizers.
Lynn Solomon of Durham is volunteering with Book Harvest for the second time. She counts recently donated books as she packs them into a Book Harvest cardboard box, quickly jotting down the number of books in the box so far — 68 — before turning to respond to a reporter. Solomon has already counted at least 200 books in the hour that she has been at the event.
“The energy is always great around anything Book Harvest does,” Solomon says. “What’s better than books?”
She walks across to a table with piles of unsorted books. “Fancy Nancy” and “Big Nate” chapter books peek out alongside a bright green copy of “Raccoon On His Own.” Solomon and other volunteers count and package these books while more are delivered. Later, the books will be sorted and catalogued for age appropriateness and distributed at Book Harvest events throughout the year.
Inside Golden Belt, vendors and nonprofits flank both sides of the exposed brick interior.
Near the door, an “I Have A Dream” poster invites families to share their dreams on colorful Post-It notes. The dreams cover a diverse set of backgrounds and interests — from becoming a doctor to publishing a book, and from achieving equal rights to ending littering. One child’s dream, printed in large neat letters, is to “be a princesses.”
The clicking of the Poetry Fox’s typewriter can be heard above the hum of laughter and chatter. Children drag their parents towards The Wonder Lab, an interactive exhibit where kids build structures from re-used boxes using toy box cutters and bright blue toy screws.
“Dad, I made a robot!” one child exclaims.
Wa’Quita McCauley is attending the event for the first time. Dressed entirely in pink, she stands with her son beside a table devoted to her small business, Writefully HONEST, which publishes self-help books and hosts workshops about mental health.
Directly across the hallway is a table for Book Babies, a local organization offering bilingual baby books and resources for new parents.
Bria Davenport moves quickly past the tables and through the hallway, dressed in all black save for a bright orange Book Harvest hat, pausing just long enough to answer a question.
As Book Harvest’s events manager, she is organizing the Dream Big event for the second time. She has been planning the event with her team since October, and they expect over 30,000 books to be donated this year. “That’s a low number, actually. Last year we were at close to 40,000,” Davenport says.
Davenport is interrupted by a volunteer asking where Coastal Credit Union can park a truck to drop off donated books.
Dream Big is the culmination of nearly 40 book drives hosted in the Triangle throughout the holidays. The event pulls together books donated at those book drives, while additional books are gathered on the day of the celebration.
A Durham native who grew up down the street from Golden Belt, Davenport says working with Book Harvest is especially meaningful to her. “Being able to make sure that kids have all the books they could ever want in the world, and parents not having to be burdened by price — that’s my why.”
Above (from top): Juliette Kelley, Zachary Altman and Atalia Farrior discover new books at the “Dream Big” book drive. Photos by Maddie Wray — The 9th Street Journal