Heather Boatcallie’s family has a holiday season tradition — a visit to see Santa Claus at Post Oak Mall and a stop at the United Way of the Brazos Valley’s free book giveaway.
The third annual Jingle Book Bash kicked off Saturday, and volunteers handed out 511 books at tables set up in the mall’s J.C. Penney court next to the Santa Claus photo station. Organizers will be back Saturday and Dec. 21 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Attendees can talk with “princesses” from My Magical Memory Princess — Children’s Parties at the events from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday.
While she likes to donate books to the United Way, Boatcallie said it is a fun treat for the children to select free books of their own.
“My kids were so excited that this was back again this year; they love it,” she said.
Boatcallie’s daughter, third-grader Lauren Boatcallie, 9, said she likes to read chapter books with pictures. Lauren took home Mary Poppins Returns on Saturday, while her brother, Tyler, who is in kindergarten, selected a Pokemon book.
The 511 books that were given away this past weekend are just a portion of the 1,800 holiday, chapter and picture books that Vice President Community Impact Peggi Goss said the United Way of the Brazos Valley plans to give out this month.
“We want kids to foster a love of reading,” Goss said. “We want them to enjoy reading and have books and encourage them throughout their lifetime to enjoy reading.”
Goss said she collects books all year, and anyone who wants to donate can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 696-4483, ext. 113 to coordinate a time to drop items off. She said there are lots of baby and preschool books available, but the program could use more books for children in kindergarten through fourth grade. Monetary donations can be made online, or given in person at the book bash.
The Jingle Book Bash is one of three giveaways the organization hosts each year. It falls under the United Way of the Brazos Valley’s early literacy program, which started with Baby Bundles in 2016. Baby Bundles provide each newborn in the Brazos Valley with a free book from the United Way.
Goss said organizers wanted more times that they could help encourage young readers, so they started Jingle Book Bash in 2017. The following Easter they introduced the Bunny Book Bash and this year they hosted the first Boo Book Bash.
More than 4,200 books have been given away at the bashes since they first began in 2017.
Goss said that if children have access to books at an early age, they are more likely to perform well throughout elementary school. She said research shows that access to books also increases the likelihood of a child to graduate from high school.
Saturday was volunteer AJ Saculla’s first time working the holiday book bash. She said it was fun to talk with kids and see books that she read during her childhood and others that she read to her children.
“The kids eyes light up for even the simplest books,” Saculla said. “The United Way is an instrumental part of our community and I think it is important that we all do what we can to bring literacy to the forefront.”
Renee Dieckert said she didn’t know about the giveaway beforehand but was happy to have stumbled upon it. Her daughter, Autumn Dieckert, 7, found two books she liked Saturday.
“It’s a really awesome thing,” Renee Dieckert said. “We love going to the library to pick out books, but to actually be able to pick one and take it home without having to worry about hurrying up and finishing it is really nice.”
The book giveaways are Outreach and Communications Manager Kat Gammon’s favorite events of the year, she said.
“It’s so simple,” Gammon said. “It’s putting books directly in the hands of children and they’re getting to pick the book. They get to pick something they’re passionate about to learn more about to spark their love of reading.”