It took less than minute on Wednesday for two-year-old Michael to decide what he wanted to read from the Book Box at the Edison Johnson Recreation Center.
The winner, a book about Shrek, brought laughter to Michael alongside his grandmother, Christy Hinkle, who's familiar with the green and orange Book Boxes located throughout the city of Durham.
"I think it's a great idea, it's a great way to share and encourages reading," Hinkle said. "I have taken several home to my granddaughter, who is in the second grade, and she loves it. She also loves the idea that someone would do this for her, that it would be free."
With 14 boxes already available to the community, Book Harvest plans to expand by at least 60 more in three years, keeping their vision of providing free books to children.
"What if Durham were the City of Books?" advancement director Isabel Geffner said. "What if everywhere, every child went, they could find books? This was particularly important during the pandemic when so much access to learning materials was curtailed."
The idea comes as reading scores for students across the U.S. dropped, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
"There are so many ways to address that issue, but we believe that literacy begins at home," Geffner said. "The most important and way of impact that we can have is to make sure that kids have access to books that reflect their own life experience and engage them in the interest and enthusiasm for reading."
Several of the book boxes are at schools but Geffner hopes there will be one at each of Durham Public School's 30 elementary schools and in communities with a history of economic inequities.
The difference between a Book Box and something similar to a "Little Free Library," is that a volunteer cycles through the boxes and replenishes them with children's books.
Geffner said the plan is to install 24, 22, and 18 book boxes in the next three years.
"The most important thing to do is to find families where they are," Geffner said. "We don't want them to have to find books in hard to find spots. Our hope is that everywhere children go, particularly children and families who are not in communities where books are really readily available to them, they can find access just steps away from their front door."