Books and Blooms toward a diverse library at Montessori School of Englewood

An Englewood school providing free education for underserved youth is working to provide more access to books that better represent the student population. 

The Montessori School of Englewood—a charter school that offers free education to children from some of Chicago’s most at-risk communities—is working to raise $10,000 through an initiative called Books and Blooms

Through a partnership with Southside Blooms, this fundraiser will allow the school to purchase inclusive books featuring Black and Brown main characters. “Reading is learning’s foundation, and we know that children are much more likely to embrace reading when there are characters who like them and whose experiences they can relate to,” said Rita Nolan, the school’s Executive Director.

The school’s limited library currently looks like many American school libraries with literature featuring homogenous lead characters and written from limited perspectives. “A lot of the books we get are donated,” said Nolan, “which is great, but they come from a very Eurocentric point of view.”

Kinadee Jordan, an 8th grader who is planning to attend Chicago Arts High School, has many favorite books, from the Junie B. Jones series to James and the Giant Peach to I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter to The Hate U Give. “I know there are more Black authors in the world,” she said. “I want more books from them.”

I know there are more Black authors in the world. I want more books from them.

Kinadee Jordan, 8th Grader

She’s been at Montessori of Englewood since she was early in her school years. She said to Nolan, “You believed in me. You gave me confidence. You guys brought out a Kinadee I didn’t know was in there.” 

“It’s important for people from marginalized communities to see that they aren’t alone or excluded,” said Nolan. “Books featuring diverse characters and perspectives break stereotypes and show the children what is possible for them.” The Montessori School of Englewood hopes to raise $10,000 to purchase the titles from a minority-owned bookstore. The funding will provide between one and two thousand books to seed a student lending library.

Books and Blooms Fundraiser

For the fundraiser, the school is partnering with Southside Blooms, an Englewood-based social enterprise that provides at-risk youth work in a floral shop and on urban flower farms. Southside Blooms is a project of the Chicago Eco House, and has four sustainable urban flower farms on the South Side of Chicago and one in Gary, Indiana.

When you purchase anything from the Southside Blooms shop and use the code “BOOKS” at checkout, 20% of your purchase price will support the book fundraiser. Southside Blooms founder Quilen Blackwell said, “As the parent of young children, I know how important it is to help them love reading early. It’s my privilege to be able to support this project which is a wonderful step in helping to close the inequality gap.”

It’s really about empowerment, having families and the community have greater control over their kids’ education.

Quilen Blackwell, Founder, Southside Blooms

“This is our community,” she said. “These are our kids. There are specific books we want to put in our library. It’s really about empowerment, having families and the community have greater control over their kids’ education.”

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Kira Dault

Kira Dault is a writer and editor who lives in Chicago with her family. She can be found on Twitter @kiradault.