Easton barbers offer trim, shave and kids’ books

EASTON, Pa. (AP) — Ishmael Townsend, 5, can’t help but exclaim when Charlys Lantigua takes a break from trimming Ishmael’s father’s hair to hand the boy a comic book.

“Wooow,” Ishmael says, marveling over the Justice League tale and flipping through it.

“I think it’s a magazine,” he proclaims.

Lantigua corrects him — it’s a comic — and goes back to his job as a barber at Brooklyn Barbershop on Easton’s Northampton Street, just around the corner from Paxinosa Elementary School.

The comic is one of many children’s books at the barbershop, where Spanish and English blend with humming razors and the sounds of a televised soccer game. The shop, which maintains a loyal following, was one of the first in Easton to join Barbershop Books last year.

The program is part of a nationwide nonprofit that aims to encourage boys of color to read by reaching them in barbershops. The barbershop and Barbershop Plus, also on Northampton Street, were the first to join Barbershop Books in Pennsylvania, organizers for the Easton program said.

This year they expanded an informal version of the program, which creators are calling barbershop libraries, to seven barbershops, bringing Easton’s total to nine.

Judith Dickerson, the director of the Cops ‘N’ Kids children’s literacy program in Easton, and Maryanne West, the kindergarten connection coordinator for Family Connection, started the program locally.

It fits in to educators’ goal to have children reading by third grade. West said the program, in which kids can take books home, can also add to the number of books they have in the house.

“We were driven to address the demographic of young black boys where they can lag in reading, and we were looking for male role models who could support that in the community,” West said.

Dickerson said they want the kids to take books home and be comfortable with them.

“Some of the children that we come across are not even aware that books are OK to even touch,” she said.

She said there’s a need to encourage barbers to engage children, so they’ve added a summer incentive: free ice cream.

“They’re feeling this is not their field of expertise and some of them are not avid readers themselves, so when kids are saying they’re not interested, they don’t have the vocabulary or approach to get them to read,” Dickerson said.

Participating barbershops can give kids coupons to Faouzi’s Talk of the Town for a free treat if they read a book. Four kids have exchanged the coupons so far for reading books like the “Jake Drake” series and titles by Beverly Cleary, said Georgette Zogheib, who held up the coupons from behind the ice cream shop window.

Harvey Mariano, one of the owners of Brooklyn Barbershop, said sometimes he has children read to him from the chair, or he’ll see they’re reading and ask them questions about the book.

“Harry Potter” and Dr. Seuss are particularly popular, Mariano said. Unfortunately he doesn’t have his favorite book, “The Phantom Tollbooth.”

“We put it on them to read more,” he said. “It’s been a blessing for a lot of kids wanting to take books home.”

Still, it’s hard for the books to compete with phones and other devices that keep kids glued to a screen. Dickerson and West hope to have a breakfast with the barbers and reading specialists to thank them and talk about engaging children.

James Birdsong, the owner of Barbershop Plus, has been stocking children’s books for years. His bookshelves were empty until he was restocked through the program recently.

He said children will take a book, and when they come back after reading it, he’ll ask them questions about it.

Books about dinosaurs and science are most popular, he said.

“Kids are interested and it gives them something to do,” he said. “We get kids who don’t have that luxury (of having books) at home.”

Other “barbershop libraries” include Flow Factory, Focus Hair Studio, Gentlemen’s Barbershop, Iconic BarberShop, Leo’s Barber Shop, Southside Cuts and Presidential Barber Lounge.





Information from: The Morning Call, http://www.mcall.com