Former mayor’s book project still going strong

May 6, 2019

It has been almost a decade since former DeKalb Mayor John Rey began a project he hoped would inspire children and their families to forget electronics for a short while and read together.

Saturday marked eight years of Rey’s annual initiative, the DeKalb/Sycamore Bookcase Project, in which 50 preschoolers from Two Rivers Head Start in Sycamore are given bookcases with their names engraved on a metal plate. Each child also is given a box of books.

This year’s event, like those in the past, occurred Saturday at Faranda’s Banquet Center.

“By reading to children, we develop a love of books, a love of vocabulary, establish an understanding of story and demonstrating that books and reading are valued by the most important people in the world: you,” said keynote speaker Laurie Elish-Piper, addressing parents and family in the audience. “Your children are at such an important age now. They are just like sponges soaking up everything around them.”

Elish-Piper is the dean of the College of Education at Northern Illinois University.

Brooklyn Legardye, 5, held onto a copy of “Mind Your Manners, Biscuit,” a book that fits her personality, said Nneka Maduka, center supervisor at Two Rivers Head Start. This last event was Maduka’s second with the DeKalb/Sycamore Bookcase Project.

“It is always really nice to see the families support their children in their learning and in their development, and I think it is a great opportunity for the children to get something they can just call their own,” Maduka said.   

Lashonn Graham, of DeKalb, said his daughter, 4-year-old Te’annah Graham, started reading at 3 years old and likes princess books.

“I’m surprised they’re doing a lot for the kids, making sure they’ve got a positive mindset on performance in the world,” Graham said.

Rey based the DeKalb/Sycamore Bookcase Project off of a program in Conway, Arkansas, that strives to give bookcases to children across the United States. Like the Arkansas program, all bookcases were handmade by volunteers, and the event was possible because of a fundraising banquet in February and collaboration between many local businesses, Rey said.

“By design, this effort is truly a communitywide volunteer project, and we could not have conducted it without the help of many dedicated people,” Rey said.