Food for thought: ‘Valley Book Rally’ matches children’s books with families receiving free farm produce

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  • Friends Hannah Moushabeck, left, of Interlink Books and Lexi Walters Wright, owner of High Five Books, have joined with Grow Food Northampton to launch Valley Book Rally, an effort to get books to kids who may have little access to them. Photographed at High Five Books in Florence on Tuesday, May 12, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Friends Lexi Walters Wright, left, owner of High Five Books, and Hannah Moushabeck of Interlink Books have joined with Grow Food Northampton to launch Valley Book Rally, an effort to get books to kids who may have little access to them. Photographed at High Five Books in Florence on Tuesday, May 12, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Friends Hannah Moushabeck, left, of Interlink Books and Lexi Walters Wright, owner of High Five Books, have joined with Grow Food Northampton to launch Valley Book Rally, an effort to get books to kids who may have little access to them. Photographed at High Five Books in Florence on Tuesday, May 12, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Friends Hannah Moushabeck, left, of Interlink Books and Lexi Walters Wright, owner of High Five Books, have joined with Grow Food Northampton to launch Valley Book Rally, an effort to get books to kids who may have little access to them. Photographed at High Five Books in Florence on Tuesday, May 12, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 5/13/2020 7:17:25 AM

NORTHAMPTON — At a time when many people are in need, two area booksellers have teamed up with other organizations to propose a unique idea: match families receiving free farm produce with children’s books.

Hannah Moushabeck, children’s book editor for Interlink Books of Northampton, and Lexi Walters Wright, owner of the children’s bookstore High Five Books in Florence, have joined forces with local groups that coordinate the Community Food Distribution Project to make books available to young people forced to stay home during the pandemic.

Valley Book Rally is a crowd-sourced funding drive that aims to raise $15,000 for books, given that some children may have little access to them with schools and libraries closed. 

Moushabeck, who formerly headed the children’s department of the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, says she and Wright, an old friend, began talking about developing some way to get books into the hands of kids when the COVID-19 pandemic caused so many public places to close.

“Lexi was getting phone calls from customers, telling her they were concerned about what was happening and asking how they might help,” said Moushabeck, who also works in Boston for The Quarto Group, a global, illustrated book publishing organization; she has been sheltering with her extended family in Leverett since the pandemic began.

Wright, a longtime writer and editor who opened her bookstore last fall, said she also became concerned that some young people wouldn’t have enough to read.

“Hannah and I batted around a number of ideas about how we might approach this, before deciding we needed to go to organizations that had the infrastructure to make it work,” she said.

Their solution was to talk to staff from the three area groups that coordinate the Community Food Distribution Project: Grow Food Northampton, the Northampton Survival Center, and Community Action Pioneer Valley.

That effort — providing fresh produce every week to families in need — began last month after the Survival Center had to close its doors due to COVID-19. Bags of food are made available for pickup to eligible families three times a week at Jackson Street School and once a week at a number of other locations in the city.

Alisa Klein, executive director of Grown Food Northampton, says over 500 area households are being served right now through the food distribution project. 

Moushabeck and Wright say under their plan, one free book will also be made available to each school-age child whose family receives food. Working from a list of children identified just by age, the two plan to buy books that will be age-appropriate and ideally appeal to children’s imaginations.

“The idea is to find books that let kids explore different worlds and subjects,” said Moushabeck, “not something that looks at some aspect of life they might be missing right now, like going to birthday parties.”

The books — graphic novels, chapter books, picture books — will be drawn from a number of sources, including Interlink Books and High Five Books, she and Wright say, and they’ll also reflect the work of the many talented children’s authors and artists in the Valley.

As of May 11, Valley Book Rally had raised nearly $4,200, about 28% of its total goal. “This truly is a community-driven project,” said Wright.

“I’m so thrilled by this,” added Moushabeck, who said she hopes the book project could eventually be extended beyond Hampshire County. “That’s my blue-sky thinking, anyway.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com. To donate to the project, visit gofundme.com/f/valley-book-rally.


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