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  • Writer's pictureBenay Hicks

It’s a Family Affair

July 20, 2023

About the Author Amy Franks is the Associate Director of School and Family Engagement at Book Harvest. She started her work with Book Harvest in April 2019. Her mother, Chnita Godwin, is a beloved volunteer at Book Harvest.

It’s a Family Affair By Amy M. Franks & Chnita B. Godwin (Nita)

This began as a way for my mother to share with me and all of you reading this why she wanted to host read alouds for Black History Month at Mr. Jimmy’s barber shop in Whiteville, NC a few short miles from her home in Hallsboro. It

quickly became something else, something much more personal. I invite you into the evolution of that conversation.

Mommy tells me that we have always been a family of readers, that her grandparents with whom she lived growing up stressed the importance of reading, and that she always was a strong advocate for reading where her children were concerned. (That very advocacy saved me from having been erroneously placed into a remedial reading class as a first grader, but that is a story for another time.)

When my sisters and I were little, there were times you could walk into our home (or Gramma’s right next door), and every single one of us would be reading. Sometimes we were in the same room, and sometimes we were parked in separate areas of the house, on the porch, or even outside under a tree. Whether it was Gramma’s True Story, Reader’s Digest magazines, the Harlequin Romance novels Gramma and Mommy shared a love for, or some work-related publication about nutrition and dietary practices Mommy was reading — or, for me and my sisters, Highlights, a picture book, the works of Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, or even Shakespeare — we were all engrossed. Our tastes were wide and varied, and one of my greatest joys—honed in childhood and alive and well today—is going to the library. Very few things excited me more than when Mommy took us to the public library. She knew it was both a wonderland and a haven. Sometimes when we would go to work with her, she would drop us at the library and come back for us later. Other times we went directly to her job in the dietary department at our local hospital and had to occupy ourselves until she was done for the day.

As we were reminiscing, Mommy reminded me that the times when we would go to work with her at the hospital, my sisters and I would ask if there were any kids who were patients; we wanted to visit with them. She shook loose a memory about one little girl who’d been in a serious car accident and had a long stay. My sisters and I would go read to her as often as we could—and to other hospitalized kids to keep them entertained and take their minds off of being sick or injured. I’d honestly forgotten about that! When we would go to work with Mommy, we were always up for doing whatever was going to help pass the time. Her days were long! Even still we’d rather have been at work WITH her than at home without her. Add books, and it was a win-win.

During our talk, Mommy went on to tell me that the work she has been doing as a Book Harvest volunteer, particularly restocking those barber shop shelves, has been a joy and a point of pride for her. She loves opening the boxes and seeing the books and getting excited about the possibility of kids finding something to

cherish among them. She believes that promoting a love of reading is essential for, and welcomed by, her community. She shared that people will approach her at church or around town and tell her as if sharing a treasured secret that they’d gone and gotten “a good book” from Mr. Jimmy’s. Mommy says the adults always comment that they didn’t have books like the ones they are finding there when they were children. She finds satisfaction in this and in giving the barber shop boys (and the little girls in the salon in the back) something to do while they wait. She’s even witnessed boys asking their barber to wait while they finish a book and the barbers reminding them that they can take the books with them, that they are theirs to keep. The thought of being a part of opening the world to them through reading is thrilling. She speaks often of a set of twins whose grandmother is a stylist in the salon. They routinely pick armloads of books to plop into her lap and insist she read to them while they wait for their grandma’s work day to be done. She shares this with the widest smile. I can see the joy she feels doing this, and I can feel her belief in the importance of this work in every syllable she speaks.

I asked her why doing this work was so important to her. My chest immediately puffed with pride when she told me her reason why, and it quickly gave way to eyes brimming with tears. Mommy said my excitement about working at Book Harvest was contagious. She told me when I first started and would talk with such enthusiasm about what I was doing, she could tell that, for me, it was a dream job, being surrounded by books and combining that with my love for children. She could see that getting to share my love of reading with kids made me happy, and it, in turn, made her happy to see her child loving something so much. She went on to tell me that seeing my face when I spoke about my work, and then getting to meet my colleagues, people she describes as kind and gracious, made her want to support me in any way that she

could. And, she has! Mommy has been a volunteer at three schools in Bladen and Columbus counties for our expansion work with our Books on Break program. She has volunteered at our summer block party, served on a panel for a virtual convening hosted by Book Harvest, and is the volunteer who keeps the bookshelves full to bursting at Mr. Jimmy’s.

Little girl Amy could not have predicted or imagined that she’d one day grow up

and find her mother as excited to go to work with her as she was to go to her mom’s workplace as a child—just like thirty year-old Nita could not have predicted or imagined that she would ever become such an important part of her daughter’s career. Mommy counts it as a way she and I stay connected and says that my work world bonds us even more, which I wouldn’t have even thought possible. She closed our conversation in a way that serves as the perfect end to this post, “Grab onto the joy around you. For us, it is this shared love of books and sharing that love with children. Even more special to me is getting to spend more time with my own child. We have to be thankful for these moments and cherish them since tomorrow, as we know full well, is not promised.”


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