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Holiday Giving Challenge: Open Books

Open Books is a literacy nonprofit in Chicago that focuses on the joy of reading and writing for children and youth through inspiring programs and the creative capitalization of books. Open Books gives high-quality books to schools and nonprofits across Chicagoland. Funding comes from the sale of donated books at its two store locations, online, and from the generous support of individuals.

_[This blog was written and contributed by Curtis Shaw Flagg, Director of Marketing and Tim O'Brien, Executive Director at Open Books.]_

When visionary founder Stacy Ratner first launched Open Books in her basement, she did so with the thought that reading is one of life’s simplest pleasures. However, many kids don’t have access to books, or in many cases, have never learned how to read. It’s this barrier that can hold back a child’s creativity, and prohibit them from experiencing all the benefits that reading and writing affords. What kinds of engaging stories could these children tell? What amazing things could we all accomplish?

That’s why she began to collect book donations in her basement and Open Books was born.

Now, more than 11 years later, we have two locations in Chicago’s Pilsen and West Loop neighborhoods where we sell used books we’ve collected from the community and partnerships with corporations and publishers. Many used books are given to children in our literacy programs or donated to students and teachers via our book granting programs. Since starting these programs, Open Books has given away almost a half-a-million books, and opened up the imaginations of countless children.

Today, we offer four literacy programs:

  1. Reading Buddies is a weekly program that allows second and third grade students to work one-on-one with a mentor at their school to help boost reading fluency and comprehension.
  2. Creative Writing Workshops take place at our Open Books locations, where students and their writing coaches participate in small-group activities, write their own prose or poetry, and perform their writing.
  3. An 8-16 week course, ReadThenWrite offers a publishing workshop for teens, focusing on the development of short memoirs, personal narratives and poetry. Students who complete the program finish with a published anthology of their work.
  4. In the year-long Publishing Academy, writers meet at Open Books for a three-week intensive summer course, followed by monthly workshops. During this process, students write a full-length novel with the guidance of writing coaches.

To build and grow our literacy and book programs, we’re lucky to have great support from the community. The funds from DRW’s Holiday Giving Challenge and other sponsors give us the runway we need to continue transforming lives. We’re also proud to partner with other local charitable organizations, schools, and businesses, such as the Chicago Park District, Kerry Wood Foundation, and Movies in the Park, to help spread the joy and love of literacy. In 2018, we plan on launching two new programs in the Open Books venture. Stay tuned!

Since the early days of collecting book donations in Stacy’s basement, we’ve become much more than a place that just donates books. We’ve evolved into a launching pad for children to write and develop their own stories.

To connect with Open Books, please visit one of their storefronts or their website,