‘Tis The Season to Support | Get Familiar with Barbershop Books

The holidays *might* look a little different this year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t impact a child in need. This year, we’re partnering with Barbershop Books, a 501(c)(3) community-based organization that inspires young Black boys — and other children of color—to identify as readers, and to eventually read for fun! 

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For just $25 you can give a reading packet featuring age-appropriate, culturally relevant books to a household at risk. Barbershop Books will receive 100% of the profits from your generous donation. This partnership is close to our heart because Frederick Benjamin Grooming Founder, Michael James, serves on the board of directors. 

“Frederick Benjamin's commitment to serving the grooming needs of men of color with quality and intentionality aligns with Barbershop Books' efforts to partner with barbers and barbershops to inspire more Black boys and other boys of color to read." — Barbershop Books Founder and Chief Reading Inspirer, Alvin Irby 


Below, we caught up with Irby to learn more about this important organization — and convince you to support this more than worthy cause. 


Q: Why did Barbershop Books decide to zero in on young boys ages 4 to 8—is this group prone to literacy issues?

A: Ages 4-8 is a critical period for reading. If children read proficiently by the end of third grade, they are more likely to graduate from high school and experience a host of other positive life outcomes. Early positive reading experiences and support help ensure that children make a smooth transition from learning to read to reading to learn. 


Q: School is remote for most children, do you have any advice for parents who want to encourage their children to read more? 

A: Let children read any age-appropriate content that they want to read. Carve out time for family reading routines where children have an opportunity to see you reading and engaging with both print and digital text. Pick up physical books regularly because it signals for children the importance of reading in a way that reading on a device cannot (i.e., many children assume parents or playing games or texting on their phones because that's what they want to do on a phone.)

Q: With visits to barbershops a bit more limited due to COVID-19, how are you carrying out your mission virtually? 

A: Barbershop Books has launched a variety of new digital programs designed specifically to support young readers outside of the barbershop. This summer we launched, a 3-week virtual literacy program for boys ages 6-8 called Reading So Lit and Barbershop Books Storytime, a free online video series for families and educators that showcases fun and engaging read alouds by Black men and boys.Responding to parents and educators' requests for free diverse online content for children, this fall we launched the Reading So Lit eLibrary, a free online collection of engaging ebooks and all of our Barbershop Books Storytime videos. 


Q: On that note, tell us a bit more about your e-library — how does it work and how is it accessed?

A: Our Reading So Lit eLibrary is a free online collection of diverse children's ebooks featuring Black and brown protagonists and engaging read aloud videos by Black men and boys. Caregivers and educators can access our eLibrary on the Barbershop Books website at barbershopbooks.org/elibrary  

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Q: Are there any specific cities that Barbershop Books is targeting or plans to target in 2021? What makes these communities take precedence right now? 

A: As many communities deal with the many challenges resulting from the pandemic, Barbershop Books is working to support the 56 cities and 23 states where our 200+ participating barber shops reside. Our goal in 2021 is to ensure that our barbershop barbers have the materials and training they need to continue providing critical early literacy support for Black boys and other vulnerable child populations.


Q: Other than donations, how else can the Frederick Benjamin Family support your organization?

A: They can recommend children's books or barbershops via our website, share the link to our eLIbrary with parents of young children, and they can encourage independent and self-published authors of diverse children's books to donate their ebooks to our eLibrary. 


Q: Tell us more about "gender-responsive" books, why is this important particularly with young boys? 

A: Far too often, the books that many boys like to read aren't considered quality children's literature and thus don't make it into the classroom. Creating boy-centric reading experiences that are driven by the  interests of boys is key to inspiring boys to identity as readers and to read for fun.


Q: What is your best barbershop memory and why? 

A: The chance encounter I had with one of my first grade students in a barbershop in the Bronx that sparked the idea for what is now Barbershop Books. 

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