Six new vending machines were placed in the city this week, but you won’t find snacks inside them. Instead, the machines are stocked with children’s books.
The books are free and part of an initiative launched by JetBlue that aims to provide children with access to age-appropriate reading. The airline, based in Long Island City, has previously brought its Soar with Reading initiative to Detroit, San Francisco and other cities, but this is the first year it’s in New York City.
“We can’t deny the need right in our own backyard,” said Icema Gibbs, the director of corporate social responsibility at JetBlue. “This year, it was important for us to focus our efforts on the city that welcomed us from day one and made us who are.”
As of Friday, the book vending machines are at the Queens Public Library Main Branch in Jamaica, the Ocean Bay Community Cornerstone in the Rockaways, the Brownsville Recreation Center in Brownsville, the Police Athletic League Inc. New South Bronx Center in Woodstock, the Riverbank State Park center in Harlem, and the Faber Park recreation center on Staten Island.
The vending machines were placed in neighborhoods where access to children’s books is limited and were chosen with the help of Susan B. Neuman, a childhood and literacy professor at the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.
“For kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, summer often marks the beginning of the infamous summer slide,” Neuman said in a statement. “Studies have shown that owning 25 books or more has a sizable effect on achievement, with each additional increment of books, such as 10 or more, improving achievement.”
Children and their families are encouraged to take as many books as they want. The vending machines will be restocked every two weeks with new titles, in English and Spanish, JetBlue said.
The selected books also aim to feature a diverse range of characters, something very important to 14-year-old Marley Dias, who is this year’s Soar with Reading ambassador. Dias, of West Orange, New Jersey, is the founder of #1000BlackGirlBooks, which she started in 2015 when she got “sick of reading about white boys and their dogs” at school.
The campaign has since collected 12,000 books with black female protagonists and is donating them to schools and community groups, she said.
Dias also wrote her own book, “Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You!,” which is a guide for kids on how to make positive changes in their communities and is one of the titles available in the vending machines.
“It’s really special to have my book included in these vending machines because I could already see, just based off today, how many kids were coming through Riverbank Park and were excited to see the vending machines and wanted to take out books,” she said Thursday after the machines were unveiled.
Dias hopes other kids will relate to her book and “find some motivation about becoming a student activist, starting campaigns or just wanting to read more.”
JetBlue is also asking people to tag the company on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook (@jetblue) and share a #BookDrop moment, or “the moment your love for reading took off.” For every post shared this summer, or up to 100,000, the airline will donate a book to communities with limited book access.