Open Books Chicago, a literacy nonprofit and used bookstore chain, is working with several North Lawndale nonprofits to improve children’s literacy in the community.

The North Lawndale Reads campaign was launched in the fall of 2020 with funding from the Steans Family Foundation, which has been working to improve children’s literacy in North Lawndale since 2015. The campaign is currently in the early stages, with volunteers doing book giveaways, setting up “little library” book spots and discussing strategies with North Lawndale schools. 

But the campaign plans to ramp up events and activities during the summer and it is expected to continue its work for years to come. Open Books is also looking for a location for a North Lawndale bookstore, which it hopes to open sometime next year. 

Open Books is a West Loop-based nonprofit that works to improve literacy among kids and teens through book giveaways, and various reading and writing programs. It operates two used bookstores: one in  theWest Loop, at 651 W. Lake St., and one in Pilsen, at 905 W. 19th St. 

In 2016, Open Books organized a pop-up bookstore in Englewood, next door to Kusanya Cafe, 825 W. 69th St., but hasn’t added any permanent locations. 

The Steans Family Foundation was founded in 1986 to address the many issues facing North Lawndale kids and their families. Aside from its own programs, it offers grants to organizations that share their goals.

Chelsea Ridley, who currently heads the North Lawndale Reads campaign, said that the foundation approached Open Books about doing the campaign and provided the funding. Since then, Open Books has been laying the groundwork, reaching out to North Lawndale schools, churches and nonprofits. 

Ridley said that around 30 community organizations, including the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council and the North Lawndale Employment Network, are involved in planning the campaign activities.

Aside from the outreach, Open Books have been setting up “Little Libraries,” wooden boxes where residents can pick up or leave as many books as they like. Every Monday, between 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., the organization has been conducting giveaways, as part of Stone Temple Baptist Church’s weekly food and clothing giveaways. The church is located at 3622 W. Douglas Blvd. 

Ridley said that, in addition to handing out books, they are using the giveaways to sign up families for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, a nonprofit that mails free books to children younger than 6 years old.

During the summer, the campaign will use the church’s outdoor stage for kids’ literary programs. They also plan to organize block parties and hold virtual events for parents. 

In September, the campaign will organize a book fair at the Lawndale Pop-Up Spot, which is located at the northwest corner of Central Park Avenue and Douglas Boulevard. Ridley, who co-founded the outdoor museum, said that they will use one of the museum’s shipping containers as a “pay what you want” pop-up bookstore. 

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the campaign will keep its events either outdoors or virtual for the rest of 2021, even as they hope that the vaccinations will make a difference over the next few months.

“We think it will allow us to execute everything that we’re planning for next year and will allow us to plan for gathering safely indoors next year,” Ridley said.

For the latest information of North Lawndale Reads, visit Open Books’ social media pages, or contact Ridley at

Igor Studenkov

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...