- Name: Alana Weisberg
- Hometown: Los Angeles
- Age: 16
- Role: Founder of Bookworm Global
- Favorite authors: Jane Austen, John Green and Anna Todd
- Quote: “Reading is really important to me because it’s my escape. When I’m bored, I go and read. I want kids to be able to engage in a book and really enjoy it and foster a love of reading.”
Latest installment in a series of stories about people who have made a big difference in the community during a time framed by the coronavirus pandemic
Reading has always been one of Alana Weisberg’s favorite pastimes. So when the coronavirus pandemic forced schools and nearly all activities to shut down and she suddenly had a lot more free time on her hands, she found herself frequently purchasing books online to feed her insatiable appetite for reading.
That got her thinking about kids without access to reading materials because libraries are closed, said the 16-year-old sophomore from Los Angeles who attends Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks.
Inspired by the work of another charitable organization she belongs to, which had been distributing books to children in foster homes, Weisberg thought about widening the effort to other students who would benefit from having access to books during the pandemic.
Thus was born Bookworm Global, a philanthropic organization Weisberg started that has collected and distributed more than 22,000 new or gently used books to children since spring.
What began as a modest effort to collect and distribute books to local organizations has expanded to include training Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops and other youth “ambassadors” to hold book drives in their own communities, including in the Bay Area and out of state. The books that are collected are usually picked up by Weisberg and her mother or dropped off to them. They then make arrangements to get the books to schools or other nonprofits in the area that can hand them out to students. Bookworm Global has also donated books to an orphanage in Mexico.
Though Bookworm Global has had some involvement in efforts outside of Southern California, Weisberg said her focus for now remains on getting books into the hands of Los Angeles children with little means. Her organization has been reaching out to schools within the L.A. area where the vast majority of students qualify for free or reduce-priced lunches.
“I wanted to get books to kids living below the poverty line,” she said. “The children that are getting these books have never owned a book before.”
Bookworm Global’s goal is to promote literacy. That’s an area of particular concern in Los Angeles, where there is a large population of homeless youths, English learners and other students who are struggling to read at grade level. In the Los Angeles Unified School District, for example, the majority of homeless and foster youths, Black, Hispanic, low-income students and English learners tested below standard in English language arts in 2019, according to state data.
Jhonatan Gonzalez, community relations coordinator for ICEF Inglewood Elementary Charter Academy, which has received about 5,000 books from Bookworm Global, suspects that many of the students the school serves would not have access to a physical book if not for the donations from Weisberg’s organization.
The school, which currently does not have a library, has been photocopying pages of books to send home with families who come to pick up food or school supplies so that their children will have something to read, Gonzalez said. Eighty-nine percent of students at the school live below the poverty line, though he believes that number is higher now that many parents have lost their jobs due to the pandemic.
Getting books into the hands of students is critical so that children can momentarily step away from the harsh realities of their COVID-19 living conditions and travel to new worlds through reading, Gonzalez said.
“It’s an opportunity for them to escape what they’re currently going through and go to a magical land,” he said. “A lot of our students don’t have that opportunity. It’s up to us to provide them a different world through the lens of a reader.”
Not only does Bookworm Global try to distribute books of various genres to appeal to different audiences, but it’s also placed an emphasis on books whose protagonists are people of color so that students from diverse backgrounds can identify with the characters.
Weisberg said it’s her hope that others will discover a passion for reading as she has.
“Reading is really important to me because it’s my escape. When I’m bored, I go and read,” she said. “I want kids to be able to engage in a book and really enjoy it and foster a love of reading.”