PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Since opening at the Aroostook Centre Mall in 2018, United Way of Aroostook’s Book Nook has seen vast support from community members who have made literary and financial contributions, the latter of which supports an early literacy program.
The Book Nook is not a “store” by definition, but a place where folks can donate and find books and contribute to the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. Through that program, United Way currently sends 2,200 books to children from birth to age 5 in Aroostook County.
In August the Book Nook moved to the space that formerly housed the Mr. Paperback and B. Dalton bookstores. The new location has doubled the amount of space that the Book Nook has to accept donated books, according to United Way executive director Sarah Ennis.
“We were running out of room for books and the mall was very generous to donate the space we’re in now,” Ennis said. “We’ve been seeing hundreds of books donated every week.”
In 2019, after one full year of operation, the Book Nook raised nearly $10,000 for Imagination Library. Ennis said the donations from community members go a long way toward covering the annual $50,000 cost of running the program, which includes a cost of $25 per child.
Imagination Library helps children with early literacy skills that they need before entering pre-K classrooms.
Nicole DiVito of Caribou signed up her oldest son Michael, now 3 1/2, soon after he was born at Cary Medical Center. She now enjoys seeing Michael read with his 1-year-old brother Camden.
“It’s priceless to watch them sit side by side while Michael reads and points out words to teach his brother,” DiVito said.
She noted that Michael loves reading the books so much that he even has learned to spot objects from the books in the real world.
“‘The Little Excavator’ [by Anna Dewdney] is one of his favorite books, to the point where he says ‘good morning’ and ‘good night’ to an excavator that we see on our way to and from daycare,” DiVito said. “We’ve become very attached to his ‘friend’.”
Like many families, the DiVitos have also become regular visitors to the Book Nook to find even more fun books and support Imagination Library. United Way recommends people donate $3 if they take paperback books and $3 to $5 for hardcover books.
Though the temporary closure of the mall during the COVID-19 pandemic kept community members out of the Book Nook, Ennis said that donors and volunteers have since been just as supportive as before, often bringing in and helping to organize books weekly.
With the recent expansion, United Way hopes to sustain the Book Nook and provide local children with more opportunities to read at an earlier age.
“Reading early not only helps children learn certain words and letter sounds, but also helps families spend more time together,” Ennis said. “Parents have told us that they spend more time reading with their children because of Imagination Library.”