The Wonderland Booksavers are reaching new heights! We have proudly been featured in numerous Connecticut newspapers and blogs. Please view the links below to see us in the news!
Brooks Barry: Wonderland BookSavers
Vice-Chairman Scarlett Rollins & Founder Chairman Brooks Barry loading a truck with books, clothing, baby items, and school supplies in summer 2020.
Many of us in the OHS community have heard about the Wonderland BookSavers charity, an initiative started by one of our own students with the mission of “promoting global literacy by spreading the joy of reading.” I was fortunate to sit down and have a talk with Brooks Barry ’22, the man behind the mission of Wonderland BookSavers.
Brooks Barry is a full-time junior at the OHS. From a very young age, he loved reading. Brooks believes “opening a book opens a whole new world of not only imagination, but also education.” So when Brooks heard that there are so many people who don’t have access to books and the incredible creative and educational opportunities that arise from these novels, he was shocked. He wanted to be able to give these young children the same educational opportunities that many of us receive.
In a book club he founded at his elementary school, Brooks and his classmates read Old Yeller, a classic novel about a dog that never fails to raise tears in my eyes. Following their passion for reading, Brooks’ book club decided to take more of a hands-on approach and perform a community outreach project for each book that they read! After reading Old Yeller, they went to an animal shelter, where they raised funds to donate dog food. These experiences helped Brooks realize the difference he could make in his community by taking initiative with small acts of kindness.
A novel-reading enthusiast, Brooks would often visit the library and talk with the librarians. In one of his discussions, he came to know of the fate of many of the excess books, the books that were out of circulation. These books were shredded and their pulps were sold to newsletter companies for extremely cheap prices (almost a cent per pound) that would not lead to any significant profit for the library. Shocked by this information and remembering that there were still many people who did not have access to any of these reading materials, Brooks instead asked the libraries to give him the books instead of shredding them. And thus Wonderland BookSavers was born!
Started in 2012, Wonderland BookSavers has helped provide 400,000 books and supplies to those in need all throughout the world. Brooks collected the books offered by the library and housed them in his garage before distributing them to a local charter school in need nearby. He hosted book drives and many other events to share reading materials with members in his community. Through his efforts, many of the schools and underprivileged students living in his area received access to these reading materials.
A little girl selects one of the donated books at the hospital.
But why stop there? Keeping in mind the success that he had through acts of service in his community as a part of the book club, Brooks realized that there were other necessities they could provide to impoverished communities throughout the world. While it is much harder to donate more expensive goods, items such as blankets and shoes could be really easily donated to these communities. Through these donations, Wonderland BookSavers expanded to form a charity that included much more than just book donations. And although distributing novels to help young children grow educationally and creatively remained the focus of their work, their charity provided many new opportunities for people in need.
One such example of the incredible efforts performed by Wonderland BookSavers is demonstrated in the Kyamaganda community of Uganda. Willy Bukenya, who worked as a part of the community development organization, was committed to improving the lifestyle of the people who lived there with him. The organization stayed in contact with Bukenya but were unable to send him any materials for a while. Eventually, Wonderland BookSavers was able to donate some books to Zimbabwe, and when no one picked them up, Willy Bukenya took the 47-hour trip (one way!) from Uganda to Zimbabwe to pick up these novels that could be used to help enrich his committee!
The commitment that Bukenya showed to help others awed Brooks, and it motivated him to continue working with the Kyamaganda community. To help the community become more self-sustaining so that they wouldn’t need to reach out to others for constant support and backing, Brooks raised money to help buy pigs and a stable and sent the money to Bukenya to help create a pig farm. Through their piggery, the Kyamaganda community has been able to support themselves with food and money. Because of his open-mindedness and willingness to expand his organization, Brooks and Wonderland BookSavers have helped these communities in Uganda recover and stabilize themselves.
Piglets, with their feed, ready to start individual piggeries.
Similarly, in Somalia, many of the schools are impoverished and lacking in supplies and books. In fact, in many of these schools, teachers have at most one book and students are left to imagine what the teacher is reading. Some families had to split one pencil into six pieces so everyone had a writing utensil. Brooks was strongly affected by hearing these stories and knew he had to do something to help the schools in Somalia, where, as Brooks mentions, “it is almost impossible to learn and be educated with books.” Through his extensive efforts, Brooks was able to establish three new Somalian schools, completely furnished with books and school materials. Hearing about these developed schools, students came far and wide to receive this top-quality education that Wonderland BookSavers helped provide.
Brooks has also done an incredible amount of work here in the United States as well. Every year over the summer, he would take a car full of books on a road trip to South Dakota. He went to many of the native reservations and set up tables where they would lay out many of these books, especially the vivid children’s books for the kids to grab and practice reading. Through their efforts, they were able to establish libraries in the community, allowing everyone access to the books. Once again through his efforts, Brooks was able to provide many children with access to education and enhanced creativity through his driven approach to assist those in need of aid.
Currently, Wonderland BookSavers is also fighting the global pandemic that has gripped our world. Many countries are not accepting books and a lot more emphasis has been placed on safety and preparation. The Kyamaganda community is also struggling, as many of their kids, who are orphans, would receive one meal a day at the school that Brooks helped furnish. With schools being closed, these meals aren’t being provided to these children, and without access to clean water, there are increased rates of COVID-19 in the region. Wonderland BookSavers has sent over masks and sewing machines so that the people in the Kyamaganda community are able to take some of the basic safety measures against the disease.
A very generous contribution of cloth and plastic face masks, as well as other Personal Protection Equipment, which will protect the Kyamaganda Community Development Organization (KCDO), arrived in Uganda, shipped from California.
To raise funds to combat the difficulties faced from the pandemic, Brooks has started a fun-a-thon through which anyone can donate to these communities just by participating in any activity that they love! To provide support and aid in the battle against the Coronavirus, the Wonderland BookSavers team encourages anyone who is able to participate in the fun-a-thon!
I was fortunate to talk to Brooks and learn about Wonderland BookSavers and the work he has done in not only improving global literacy but also in helping struggling communities find a way to sustain themselves and receive educational opportunities. I was amazed to hear how humble he was about the work he has done, and to see the incredible passion he has for Wonderland BookSavers along with his drive to give back to his community. Brooks tells me that the impact that reading had on his life inspired his idea of Wonderland BookSavers. Hearing about books being simply destroyed by his library crushed him; he couldn’t believe that these books, which are such a delight to read and some of our greatest educators, were just being wasted away. And when he heard of the plight of many underprivileged children who did not have access to these texts, Brooks tells me “it’s heartbreaking that people don’t have access to books or have never seen any before.” There is a pained expression on his face when he tells me this, and he repeats with renewed determination that “wanting to eliminate these struggles and knowing I can achieve that really means a lot to me.”
I learned a lot from Brooks, and his determination and passion to be the change in the world and take steps to combat a problem that he noticed and was affected by. Check out Wonderland BookSavers on Instagram (@wonderland.booksavers), at their website, and through their YouTube channel (Wonderland BookSavers). Make sure to participate in the fun-a-thon here!
“Children Rescue Books” (This was published by one of our community partners, the Haitian Education Initiative):
“Children Produce ‘Save Pequot Library Video'” (Fairfield Patch):
“Wonderland BookSavers Service Project Documentary” (Southport Globe):
“Children’s Book Club Donates Pequot Library Books” (Fairfield Minuteman):