Book Fairies organized donations, on Sunday in Freeport for students in schools who otherwise wouldn’t have access to reading materials. Newsday’s Shari Einhorn reports.  Credit: Newsday/James Carbone

Children’s book creators Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr took a detour from their cross-country trip to Freeport Sunday to join two dozen volunteers to sort through boxes of books stacked on aisles of tables.

The couple, along with their four children, learned to categorize the donated books by condition and other factors at the nonprofit Book Fairies’ book bank on the ground-floor of a building where a Sunday service could be heard from the church on the floor above.

It was a detour they said they were happy to make.

“We're the lucky people that get to go and do the fun part of this,” Swanson told Newsday. “So hopefully we can draw attention to the great work that others are doing.”

The fun part Swanson referred to is a planned 10-month-long trip the family is making to visit at least one elementary school in each of the 50 states and Washington, D.C.

The couple said they raised $150,000 to purchase 25,000 copies of their books that are shipped by First Book, a nonprofit that provides books and learning materials to children in need.

They call it the “Busload of Books Tour.”

The couple left their home in Chestertown, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, in late August, traveling with their four children and a Boston terrier named Dumbles in a school bus Behr painted with bright colors and drawings of children and animals reading books.

So far, they have visited eight schools, including one in upstate New York, giving students and teachers hardcover copies of books they've written and illustrated such as “Everywhere, Wonder.”

Like the book, the trip is about finding wonder in the spectacular and ordinary in nature and in life, they said.

On Sunday morning in Freeport, they saw the painstaking work of organizing boxes of books before they could be distributed to children and adults.

“It's astonishing the amount of work that is involved in getting these books to the places that they need to go,” Behr, who illustrates their books while her husband writes, told Newsday.

Book Fairies collects and distributes new and used books to low-income communities on Long Island and in New York City.

Amy Zaslansky, who founded Book Fairies in her Bellmore garage in 2012, said the idea came from a book drive she organized that year after learning teachers in Hempstead needed books to send home with students to read in the summer.

“There were really two groups of people on Long Island," Zaslansky told Newsday.

"There’s a group of people who had a lot of books that they didn't know what to do with anymore, and they needed them out of the house," she said.

"And then there were kids right on Long Island who didn't have access to any books.”

Book Fairies on average distributes 600,000 books a year to schools, homeless shelters, foster care agencies, correctional facilities and other groups, said executive director Eileen Minogue.

The need became even more apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic, said.

“During COVID, the homeless shelters were coming to us and saying, ‘Sometimes Wi-Fi’s spotty. Sometimes we don't have enough tablets for everybody. We need something for these kids to take them out of the pandemic and take them out of the homeless shelter.'” Minogue recalled.

“There are big parts of the country where kids do not have ready access to books,” Swanson said Sunday. “This is … such important work that’s happening in there.”

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