Edgecombe couple launches inclusive book project
A local couple, Kara and Kyle Cecchi, recently launched MOSS Kids Book Project, a children’s literary non-profit dedicated to bringing diverse and inclusive books to every kid in every community.
Kara is a Pediatric Occupational Therapist and homeschools her children, while Kyle works in financial project management.
As parents of three children, the Cecchis have talked with one another about the importance of raising empathetic children. According to books like “Raising Anti-racist Children: A Practical Parenting Guide,” children start to develop racial biases as early as six months old. Therefore raising empathetic kids needs to start from birth. Kara said that most people don’t know that fact.
“Many parents know that experts recommend reading to their babies, but I don’t think most parents think about what they read to their kids in terms of diversity and inclusion," Kara Cecchi said. "(We thought) if we could get those kinds of books into daycares and preschools it could impact who those children become.”
With that in mind, the Edgecombe County parents sought to introduce their own children to inclusive books. Their son’s current favorite book is “The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family,” a children’s book about two siblings on the first day of school, wearing hijab, and being proud of who they are. Their son says he really likes learning about other cultures.
In their effort to expose their children to diverse and inclusive books, the Cecchis realized that their local rural North Carolina library was severely lacking. Kara made a wishlist of diverse books and looked at four local libraries to see how many of the books on her list they had. Of the 400 books she had on her wishlist, she only found 11 of them in her library system. She says her local librarian is great, they just don’t have the funds for all of the books needed.
The family lives in Pinetops, which has a diverse population containing 58 percent Black, 38 percent white and nearly 3 percent of those who identify as two or more races.
“We need to diversify our bookshelves and uplift marginalized creators. We want kids to see themselves represented in books, and other kids see them represented in books," Kara said.
MOSS Kids is born
In March, the couple started the nonprofit MOSS Kids Book Project. The name MOSS Kids comes from both their children’s initials and from how green their hometown of Pinetops is.
Kara is the CEO responsible for the marketing, the website and all of the creative aspects of the non-profit. Kyle is the CFO and handles all the financial and legal elements. He also does the heavy lifting of refurbishing old newspaper vending machines into little free libraries. He paints them, fixes the plexiglass and puts in the shelving.
"Books are a tool to introduce diverse perspectives and encourage empathy and understanding toward others," Kara said.
MOSS Kids is working on several projects. The first initiative has been to start book clubs focusing on diverse and inclusive books, starting with underserved communities in rural North Carolina.
Years ago when she was new to the area, Kara had trouble making mom friends, so she set up a book club with other moms that fostered a sense of community. She thought it would be so cool for kids to get together and have the same experience, with kids across the country reading the same books.
The Cecchis put out a call through social media for leaders to start the book clubs. The general idea is that a caregiver or teacher signs up to lead a book club of at least five children. Everything is provided for them and sent to them monthly, including a copy of the book and a newsletter with instructions for activities.
The leader organizes a book club meeting once a month to read the book and do the craft. The books are picture books targeted for elementary school students but can be modified to make them appropriate for different ages and abilities. Also included is a newsletter with printable coloring and activity pages from the book’s illustrators.
For the clubs’ monthly book selection, Kara chooses diverse and inclusive books that are new to the market. After the kids in the book clubs finish reading their copies, they then have to donate them to their local library, a little free library or school library.
The last element of the book club is their monthly community outreach activity to give back to where they live. The theme for May was, appropriately, "flowers," and the book selection was “Watch Me Bloom” by Krina Patel-Sage, a picture book that celebrates flowers across nature in 24 haiku poems.
The corresponding community outreach for May was making seed balls that the children could bring to someone who works within their community. This serves as a way for children to meet people who work in their community and to show their appreciation.
MOSS Kids currently has 19 book clubs serving groups of children across the country and one in Canada.
The ultimate goal is for these books and resources to be accessible to everyone free of charge, including for teachers to use with their students.
MOSS Kids offers MOSS Mystery books for sale on its website. Buyers can choose between receiving a vintage or contemporary book. These are all second-hand books that they want to keep out of landfills. The price is $10 and that includes shipping. For less expensive books they will include more than one included.
Kara takes immense care in selecting the right book for the buyer. You can choose the age range and even leave a note with special interests. Kara says that the people who haven’t specified anything have still been really happy with her picks; “Maybe I just have a knack!”
To help fund MOSS Kids, the couple started a Patreon account with five different tiers of monthly donations ranging from $2 to $50 a month. For a $10 a month recurring donation, donors get a monthly MOSS mystery book. Middle tiers get the monthly book and the newsletter with no minimum number of kids required, and get to keep the book. The larger $50 donations allow small businesses to sponsor a kid’s book club.
“I want to help parents and teachers find great books that they didn’t know were out there," she said.