Children look over free books at this year's Light a Candle for Litercy Parade and Children's Book Festival at Brighton Academy Middle School in Syracuse, September 9, 2023. Photo by Mike Greenlar | Central Current.

In one arm, Celeste Hills, 9, had a tote bag full of books. Her friend Latori Jackson, 13, hooked Hills’ other arm with her own, walking through Light A Candle for Literacy’s annual free parade and book festival. 

Hills and Jackson walked through Brighton Academy Middle School, where the event was held, to grab books of all genres gifted to them by the books’ authors. 

“The event was really inspiring. Everybody was informing young kids about books and how they should read more,” said Celeste Hills, 9. “It was really cool having all these friends and seeing Disney princesses, and Spiderman. It was really fun.”

For a day, the middle school in Syracuse’s Southside was transformed into a literacy wonderland for young readers to explore books. Kids enjoyed activities like face painting, arts and crafts and taking pictures with Spiderman and Snow White. 

Thirty community organizations showed up to the event, including Families for Lead Freedom Now, Planned Parenthood and Unchained. 

The theme of the event was Marvel and kids were encouraged to dress up. 

The festival offered literature representative of the community, including books with Black characters and books written in Spanish. About a dozen authors assembled in the school’s auditorium. Some authors were local. At least two came from Baltimore. 

“Our purpose for it though, is just to spark the love of reading. That’s why we have all of the different things that go around with it.” said Cheryl Bellamy, one of the event’s planning committee members. “It’s a good wholesome family day out. It’s just fun and pure youthful joy.”

At the festival, families were able to choose from a selection of reading genres including Marvel, Disney, science fiction, adventure, fantasy, and first-time readers. As part of the book giveaway, guests were given a passport with a checklist of activities to complete in exchange for a free book at the bookstore. 

Author Cherelle Yarbrough and her brother Amari Yarbrough, an illustrator, brought their book The ElleRays to the festival. The pair came all the way from Baltimore for the event. They created the book to bring more representation to the science fiction genre. 

“I really love that idea and that concept of how (Geneva Hayden) put everything together to make sure that kids have a love for reading. It starts here,” Cherelle Yarbrough said. 

The organization hosts several book giveaways throughout the year: in June, at the end of the school year, in September before the start of the school year and in late December around Christmas. September’s back to school season is its largest book giveaway month, as students prepare for the new academic year, Bellamy said. 

The organization’s goal is to get students to read and sharpen their minds, Bellamy said. Bellamy has worked with Light a Candle for Literacy founder Geneva Hayden over the past two decades, Bellamy said. 

“I noticed a lot of our schools have the same books and their selection is not diverse and even though we have a very diverse population, the reading material is not diverse,”  Bellamy said. “We want to go ahead and make sure that our children are also being represented in the classroom so that they know that their culture and their lives are just as important as the stories that they’re reading in school.” 

LACFL receives a number of book donations from Scholastic, Penworthy, and Syracuse Teachers Association. 

see more of Central Current’s photos of the week

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