Wicked Witch of Publishing Brilliant Idea for Holiday Gifts to Needy: Warm Coats with Hot Books in the Pocket!

The Wicked Witch of Publishing has had a brilliant idea. Yes, a Christmas bulb exploded over her head while she was planning her December visit to the James A. Farley Post Office in midtown Manhattan in New York City to comb through letters to Santa Claus. This holiday season, why can’t book reviewers, authors, literary agents, libraries, publishing companies, bookstores, community service organizations, local associations and individuals—along with a new doll, video game, or warm coat—send great books to needy kids and families? 
More than 100,000 letters from around the world are sitting at the James A. Farley branch right now, and millions of Dear Santa letters are being read by caring people at local Human Services Departments, Rotary Clubs, churches and synagogues around the globe.  
Dear Santa,
I am the mother of three (3) beautiful childs of the 5, 13 years old and one of eight month (8)… The most important thing I want is to give my childrens happiness sadly enough I can’t buy the basic thing in life. I would be so grateful if Santa Claus would send things. Luis is 13, pants size 16-18 sneakers 9 coat sweaters = 16-18. Magdalena is 5 years old Pants = 6, sneakers = 13, coat and sweathers = 6 Emiliano is (8) month old pants 18-24 m sneakers = 4-5 Coat and Sweathers = 18-24 m. Thank you, Santa Claus for making dream be come true.

Send the pants, sneakers and coats if you can (and if you know what you are doing buying clothes for kids—count me out), but don’t forget to throw in a few good books—for the kids and mom and dad. And if you can’t afford the clothing, at least send a few books, and toss the letter back into the cardboard box so that someone who can afford the clothing might pick up the letter. 

The Wicked Witch of Publishing is going to paw through the cardboard boxes (labeled by geographical area and language) at the mid-Manhattan branch, spread the letters out on the cafeteria-size tables, and select about ten Dear Santa letters. Being an old hand at this, she’ll separate them into two distinct categories: 

  1. Mewling letters from the “too much is never enough” children of privilege whose chauffeurs hand-deliver Santa’s letter to the post office.  
  2. Heartbreaking letters from children and families for whom the simple good fortune of having a Dear Santa letter plucked from thousands would constitute a mini-Christmas miracle.

Then the Wicked Witch is going to ignore the ridiculous requests from Category #1. “I need another Plasma Screen with ATSC Tuner because my 10-year-old sister, Tiffy, won’t share hers.” WW of P will send a Dickens-esque book from Santa Claus and a lump of coal if she sends anything at all. (Oh, how she longs to see the disappointment on their faces! Too bad she can’t be there!)
Category #2 will get a much-coveted gift AND a bonus gift—a really good book, maybe a classic, but something age- and gender-appropriate pulled from her personal library. She’ll add a warm note, wrap and send the gifts out by USPS. The package will have the North Pole return address as the James A Farley Post Office street address. (See Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing below.) 
This week as she stood in line at the local general store to buy her daily fix of Pepperidge Farm cookies, the Wicked Witch waited behind an older gentleman buying five Nascar toy cars. He told the cashier that he was buying them to contribute to a local organization donating holiday gifts to needy children. Why not a book with each car? Doesn’t this idea make good sense? As a young girl I used to love getting books for Christmas—especially if they were about horses. I’ve since graduated from horse crazy to just plain book crazy.
Hand Off Your Used, Well-Read, Much-Loved Books.
New is good, but done properly, used books make great gifts, too. A dog-eared book with the appropriate note should let the recipient know how dear the book is to you. “I loved this book as a kid. I’m sending you my personal copy and hope you love it as much as I did.” And what’s a new book anyhow? A book fifty people have already read, but not paid for, while sitting in overstuffed chairs at Barnes & Noble or Borders bookstores. (Don’t get me started!) A well-read book handed off to a friend isn’t considered second class. Check out the National Education Association’s online list of “Teachers Top 100 Books” and the somewhat different “Kids Top 100 Books.” Then ransack your kid’s shelves. You can also look at The American Library Association’s “Notable Books for Adults” (1993-2005) and compare books on those lists with books on your shelves. Or just send a book YOU really loved. Were you really going to reread those books anyway?

Where Do You Find the Names of Needy People? You don’t need permission to send a book to anyone and everyone, you simply have to get the name and address of a family from a letter to Santa Claus or from someone in a position to know who would welcome a gift from Santa.

Brother, Can You Spare a Book?
Book Reviewers: The Wicked Witch of Publishing was frothing at the mouth in an article she wrote for Publishers Weekly last year about all those ARCs (author review copies) that are sent indiscriminately to reviewers. In a recent interview by The Kenyon Review, Frank Wilson, The Philadelphia Inquirer’s book review editor and resident blogger at Booksinq, said that in a “good week” he receives 1000 to review. Book reviewers! There’s a good starting point for donating books to people who really can’t afford to buy books at the bookstore or online.
Librarians: Librarians are constantly culling books. Who knows better than a librarian what kind of books would interest a needy person or family? Give those books away! Wrap them and make them available to needy families who could drop by the library (maybe for the first time!) and pick up gifts for the kids. The kids could drop by and get gifts for their friends and family. Make it a grab bag of sorts and make it FUN. What about it OCLC (a worldwide library cooperative) and ALA (American Library Association)? Good idea?
Authors: You’ve got boxes of your own book sitting in the basement. They’re not going anywhere fast. (Sorry!) You’ve got shelves full of books and bedside tables overflowing with them. Recycle. Write them off as a donation to a good cause. Pick your recipient carefully. You’re not just cleaning out the basement, you know!
Literary Bloggers: Books R’ Us. Start recycling them. You’ll never read them all. Wrap the ones you plan to give to your friends and family for the holidays and then include the names of some needy families in your area, and voila, Santa comes through…and on the cheap.
Barnes & Noble: Thousands and thousands of books are read and discarded by book buyers for the big retail stores and Barnes & Noble’s online store. You can bet Amazon has stacks of perfectly good review copies as well. (Most ARCs are the REAL book, just mailed ahead of official pub date.) They stack up on every floor in the building on Fifth Avenue in New York City. Editors, publishers, secretaries, anyone who works there should grab a bunch of letters from the James A Farley post office and start shipping all those children’s books and adventure stories. Compliments of Barnes & Noble would be okay with me…and them, I’m sure, if they thought about it. What do you think Len Riggio?  How about you, Jeff Bezos?
Independent Bookstores: You’ve got books you could send back to the distribution center for a credit or…gift wrap and give to needy families. If there isn’t a library nearby doing it, then perhaps you are the next best thing. You know what is selling and what was selling, but has fizzled. Still great reads, just not marketed anymore. You’ll be reaching out to the community, bringing people into your store… and doing a holiday kindness.
Food Pantries: How about a gift-wrapped book placed carefully into every bag of groceries. Food for the belly and nourishment for the brain. 
We, all of us, are the repositories of a treasure trove of books that, if they can’t be coat-pocket stuffers, can be stocking stuffers. Let’s share the wealth with poorer families. Even though they can’t eat ‘em or wear ‘em, a thoughtfully selected novel, compilation of short stories or volume of poetry could turn out to be the most treasured gift of all.  
Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing: The deadline at the James A. Farley branch is December 23 rd. Update: December 9th: Tina Fierst just telephoned me from the James A. Farley Post Office. Once you arrive at the post office, you must register. You can take up to six letters with you. However, no matter from where you got the name of a needy child or family, make sure to put Santa’s return address as 421 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10001 if you are in the US, so that if the package goes astray, the post office can recycle the gift. 

19 Responses to “Wicked Witch of Publishing Brilliant Idea for Holiday Gifts to Needy: Warm Coats with Hot Books in the Pocket!”

  1. Bonnie Calhoun Says:

    Wow! My Photo

    I love the idea….I’m sorry that I didn’t think of it sooner.

    As the Director of the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance, I too get a ton of books to read! I’ll start wrapping tonight!

    Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): Thanks, Bonnie. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it sooner either.  

  2. Ayun Says:

    This is a beautiful idea, oh wicked one. I, too, will head to the post office.

    We’ve got some books that the kids are outgrowing…it dang near killed me to think of parting with these old friends, but to send them out into the world in the way you propose makes my Grinch-y heart grow any number of sizes.   

    Cover Image  Cover Image  Cover Image  Cover Image  Cover Image

    Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): A new visitor! Welcome, Ayun!

  3. Lisa Says:

    A lovely idea. I’ll do that. (But I’m not parting with any of Ayun Halliday’s books!)

  4. Andrew O'Hara Says:

    Much as I like the idea in principal, I think it’s use would be by its “novelty” in motivating a few to give food and clothing that they wouldn’t otherwise give. When I wrote for a couple of local papers, I was discouraged at what really happened behind the scenes of Christmas drives for the poor. In truth, it was the efforts of a very few dedicated groups who practically had to muscle things out of stores and people to make them a success. The “community,” overall, gave token or no real support, regardless of the publicity.

    When it’s all done, the worn-out phrase papers use is “community outpouring of support.” Try Googling the phrase and you’ll get about a million hits. Look at the ones for local tragedies or holiday drives–all too often, you’ll notice no mention of money and the “outpouring of community support” is “cards, letters and prayers.”

    No one really wants to say that it was dismal.

    I love the sentiment, however, but would prefer to see book SALES with the profits going to the poor. It’s hard to read when you’re cold and hungry.

    Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): Hi, Andy! Welcome back. Andy, I’m actually hoping that the people who do send the coats will also pack a good book and that people who can’t be bothered to shop for a coat will at least be able to find the time to send the book. As I think about it, I’ll bet you could purchase the book from Amazon or Barnes & Noble online. They’d gift wrap and enclose a note. The only thing you’d have to make sure is that your return address did not appear on the package. The package needs to be from Santa. Oh, and one more thing: I know money is good, but I’m distrustful of the trickledown. That said, I do donate to IRC.

  5. Frazer Says:

    Before I talk about what we do, I want to say hi to Ayun, whose title “No Touch Monkey!” is one of the best titles ever. And we do sell your books pretty well.

    Thanks for a great post, Lynne. Here’s what we do. We partner each year with an organization called Communities in Schools (branches in several states) for something we call the Book Tree.

    A digression here: we used to call it the Angel Tree, but then we got a cease and desist letter from the offices of the Salvation Army’s lawyers in New York (Communities in Schools got one too), since apparently they owned the copyright to the phrase “Angel Tree.” The tone of the letter could be described as threatening. I should mention that the local head of the Salvation Army was horrified, and came to the store to apologize. But I don’t give them my change anymore.

    The Book Tree is a cheap fake tree decorated with construction paper ornaments which are made by at-risk students in local schools who have signed up with CIS. The ornaments have book requests on them. Customers buy the books on an ornament for 20% off, and the book is then given to the student. Many people just give us a bunch of money and ask us to pick up any books left at the end of the season. A local Presbyterian church had their Sunday school kids collect their change, and gave us nearly $400. Anything extra we have we spend on pregnancy books and SAT study guides. The tree is usually bare of ornaments by December 20.

    This reaffirmation of your faith in human nature this holiday season was brought to you by Park Road Books in Charlotte, North Carolina. Happy holidays, whatever you celebrate, everybody!

    Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): Frazer, I hope Santa sent a lump of coal to the Salvation Army attorney! The Book Tree is a fabulous idea! And happy holidays to you, too.

  6. Bernita Says:

    Good on you, Good Witch!My Photo

    I might add that any time there’s been a disaster – like New Orleans – that books to replace those lost help sustain the soul.

    Don’t just do it at Christmas.

  7. Bridget Says:

    It’s nice to see the spirit of Christmas is alive and well at the Gingerbread House of the Wicked Witch. What a wonderful idea! I too recall the breathless excitement when the wrapping paper was ripped off to reveal a favorite book; and how eagerly I fell upon it and then read and re-read it until the pages curled and cracked. Since I therefore no longer have any of my own favorites to send off… I’ll take your advice and order online. Thanks for providing a simple yet rewarding way we can all celebrate — and share — the Holidays!

  8. Maxine Says:

    Great post, Lynne.
    There is also the reverse book club, of which I am a longstanding member. You pay them each month and they send (good) books to developing countries. See: http://petrona.typepad.com/petrona/2006/04/reverse_books.html
    Links are in that post.
    All best, Maxine.

  9. David Thayer Says:

    Lynne, I took a box of books over to the Youth Center this morning. I don’t receive 1,000 per week like Frank, but there are a fair number that arrive unbidden. Hopefully the youths will benefit from this surfeit although I was perplexed by the category “pots and pans and books.” An older woman may have swiped one of the books as she donated pots and pans thus depriving the youth of the reading experience but helping out in the kitchen.

    Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): Now that’s a good idea, too!!!! Thanks for dropping by David.

  10. Peter L. Winkler Says:

    I’ve always been appalled at what happens to paperbacks whose shelf life at bookstores has expired. The stores rip off the covers, dump the books and return the covers to prove to the publishers that they’re not pulling a fast one with their accounts.

    Wouldn’t it benefit everyone if the books’ barcodes could be scanned and registered in some database, thereby satisfying the publishers, and the entire book could then be made available for anyone who wants to simply take it?

    A lot of those paperbacks are probably genre fiction that young readers eat up in vast quantities.

    It would be great if these books would go to readers who want and can’t afford them all year round, instead of being wasted in the most miserly fashion because of the bean counters who assume the mantle of dignity by calling themselves publishers.

  11. Frazer Says:

    Hear hear, Peter! Now our Hostess Witch doesn’t like returns at all, but by now they’re a fact of the industry, and they’re not going away anytime soon. I’m fine with that, but I do believe the stripping of mass market paperbacks is an ecological scandal, a dreadful dreadful waste of paper. Even when I was a teenager and my mom worked at a bookstore and brought me stripped paperbacks, I thought it was a crappy way of doing things. A few brave companies along the way have tried the non-strippable mass market paperbacks (White Wolf, for example), but it never went anywhere.

    But then the publishing world is full of stuff like this (I love the phrase “bean counters who assume the mantle of dignity by calling themselves publishers”–as the friend of at least two people with decades of work history between them who just got dumped by Random House right before the holidays, it really resonates with me). For instance, what’s going to happen to 400,000 copies of the aborted OJ book? I would say I heard Judith Regan was going to compost them for sustainable agriculture, but it’s not April Fool’s day.

  12. Shelley H. Says:

    We try to donate books whenever we can.

    I happened to love the local Barnes and Noble’s idea a few years ago. You picked a card with, for example, ‘boy age 9′ on it. Then you bought an appropiate book. You could personalize the a book plate for it and those books went into backpacks for kids going into foster care.

    Our kids’ teachers recieve so much at Xmas that are candles, mugs, etc..so I did something different—for every teacher and spec. needs therapist involved with my kids, I did a book at Barnes and Noble and donated it in a teacher’s name. I tried to tie the book to something with the teacher.

    One of the teachers I know has 2 boys, so I made sure for her that I picked a young girl. For my son’s Sp-ed classroom teacher, I picked The Black Stallion because my son is named for the main character.

    I thought the teachers would like the idea and was actually surprised by how enthuastic and emotional they were over it. This year the Barnes and Noble near me has their books going to a family literacy charity and I’ll be heading there soon.

  13. Shelley H. Says:

    To Peter – I gotta say that at the B&N I worked at, a lot of our stripped books came the way of the booksellers. We read, shared and passed them on. I’ve still got some on my shelf almost 2 yrs later that are in my ‘loaner’ library.

  14. Tom Clavin Says:

    Witch:Cover Image

    Great idea for a column, about donating books.

    Kids in unfortunate circumstances need food for their minds more than cakes and candy and used video games.

    Tom Clavin

    Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): Hey, Tom! I’m reading your book right now!

  15. Tana McDonald Says:

    I belong to a terrific international group called Bookcrossers, which you can find on the web. And you’ll find My Photobookcrosser meetings in almost every city in the U.S. Bookcrossers share books with others by leaving them in places where they will be found by someone else. We put a bookmark or card inside telling the finder of the book that they have just found a terrific read and to please share it with another after reading it. On the website, you can actually track a book’s path from reader to reader sometimes.

    Donating books is always a good idea. Checking local literacy groups, libraries, etc. where book gifting is organized can expedite your gesture.

    Books have always been my destiny. I’ll tell you a funny story. My maiden name is Tana Reed. Tana in Japanese means bookcase (I’m not Japanese, but because my mom died when I was young, I have no idea where she got that name). I began reading and writing a few years after birth and worked in libraries all the way through graduate school (guess what my degrees are in) and a year after, for a living. I was going to be a librarian, in fact, but turned to publishing instead–for 25 years! Lately I’ve taught college (guess what courses).

    Now I’m in the second half of Act 2 of my life. Can someone advise me on a new career path? I don’t want to return to corporate publishing, and, in brutal honesty, I detest teaching kids who won’t do their homework. Nearly 100% of the students I teach say they hate to read and write. They couldn’t parse a sentence if their life depended on it.

    Any suggestions?

    Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): Well, I’m not sure I’d recommend being an author, unless you’ve got a lot of money stashed under the mattress! Thanks for dropping by again, Tana. I actually just sent a note to the editor of the Wall Street Journal in which I mentioned your name. They had a front page article, “Why Book Industry Sees the World Split Still by Race,” yesterday, and I recommended that they read the very wise comment you left after my controversial (to put it mildly) October 17th posting! Are Black Authors Getting “Nigger Treatment?” Is “Niche” a Dirty Word? Is Millenia Black Really Suing Penguin Group Over White v. Black Characters?

  16. Kathy Jesson Says:

    We have picked up and run with an idea from a departed friend who used her books to start a food bank book shelf. This is something small yet so well received in communities and it feels wonderful.

    Put a bookshelf in the local food bank fill it and put the word out to Feed the Mind …customers want to help with gently used books, and the kids get the books. It is magic …we have watched it grow.

    Hope you can spread the word.

    Cathy Jesson
    Black Bond Books
    Surrey British Columbia

  17. Lorra Laven Says:

    Take your gently used or new books to your local women’s shelter on a regular basis, not just during the holidays. Every time you drop them off, stay a while so that you can read to some of the children.

  18. Maralyn Rittenour Says:

    Great idea, Lynne, and you’ve attracted many more suggested ways of giving the wonderful world of reading to needy kids.

    Why not a double gift? Rather than going to a commercial bookstore, buy your ‘Santa’ books at a neighborhood charity thrift shop where you may find almost-new books going for a proverbial song, thus benefiting the charity and the needy child.

    Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): Yet another great idea! 

  19. Sridhar Balan Says:

    A deliciously, wicked idea, in the true Christmas spirit of giving and one that will warm all book lovers in the cold of December. The best way to start giving is from the surplus boks in one’s home but I certainly would not disregard review journals and newspapers who get. as mentioned by Lynne, about ” a 1000 books to review each week”. I would only add one cautionary note. That the books be carefully selected both for appropriateness of language and contents and also for the levels intended.
    After Christmas is over, could I suggest we continue with the spirit of giving? Perhaps, books at birthdays, anniversaries etc. It would be great to match the spirit of giving with the spirit of reading.
    A Happy Caring Christmas, Everyone!

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