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'Barby the Book Fairy' spreads the magic of Free Little Libraries around our community

Library Book Returned 50 Years Late With $20 And Funny Note
Posted at 6:03 AM, Sep 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-10 08:26:36-04

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Every child deserves a book of their own.

We’re trying to make that a reality with our “If You Give a Child a Book” Campaign, and we’re not the only ones committed to childhood literacy.

The little house in front of the South Side Settlement Museum in Milwaukee isn’t for birds or dolls. It’s a Free Little Library, provided by Barby the Book Fairy.

“I got 30+ applications for a Free Little Library!”

Barby’s real name is Barbara Cerda. She says the nickname came from her runs to fill the Little Libraries in her neighborhood.

“I think I was just being silly one day and I was just like, ‘I’m doing a book fairy run!’”

Why all the interest in Free Little Libraries? Barby says during the pandemic, she and her daughters went on walks, and noticed that all the Little Libraries in her neighborhood were empty.

“So we just kind of came home and emptied out our books and refilled them,” Barby says.

Since then, she’s won grants to buy brand new books to fill Free Little Libraries, and then to build them!

“Best idea, worst idea, because they’re super hard to build,” Barby says with a laugh.

Those thirty applications she got had to be whittled down to just ten winners. Barby says the work was worth it because the applications showed her the community really wants to read.

“There was like, no wrong answer. They were just really beautiful answers,” she says.

One of Barby’s big focuses was making sure these Little Libraries are full of diverse authors and characters.

“I just think that it’s important that we all feel seen and we all feel connected.”

Research from the University of Nebraska shows children as young as 3 years old can be aware of stereotypes. Exposing them to books that show cultural diversity increases kids’ awareness and inclusion of those cultures.

And Barby says it’s really important for young kids who might not have seen anyone like themselves in books.

“I would say it brings a lot of confidence, right?” Barby says. “Like, I didn’t grow up really reading books about other Latina girls.”

So for Barby to see entire families reading together and bonding over books she provided?

“It’s super, really, really powerful.”

Barby the Book Fairy is just one of the wonderful people in our area supporting childhood literacy, but you can help too!

Every dollar you give during our “If You Give a Child a Book” campaign will support the important work being done at Milwaukee’s Next Door Foundation. Just head over to or text 4BOOKS to 345345 for a link to our donation page.

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