Books n Bros: African-American boy starts book club for kids like him

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Sidney Keys III has always loved to read. But, at his school library, the 11-year-old noticed a void of books about kids like himself.

So, he started Books n Bros, a book club for 8- to 12-year-olds who get together in the St. Louis area and read – about stuff they really want to read about.

“I started it so we could read about African-American literature and raise awareness of that,” Sidney told HLN’s Michaela Pereira.

Sidney also wanted to improve literacy among his peers.

“Most boys stop reading between the age of 8 and 10,” Sidney’s mom, Winnie Caldwell, told CNN.

It was Caldwell who helped spark Sidney’s book club idea when she took him to EyeSeeMe, a St. Louis-area bookstore that focuses on African-American culture.

“I took him there because he has always loved to read,” she said. “He was so excited. He went crazy.”

They recorded a Facebook Live of Sidney reading in the store – and it got more than 60,000 views.

They were onto something.

“We thought, (What) can we do to keep this momentum going?” Caldwell said.

It’s been seven months, and Sidney’s book club now counts more than 30 members.

For $20 a month, a student gets a book, worksheets, snacks and – perhaps most valuable – time with friends in a space that welcomes reading. They’ve read books such as ‘Danny Dollar’ and ‘Hidden Figures.’

“The boys seem more comfortable reading out loud,” Caldwell said.

She even saw a change in Sidney.

“He’s more confident,” she said. “He speaks up for himself more. He’s a different kind of kid than he was before the book club.”

Books n Bros hosts a “pop-up” meeting on the first Sunday of every month. After meeting at EyeSeeMe, they moved to the mall. Next month’s meeting is scheduled for the Ferguson Youth initiative in nearby Ferguson, Missouri.

The club also has an “adopt a bro” program that invites anyone to fund the membership of a student who can’t afford it.

Sidney and his mom have plans to grow the club beyond the St. Louis area.

“We are looking to make the book club virtual to make it more accessible to kids everywhere,” Caldwell said.

They’ve already made a difference: Sidney’s school worked to diversify the literature on its bookshelves.

And, now, Sidney has a project that brings him real joy.

“What makes me really happy,” he said, “is seeing all the happy faces of all my members – so happy about reading.”