Five hundred books delivered to classrooms in every public elementary school in Moore County. And not just any books, but a select group of books designed to encourage diversity in children.

According to the Pew Research Center in 1960, 37 percent of U.S. households included a married couple raising their own children. Fifty-eight years later, just 16 percent of households look like that.

Two billion dollars of children’s books were sold in the U.S. in 2017 (the last year statistics are available for), and of those books, less than 30 percent reflected the changing makeup of the American family.

O’Neal School student Max Epstein decided he wanted to do something about this. He wanted children to have books they could recognize their families and friends in.

Young readers need characters they could relate to and whose stories would resonate with them. Max made the decision to use this as his Bar Mitzvah project.

Mitzvah projects are something relatively new in the Jewish tradition. A Bar Mitzvah (or Bat Mitzvah for a girl) is a coming of age ceremony where a young Jewish child becomes accountable for their actions. A Mitzvah project is to benefit the community and show commitment to being a thoughtful member of the Jewish Community.

Max decided to adopt the theme of the We Need Diverse Books organization which is “Imagine a world in which all children can see themselves in the pages of a book.”

He consulted with several teachers and selected the following books to be placed in kindergarten, first and second grade classrooms:

Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall
Marisol Mcdonald Doesn’t Match by Monica Brown
One by Kathryn Otoshi
Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman
The Big Book of Families by Mary Hoffman

Once he knew the books he wanted and the costs, Max worked diligently to raise the money needed for the project. The costs to buy the set of 5 books for each classroom was $60. He mailed letters to friends, family, and members of his synagogue.

Max had hoped for $3,000 to cover 50 classrooms. In the end, he raised over $7,500, enough books to be put in classrooms at 18 schools across Moore County. In many cases, he was asked to come read to the classes which gave him an even deeper connection with the students.

The Country Bookshop and Angie Tally, the bookshop’s children’s book buyer, played a large role in Max’s project. They aided in the selection of the books, accepted donations, and gave Max a discount on the purchase of the books.

 The world needs the passion and commitment of young people like Max Epstein.  A young man showing the world what is means to dedicate themselves for the advocacy of all people.

Article and video by Sandhills Sentinel Reporter, Chris Prentice.

Feature photo contributed of Max Epstein reading one of the books he delivered to a classroom.

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