6th-grader Madelynn Crist starts Little Free Library

Little Free Library ribbon cutting
From left: Second Look Books and Brews co-owners Valarie and Rebecca Boscaljon, CMS sixth-grader Madelynn Crist, CMS science teacher Renee McQuate and Lodi village Councilwoman Melody Miller. 

Out of last fall’s remote learning came “Genius Hour,” and out of Genius Hour came a Little Free Library on Lodi’s village square -- thanks to a community collaboration and the inspiration of Cloverleaf Middle School sixth-grader Madelynn Crist.

Little Free Library is a nonprofit whose mission is to expand access to books for all ages and backgrounds through a global network of small, neighborhood book cabinets maintained by volunteers. It’s a book exchange: Members of the public are encouraged to browse the library, select a book that interests them, and leave another book in its place.

“I was 5 or 6 years old and I saw one,” said Madelynn, now 12. “It gave me the inspiration.”
Madelynn Crist and Renee McQuate
Inspiration met opportunity last fall when the COVID-19 pandemic forced Cloverleaf Local Schools to temporarily switch to remote instruction. As a creative way to help her students feel a greater sense of connection, sixth-grade science teacher Renee McQuate held bi-weekly Genius Hour sessions, encouraging students to brainstorm ideas for a “passion project.” The next step was an “elevator pitch” to sell McQuate on their proposal. She encouraged them to dream big.

“Their ideas were approved when I was able to see a little sparkle in their eyes about their proposals and I knew they were onto something,” she said. “I learned that Maddie has loved the idea of free little libraries for community use for a very long time.”

With McQuate’s guidance, Madelynn went to work. Together they attended an online Lodi Village Council meeting -- along with Madelynn’s mother, Jen. Village officials gave the project their overwhelming support, McQuate said.Next, Maddie and her mother met with the owners of Second Look Books and Brews -- a locally owned used bookstore and coffee shop on Lodi’s village square -- who signed on to help. The store supplied the initial stock of books and agreed to help watch over the library, replenishing it as needed.

“Jen and Maddie came in and asked us to partner,” said Valarie Boscaljon, who co-owns Second Look with her daughter, Rebecca Boscaljon. “We said that would be great! We decided to put it across the street so we could keep an eye on it.”

At a dedication ceremony on May 25, McQuate told the story of how the Little Free Library came to be and Madelynn cut the ribbon with a crowd of family members and classmates looking on. Councilwoman Melody Miller was on hand to read a proclamation from the village.

Madelynn said her hope is the library will be a resource for those who want to learn and explore new things, but may not have the money to buy books. She knows how important reading is -- because it’s important to her.

“It helps me express myself,” she said. “Books get me hooked-in and make me feel like I’m there. It’s an adventure.”

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