Cards featuring cherubs gleefully reading books hang from the ceiling of Toronto bookstore Mabel’s Fables. Each one represents a child in need who will receive a book on Christmas morning.
For three decades, the children’s bookstore has worked with Unison Health Services as part of the shop’s Book Angel Program. To date, they have donated over 13,000 books. Up to 600 children will have a book purchased for them this year through the program.
The charity drive is a book browser’s dream: customers select a card featuring a child’s name, age, and gender, then choose a book for them. Mabel’s and Unison take it from there to make sure the selected book is delivered to the child before Christmas morning.
“There is so much of this that happens on the quiet,” says owner Eleanor LeFave. “People just give like crazy.”
On a recent evening, LeFave welcomed a Brownie troupe that had come to pick out books to donate. She mentions one woman who saves all year, then spends half a day picking out books for kids. Another customer swoops in as the program is on the cusp of wrapping and buys books for the children whose cards have yet to be chosen.
“Some of my clients ask for it every year,” says Erin Shaw, manager of housing services and harm reduction programs at Unison. “One client said that his daughter’s favourite thing is to get books. It’s the highlight of her Christmas.”
After the holidays this year, LeFave is also launching a spin-off program that will mirror the Book Angel concept. Kids Read North will focus on giving books to Indigenous kids in Northern Ontario.
LeFave says she recognizes names from year to year. Come October, kids have been known to anxiously call Unison to make sure they will receive a book this year. Thanks to the efforts of the Book Angels, they have nothing to worry about. “You tell them that they will get a book,” LeFave will say. “Don’t worry.”