When 11-year old Sidney Keys III realized how many Black books that were available in his age genre, he couldn't believe it. Keys has always loved reading but was frustrated that he couldn't find relatable books at his school library.
Sidney explained on the “St. Louis on the Air” radio show that “every time I go to the library at my school, there aren’t many African American literature books there."
When his mother, Winnie Caldwell, took him to the African American Children’s Bookstore EyeSeeMe, Sidney was inspired immediately. It was the first time he'd seen so many books with characters that look like him and that positively expressed his culture. Sidney and his mom founded Books N Bros not shortly after. This innovative book club supports boys ages 8 to 12 years old, with a focus on literacy, fun, and friendship.
Caldwell helped Sidney develop the book club after a video she captured of Sidney reading on the floor at EyeSeeMe went viral, with more than 64,000 views. Since launching in September, they have received over 250 book donations, and reputable reviews from the author of their inaugural book, “Danny Dollar.” After Ty Allan Jackson saw Sidney reading his book in the video, and he joined the next meeting via Skype.
Besides improving the literacy of boys; which Sidney discovered declines in comparison to their female counterparts between the ages of 8 and 10-years old. Sidney also seeks to create a space where he can discuss the things he read with his peers. “My motivation is I already love to read, but it would be awesome, even better, to read with other people.”
“I’d rather talk to boys my age that I can relate to, instead of adults, about a story they didn’t even read or may not even understand like me," Sidney continued.
Books N Bros' $20 membership includes a monthly book; as well as, access to accompanying online worksheets and a meet-up, held at the Microsoft Store in the St. Louis Galleria. Participants even receive a snack bag and an hour to play video games. A few books that the club has explored include Hidden Figures, The Supadupa Kid and A Song for Harlem: Scraps of Time. While the club caters to black boys, males of all races are invited to join, and Black male mentors are always welcomed to attend.
To keep growing and reach kids who live outside of St. Louis, Sidney and his mom seek to develop a digital component soon.
Caldwell is very proud of her son, “As his mom, it’s an amazing feeling.” As so are we. Sidney's desire to make a change is refreshing, and Caldwell says it best. “I’ve been speechless.... I’m looking at him as a young man, and as the entrepreneur, he’s growing into. He’s an inspiration to me.”