Books Between Kids promotes reading, peer-to-peer philanthropy

Books Between Kids founders Amy Barnes & Sandra Ahlhorn with students from Kashmere Gardens ES

More than 12,000 HISD students will be starting off their summer vacation right—with an armload of books to take home, enjoy, and keep—thanks to two book-loving ladies and the non-profit they created last year to support literacy.

“Building home libraries, one summer at a time,” is the slogan of Books Between Kids, which Sandra Ahlhorn and Amy Barnes cofounded in 2012, and that is precisely what the longtime friends (and parents of HISD students) intend to do.

“What really provoked me was an op-ed piece I read in the newspaper that children were living in homes with no books,” explained Barnes. “And ‘no’ means ‘none.’ We both grew up in book-loving homes, so that just didn’t seem possible. Then Sandra heard a talk given by (HISD Superintendent) Terry Grier about the summer slide, and we both thought, ‘You know, we can do something about this.’”

Before the last day of the regular school year concluded on June 6, Ahlhorn and Barnes had distributed more than 100,000 gently used books among 24 HISD elementary schools through Books Between Kids, thousands of which were donated by other students from Briargrove, Condit, River Oaks, and West University elementary schools.

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“Even though we couldn’t do what we do without the support of Better World Books (which donated a truckload of 70,000 titles earlier this year),” said Barnes, “the idea is to have children be very much a part of the process. With my own kids, I told them, ‘Look, we’re always cleaning out our bookshelves, so why don’t we direct these to other kids who really need them?’”

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Barnes was particularly excited by the way some recipient schools have been empowered to conduct book drives of their own or to enlist the aid of fifth-graders, who act as personal shoppers for the younger students.

“One principal at a recipient school said it best,” noted Barnes, “She said, ‘We all need to serve each other.’”

Each student at a recipient campus could take home up to six books.

Sidebar: Books Between Kids is still desperately in need of free warehouse space in which to store and sort its donations. If you are able to provide it (at no charge), please send an email to