Since the beginning of the school year, 95-year-old Eva ‘The Book Lady’ Hilborn, has delivered 25 books to 25 youngsters in Bowser, and is looking to expand.
Her foundation, the ‘Wonderful World of Books,’ ensures as many three-year-olds as possible in the Bowser Elementary School catchment area of School District 69 (Qualicum) receive one age-appropriate book a month until the end of the school year.
Hilborn had worked as an early childhood educator for four decades, and first thought, as a lifelong learner, to create her foundation at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I really feel we can solve many problems if we can get children interested in reading and early learning,” she said.
Since the Bowser school catchment area is relatively small, Hilborn said she wanted to first start there, but is now ready to expand to the rest of SD69 to include Parksville and Qualicum Beach. Her goal is to have every three-year-old in the area be part of the program and receive books starting January 2022. Her estimate on how many children might register is close to 100, based on a 2017 consensus.
So far, Hilborn has received great feedback from at least a dozen families that have told her what a treat it is for them to find a surprise waiting at the door and then getting to watch their children enjoy the stories.
Such positive feedback is what encourages Hilborn to keep going.
“Seeing children and their love of books, and the knowledge that I have of how children develop writing and reading skills that has spurred me on.”
The 25 children already enrolled in the program will receive books for two full years.
She believes children who come from families who keep 80 to 150 books in their home have the potential to succeed in whatever career they choose, simply because they have a background and a love of learning.
For families with children born in 2019 in the SD69 area, from Bowser to Nanoose Bay, that would like to be part of the program, ‘Wonderful World of Books’is accepting new registration until Nov. 15, 2021. The program will continue until 2024.
In part, Hilborn was influenced by Dolly Parton’s similar mission to deliver books to children aged five and younger to promote an early love of reading. She thought to herself how great it would be to have a similar program for Parksville Qualicum Beach youngsters.
Another influence developed when she learned of the Pack Horse Library Project that delivered books to remote regions in the Appalachian Mountains between 1935 and 1943, where women were greatly involved.
Her foundation has actually delivered three books so far. Bowser children received ‘One Eagle Soaring’ by Roy Henry Vickers and Robert Budd for August, ‘Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?’ by Bill Martin for September, and ‘The Little Engine That Could’ by Watty Piper for October. For November, Hilborn is considering ‘The Story of Ferdinand’ by Munro Leaf, and ‘The Snowy Day’ by Ezra Jack Keats for December.
In an attempt to keep the project as local as possible, Hilborn aims to only purchase books from Parksville Qualicum retailers, such as the Mulberry Bush Book Store in Parksville, and will try to include as many local authors in the rotations as possible.
“I really look at books to see their potential,” she said, adding that books offering more information on a topic rather than just a short story are high priority. “You never know, it might stimulate someone to go into a specific field of work.”
Since Hilborn purchases the books out of her own pocket, on her 95th birthday, she asked family and friends to donate to the ‘Wonderful World of Books’ in lieu of presents.
The foundation is always looking for monetary donations to continue their work, and Hilborn said she is even open to the idea of sponsors if a business shows interest to help carry the program forward beyond the next couple of years.
‘Wonderful World of Books’ can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.