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Sibling Story


Haili Smith, 16, says she and her sibling, Brooke, “have very different tastes in books.” Haili likes spine-tinglers. Brooke, 13, prefers fantasy. What they share is the belief that kids are more motivated to read if they relate to a book’s characters. That’s why, in 2020, they started Books Like Me. The nonprofit group supplies teachers with culturally diverse children’s books.

“We didn’t really like reading” a few years ago, Haili told TIME for Kids. “[Then] we started to look for books that had characters we saw ourselves in. It made us want to read more. We thought we could share that with students, because we knew that this wasn’t just something that affected us.”

AT THE HELM Haili (pictured) and her sibling Brooke are dedicated to donating culturally diverse books.


So far, Haili and Brooke have given away more than 16,000 books. Most have been donated in Florida, where the siblings lived when they started Books Like Me. Many have gone to California, which is where they live now. As word about their organization has spread, requests have come in from schools nationwide.

MAJOR MILESTONE In January 2023, the siblings celebrate having given away 10,000 books.


Shared Perspectives

Educators say it’s important for students to have access to children’s books featuring diverse characters. A book can be a mirror, letting kids see themselves reflected in its characters. Or it can be a window, helping kids see from the perspective of characters with backgrounds and experiences different from their own.

Haili and Brooke started with an Amazon Wish List of books they liked. They shared the list on social media, asking for donations of these titles. Soon, they began receiving boxes of new books to give away to schools.

SUPER STACK Haili makes a Books Like Me donation.


Teachers and librarians can request a donation from Books Like Me online. Fiction and nonfiction books are available at different levels and in a variety of genres and formats. The Tristan Strong series, by Kwame Mbalia, is popular. So is Sulwe. The picture book was written by actress Lupita Nyong’o and illustrated by Vashti Harrison. “The art’s really good,” Brooke says.

Sparking Joy

Anitra Carter teaches fourth grade at Lockhart Elementary Magnet School, in Tampa, Florida. She says donations from Books Like Me have gotten her students excited about reading. “It sparks something to see a character that looks similar to them,” Carter says.

DIVERSE ASSORTMENT Brooke and Haili donate books of different genres and formats, including graphic novels.


Carter also believes diverse characters help kids develop empathy. “There’s so much that we can learn when we read about other cultures,” she says. “So when we’re having real-life situations or we’re seeing things on the news . . . [kids] have some background knowledge about the experiences of other people around the world.”

Over the years, Haili and Brooke have been invited to speak with educators about the importance of culturally diverse books. They’ve also taken books directly to students. At a book fair in Florida, “I was at a table showing kids the books and they were picking them out,” Haili recalls. “They all looked so happy when they found a book that really resonated with them.”

SPECIAL DELIVERY Brooke (left) and Haili drop off 876 books at a school in Hillsborough County, Florida, in 2022.


That, of course, is the goal. “I hope, and I think,” Haili says, “that all kids should see themselves represented in books so that they enjoy reading.”


Next month, we’ll feature kids who are helping the environment. Could you be one of them? Click here for ideas on how you can work with your community to protect the planet.