Susan Salomon has spent the last eight years making sure children in Montgomery County have the same chance to love books as much as her son, Aaron Kamins, always did.
“He was an avid reader,” his mother said of her son, who died from cancer in 2008 at the age of 21.
Recalled Kamins’ aunt, Terry Snyder of Massachusetts, “Whenever there was some long event, he’d just bring a book.”
Two years after Kamins’s death, Salomon decided to honor her son’s memory by giving away new or gently-used children’s books to needy children in Montgomery County.
Last Friday, Salomon held her 20th Aaron’s Book Buddies giveaway at Kemp Mill Elementary School. These events are held mostly at Title 1 schools.
“If they are trying to get food on the table,” the families can’t buy books, explained Salomon, a retired teacher.
Her basement now is covered in books, mainly sorted by authors and subjects. She sets up baskets and baskets of free books at a school the day before, usually wherever the school has extra space, including the media center, on carts in the hallway, in the staff lounge or the cafeteria.
She has plenty of books to give away and continues to collect and send away for more.
“My whole basement floor to ceiling is books, boxes of books,” she said.
When a class comes to Aaron’s Book Buddies, Salomon first briefly tells the youngsters about her son. “I speak with them first. I tell them just like we built a statue to Martin Luther King,” the book fair is her way of remembering and honoring her son.
Then she tells them they can each take home two books, adding, “You guys are in for a real treat today.”
Noted Salomon, “You would think I was giving them a million dollars.”
While the children are given free reign, “we help them. There are some kids who get a little overwhelmed,” she said.
Some rush right to the covers filled with dinosaurs or princesses. Others choose a new book from a series they like.
Books from Jeff Kinney’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series are the most popular, Salomon noted.
Eric, a first grader at Kemp Mill, chose one book about pirates and another about trucks and declared, “My sister will read it to me.”
Classmate Brianna chose “Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse” by Kevin Henkes, noting that the book was in her classroom, and she loved it.
Besides the books, the children go home with a short note from Salomon, which reads in part, “I hope that your family enjoys the books and a lifetime of reading.”
The note is written in English on one side and Spanish on the other.
It is not uncommon for Salomon to receive a thank-you note from some of the children. One youngster in the Head Start program, after receiving her two books, insisted that her mother donate $10 to Aaron’s Book Buddies, Salomon recalled.
Salomon believes her son “would be thrilled” to see the children getting free books. “I feel like he’s on my shoulder when I do this. I feel as close to him as possible.”
Watching the children page through their new books, Salomon declared, “The worst thing in my life brought about the best thing in my life.”