CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Dr. Jimie Owsley grew up in a home without many books.
The Corpus Christi Caller-Times reported that she lived in a rough part of Chicago, so embarking to the library on her own wasn’t an option. Then she made a discovery: She wasn’t prepared.
“By the time I got to college I realized that I could not carry on meaningful conversations in basic geography, history,” Owsley said. “So, by the time I went to medical school, I was just reading like a sponge.”
When she moved to Washington, D.C., to complete her medical residency, she said she discovered great bookstores.
Owsley is a contracted emergency room doctor for CHRISTUS Spohn Health System, operates a low-cost health care clinic and owns one of the only locally owned bookstores in South Texas.
Helping children become smarter and more literate is the goal behind initiatives at her By the Book Bookstore and another just over the bridge.
Owsley opened By the Book in December 2016, but the business then hibernated as the city began working on the roads at Ayers Street and Santa Fe for about two years.
The stores recently reopened full time as the road construction was completed.
Each day, they select a book that is up for grabs and the first person to come in and ask for the book gets it for free.
“The books are typically children’s books or classics, and they are available to really anyone,” Owsley said. “But the purpose is to build libraries. Pretty much anything I do, I know I want to give back to the community.”
At Books Ink in Portland, children can get a free book every week by answering a question. If they can’t answer the question, they still get the book – along with some homework.
Owner Jennifer Hay celebrated 15 years in business April 1 and said the purpose is to help grow libraries in homes.
“I want to make reading fun for kids,” she said. “Make it not a chore. They get to choose their book and do with it what they want. Kids that like to read will become adults that like to read.”
“I’ve been in homes where there are no books, and if there are no books, you don’t develop a love of reading,” Hay said.
Spending time reading to your children every day and having them read to you will help them grow as readers and develop their love of reading, Owsley said.
“When I was young, we didn’t have any books in our home, and I felt that I really missed out,” she said. “I think multiple things build a relationship, but certainly reading is one of those. I think every parent should have books in their home. They should read to their children.”
Helping children and adults be smarter is a major focus of By the Book. When Owsley discovered her son was born hearing impaired, doctors said the best thing for him would be to read 10 books a day.
“In his age group at Barnes and Noble, you go through 10 books a day pretty quickly, so I started ordering books online,” Owsley said. “But I really wanted him to get more nonfiction information, in case he lost his hearing one day.”
At her store, she offers books such as “Quantum Entanglement for Babies,” “Quantum Physics for Babies” and “The Little President: A Presidential Primer.”
When reading a book herself, she likes her kids to read a similar book, and then they discuss it as a family. She offers books at the store for parents interested in doing this with their children. For example, if the parent wants to read a book on Michelle Obama, there is a child-appropriate Michelle Obama book.
“I wanted books that made people smarter – professional books, medical books, law books – but I also wanted a parallel with the appropriate age group,” Owsley said. “I wanted books to improve yourself.”
Kelly Kimball’s two daughters learned how to spell by playing Scrabble at Books Ink.
One of her daughters is dyslexic, but she was never made to feel like she wasn’t good enough to play.
It is that sense of community that has kept the family coming back year after year, Kimball said.
The family began visiting the bookstore when the girls were 3 and 10. They now are 18 and 25.
“We don’t have community spaces anymore.” Hay said. “Nobody chats with their neighbors, nobody sits on a porch and waves to people, and I just wanted a place where if somebody came in they would be able to talk to another person.”
She has tried to give other small businesses an opportunity to grow, hosting tarot card readings, chair massages and other business events.
The bookstore also has several weekly and monthly events including Scrabble nights, poetry readings, a book club and book signings.
“I don’t have Wi-Fi, I’m never going to have a TV in here, so when people come in they talk to one another, and I just felt that we needed something like that,” Hay said.