Books by Kids

Jon Escueta noticed the kids on his basketball team weren’t talking to each other on the court. Solving that problem started him thinking about how to help other children.

As Fox 13 reports, Escueta owns and operates a barbershop in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. While coaching a youth basketball team, Escueta noticed how having the kids speak out loud boosted their confidence.

“We had to pick one out of the group and made him speak to the team by themselves,” he told WFMZ. “It helped tremendously because they started communicating toward the end of the season.”

The experience made him think about the kids he met at his barber shop, most of whom just sat silently or played on their phones during their haircut. Escueta decided he wanted to give these children more confidence — just as he had with his basketball team, and just as a teacher had with him when he was a young man.

Escueta put up $50 of his own money and began offering his young clients a deal: read aloud while you’re sitting in the barber chair and get $3, a free book, and a piece of candy. The program, called Books by Kids, quickly picked up steam.

As Escueta explained to the Reading Eagle, the point is to grow the children’s self-confidence by letting them practice reading and speaking aloud:

“We have had a lot of success with the program over the years. It doesn’t matter if they want to read one sentence, one paragraph or one chapter — the idea is that they just get comfortable reading something in front of other people.”

And Escueta isn’t the only one participating — the other barbers in his shop are part of the program as well. Jerry Jones, who has children of his own, says encouraging his kids to read at home has been, “practice for work,” and vice versa.

As someone who was a shy kid himself, Escueta says he’s especially drawn to the kids who need a bit more encouragement to come out of their shell.

“The ones who are timid – I gravitate toward those kids,” he told Fox 13. “I know what it feels like and try to make them feel good about themselves.”

Escueta told the Eagle that they’ve seen some of their clients improve immensely:

“We had this one kid who used to come in here with his mom and wouldn’t say a word the whole time. The first time he read a sentence, and last time he was here I think he read three chapters.”

Eight-year-old Conor Hamilton told Fox 13 that he’s made between $30 and $50 reading aloud at the barbershop. What’s more, it has given him the courage to participate more in class.

“[The reading time] made me speak up. I am always raising my hand to get picked,” he said.

Many of Escueta’s young clients look to him as a mentor. Isahia Ventura is a seventh grader who says he used to care only about his friends and ignored grades. But the Books by Kids program changed his perspective.

“Every time I would go here I would learn more about how to do better in school,” he told KARE. He added, “Now I just want to learn and get good grades.”

The program has continued to grow, benefiting from attention on social media and local news. Escueta says they’ve received books from authors wanting to be part of the program. There’s also a GoFundMe page for those interested in donating.

Escueta says he hopes the idea will catch on. As he told WFMZ:

“A lot more people, especially the barbershops in the city, I hope they adopt the program. I think it can help tremendously.”

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