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[Educator Inspiration] Meet Story Orchard Books, A Dream-Come-to-Life

[Educator Inspiration] Meet Story Orchard Books, A Dream-Come-to-Life

When Lesley De Paz was a new educator, she quickly learned that one of the most expensive parts of her new job was buying books and properly building a classroom library for her students. Knowing that she was not alone in this, and wanting to do something to help fellow educators, she started hoarding books.

As her garage started to fill up (and her own family started to grow) Lesley realized there was more good to be done by giving away her now-massive collection of books not just to other educators, but to the families in her community. After a late night, she came across the concept of a ‘bike mobile’ on Pinterest. It piqued her curiosity and after a bit of research, she created a GoFundMe for a custom book bike mobile to bring reading materials directly to her neighbors. She expected her campaign to take 6 months, but reached her goal in only 16 days.

Realizing she was on to something, Lesley got to work with a local bike builder and metal worker, her book bike mobile was created, and The Story Orchard was born!

Lesley De Paz The Story Orchard

Since the summer of 2017, Lesley’s mobile library has traveled to farmers markets and other community-based events around her North Minneapolis neighborhood to get books into the hands of local children for free.

Lesley’s passion, along with her library, has grown and gained popularity among educators and the community as she has built The Story Orchard. She now proudly wears the title of “The Book Lady” in her local community. With this, her mission has expanded from simply getting books into the hands of neighborhood kids and families, to ensuring that everyone in the community has access to literacy skills.

As an educator, Lesley knows that literacy is absolutely critical to personal, career, and financial success, but it only really takes root when it is engrained in culture. Teachers can’t just be telling kids to read; homes need to be filled with reading materials, kids need to be exposed to reading by the trusted adults and peers in their lives, and all community members need to be seen as ever-growing readers. Driven by this, she started researching community literacy and how she could attain her new goal of expanding her mission to serve adults. This research led her to realizing there was not a single bookstore in all of North Minneapolis.

Building on her initial cause, Lesley is now working to fill that gap by creating a literacy center for the North Minneapolis community. This plan will allow all community members, regardless of age or status, to get free or affordable access to high quality reading materials, and programming like book clubs for teens, all-level writing classes, financial literacy workshops, and more, all facilitated by qualified instructors.

As she works on fundraising and planning for a literacy center, Lesley has adapted The Story Orchard’s approach to community outreach amid the COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest in North Minneapolis earlier this year. To avoid large gatherings that normally occur around her book bike mobile, she worked with food distribution sites, Minneapolis Public Schools, and the Cleveland Neighborhood Associations to provide pre-made book bundles to families in need. Each book bundle includes 10 books, five fiction and five nonfiction, sorted by age ranges. Through this method, she was able to give out 3000 books this summer.

Speaking with Lesley, you can’t help but be amazed by how driven she is. She is a full-time educator, a mom to three kids, and dedicates her free time to building The Story Orchard because she loves her community and wants to help. When asked what keeps her going, Lesley stated, “When I think about the things in my life that bring me joy or when I’m bummed, the number one thing I want to do is read a book to a kid. If you sit down and engage a child in a book, you can’t ever take that away. You get to travel through books and you get to escape reality and you get to laugh and smile, and it’s just the best thing ever.”

To learn more about the Story Orchard, including how to support its mission, visit Want to hear more from Lesley De Paz? Check out Edmentum’s Educator Network Panel from this summer’s Virtual Conference!