This past Saturday, I spent the afternoon in Jackson Heights with Sam and Leslie Davol, the husband-and-wife team behind The Uni Project, a pop-up, outdoor reading room that travels throughout NYC’s five boroughs. It was my first volunteer event, and I didn’t know what to expect other than some children’s books and maybe some of the ethnic food offerings of Queens.
My expectations were blown away. Turns out, The Uni has not one, but three of these custom-made, mobile bookcarts each with a thoughtfully curated collection of children’s books in a broad range of age levels, subjects, and languages. My favorites were: Jennie’s Hat by Ezra Jack Keats, a beautifully illustrated and printed book from the 1960s; and a colorful Chinese book with elaborate pop-ups illustrating important events in Chinese history. As Jackson Heights has large populations of Indian, Nepali, Bengali, and Latino residents, that day’s collection had a little bit of everything.
As for the ethnic diversity, Queens did not disappoint. Coincidentally, that afternoon was Chai Hour on Diversity Plaza, an hour of free chai tea and yummy snacks from plaza vendors. We had our fill of pakoras, kulfi popsicles, and halal sandwiches, all while catching the best of a religious (Sheikh?) parade across the plaza AND reading to the neighborhood kids.