From little libraries, great things grow

Kaileb Crewse has joined a movement that uses an honor system to make books available to anyone.

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A group of children come and go from a corner across the street from Menlo Park as Kaileb Crewse reads a children's book from his newly built and installed "Little Free Library" at the corner of his home. Crewse reads a lot and likes to serve others so he built the library under the premise of swapping books without a due date. In the week it's been open many visitors have brought and/or taken books to enjoy.

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The boy behind the vision, Kaileb Crewse, opens his "Little Free Library" at the front corner of his home on Alvarado Terrace on a Friday afternoon.

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In her front lawn, RaeJean Crewse reads some children's books that are part of the new "Little Free Library" her son, Kaileb took the initiative to build and install on their corner last week.

WALLA WALLA - Walla Walla's littlest library was a cabinet in its former life.

It was picked up at a church sale a couple of weeks ago, sanded, painted, sealed, given a plexiglass window and a sloping roof to keep off the rain and snow, mounted on legs, installed at the bottom corner of an elevated yard across from Menlo Park and filled with free books.

It is the project of a boy who not only loves a good story, but now has one of his own to tell.

"I think it took shorter than a week," Kaileb Crewse, 9, explained of the transformation while neighborhood kids spilled from the park into his sun-filled front yard Friday on Alvarado Terrace to browse books.

A voracious reader, Crewse was beckoned to the television a couple of weeks ago by his mother, RaeJean Crewse. She had caught a story on a news program about a movement known as "Little Free Library." She hit rewind on the DVR so her middle son could see it.

"He turned to me and said, ‘Mom that would be something cool to do,'" she said. With help and support from the family - including Dad, Scott Crewse; older brother, Jordon; and younger brother, Brendon - the conversion of an old cabinet into a miniature library took place.

The movement started in 2009 when Hudson, Wis., resident Todd Bol built a miniature model of a library as a tribute to his late mother and filled it with books outside of his home.

His concept was simple: From the miniscule library, visitors could take a book and/or leave a book. No checkouts. No late fees. Just sharing. People loved it and wanted to have their own little libraries.

Bol partnered with friend Rick Brooks and they started building them and organizing a movement. As it spread from Wisconsin to the tiniest pockets of America - Little Libraries are in at least 24 states - their vision has grown.

They're thinking of Andrew Carnegie, the industrialist and philanthropist who built and endowed 2,509 libraries. They want their movement to be bigger in number, even if it's smaller in stature.

People have made the libraries into all kinds of shapes and from every imaginable repurposed material. Some are purchased by Bol and Brooks at costs starting in the $300 range. Others are self-made and fashioned into little barns, birdhouses, mail boxes or just simple containers.

At 1303 Alvarado Terrace, the library sits under a stately maple on the corner of Menlo Street. When it blooms, it will provide shade for a luxurious afternoon reading session, though if Kaileb has his way a bench will eventually be built at the site.

The Green Park Elementary student, who Is currently entrenched in "The Tales of Beedle The Bard," did most of the decorating on the library. As if hosting a tour through the hallowed halls of a museum, he walked around the perimeter, pointing out the decor on each wall of the unit.

"I was thinking of nature," he said intently, describing his inspiration for a landscape painting on one side. "You can see the volcano and mountains, the lightning and clouds."

On the back side is a decoupage collection of copies of pictures he's drawn over the years - a turtle he free-handed in second grade, a ship in shark-infested water, representations of his favorite sports teams: the Seahawks, Lakers and Walla Walla's own Sweet Lou.

The remaining side is bordered in colorfully painted puzzle pieces. Centered on the inside is a description of how the system works. Simply stated, visitors can take a book, and make donations, too.

As of Friday, a little more than 50 books lined the shelves. Three fewer if you subtract the withdrawals from kids who happened by in just a short period. Once the Little Free Library gets settled, Kaileb may eventually start a service logging inventory and posting it on Facebook, so those who may be on the lookout for a certain title can track it, his mother said.

RaeJean Crewse, who has been a driving partner for her son in the process, likens the Little Free Library to a social experiment. It's a book exchange that survives on the honor system. Her family is relying on users to treat the library respectfully. But despite a pin on the door - designed to offset wind eruptions - there's no lock. Taking the books is the point, she said.

Just six days after launching the Little Free Library of Walla Walla, she could already see some positive differences in activity around the house.

More kids were dropping by last week. "I don't know if they've heard about it, or they liked it," she said.

She'd also noticed a difference in one of her own children. Four-year-old Brendon, who is often treated to stories from Kaileb before bed or while he bathes, has been looking out the window a lot more, watching for book deposits.

"That was an unexpected piece of all of this," she said.

"He thinks there's a library in the yard. He'll look through the living room window, come outside, grab a book and bring it inside to read it."

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