Cinnaminson family creates outdoor library to share love of reading

The Slacks started offering free books to neighbors and passers-by earlier this spring

The Slack family – mom Sarah, 10-year-old Adelaide and 6-year-old Paxton – stand with their makeshift library at the base of their driveway on Buttonwood Lane. The Slacks started the book project, which provides free reads to neighbors and passersby, near the beginning of the COVID-19 quarantine.
(KRISTEN DOWD/The Sun)

Earlier this spring, a little wagon sat nestled along a shady bend on Buttonwood Lane. Anyone curious enough to take a look inside could be transported to a faraway land or even travel through time – not by the wagon itself, of course, but by picking up one of the many books stacked inside.

Take a book, share a book: That was the motto. And while the makeshift library has evolved over the past few months – it now houses many more books that call a large rolling cart home – the welcome respite the project has given to countless neighbors and residents during the COVID-19 pandemic has remained.

“We always wanted to do a little free library,” Sarah Slack said. “We thought this would be a good time for that.”

Slack and her children, 10-year-old Adelaide and 6-year-old Paxton, found themselves purchasing more and more books after the quarantine shut down their beloved Cinnaminson Branch Library in mid-March. Typically weekly visitors, the family now had nowhere to pass on its growing library donation pile.

“We just really love books,” Slack said with a smile. “We don’t watch a lot of TV. Books are our escape from a pandemic world.”

As the donation pile kept growing, the Slacks realized their books could be an escape for their homebound neighbors, too. They assembled their wagon, put it outside and waited to see what would happen.

From the start, everyone loved it. And if the family was worried about having enough books to read during the pandemic, its concerns quickly dissipated. The personal donation pile doesn’t hold a candle to the overflowing boxes now taking up residence in the Slacks’ basement.

Once people knew the family would accept books for its project, the donations started rolling in. And they keep coming.

“We thought only a couple people would donate,” Adelaide said.

“I got a little overwhelmed at first,” Sarah admitted with a laugh.

The library graduated from the wagon to a metal rolling cart Sarah found on Facebook Marketplace, and the activity was moved to the base of the family’s driveway. Every day, the Slacks swap out books to ensure things are fresh for frequent visitors. The titles are separated by age, from board books to early readers, young adult selections to novels.

When asked about favorite reads from the cart, all three Slacks could rattle off a number of titles and authors, interjecting other favorite books along the way.

In the midst of reading “Little Women,” Adelaide scanned the titles on the cart, claiming the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series and “Frosting and Friendship” as other top picks. The rising fifth grader at Eleanor Rush Intermediate School said graphic novels by Raina Telgemeier and JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series are also some of her favorites.

“We’re also really obsessed with Jim Dale,” Adelaide added, referring to the voice behind the Harry Potter audiobooks.

For Paxton Slack  – an aspiring author and illustrator himself, currently working on a Daffy Duck series inspired by a fateful meeting with the famous bird at Six Flags Great Adventure – Mo Willems and Dave Pilkey are must-reads on the book cart.

“I love ‘Ribsy,’” the New Albany Elementary School rising first grader added, referring to the Beverly Cleary classic.

The book project has been a welcome distraction from the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Slacks are glad they could share their love of reading. Book cart visitors seem pretty happy about it, too.

“Everything’s been positive,” Sarah said. “The neighbors walking by always thank me.”

“We feel happy we could help people missing the library,” Adelaide added.

Eventually, the family would like to make and register an official Little Free Library. For now, the  cart will remain on Buttonwood Lane – until at least the end of the summer.