The Virginia ‘Book Lady’ Is Only 23,000 Books Away From Meeting Her Next Benchmark

Photo: Joy of Reading Facebook Page

By Amie Knowles

May 15, 2023

Pittsylvania County teacher Jennifer Williams, known as “The Book Lady,” is on a mission to give away one million books. She’s spreading the joy of reading, while also creating an inclusive community dedicated to fostering a love for literature.

“I never wanted to be anything other than a teacher,” Jennifer Williams said.

The Danville woman, better known as the Book Lady, came from a family of educators, and she chose early on to follow in those footsteps—especially those of her mother, a teacher and librarian.

As Williams grew up, books became life manuals, in a sense. Her mother asked leading questions about the characters Williams encountered, about the mistakes they made, and if her daughter would’ve handled the challenges differently. 

“She would stop and give us those moments of, ‘Do you think that was a good plan?’” Williams said.

Now, Williams—who herself became an educator and taught full time for nearly 30 years—is a woman on a mission inspired by her passion for the written word. 

In 2017, the retired teacher collected nearly 1,000 gently used or new books, which she gave away to children in the Danville area over a single weekend. Rather than celebrate a one-time win, the weekend giveaway sparked an even grander idea. In an effort to push her limits, faith, and work ethic, Williams set out to gift more books—one million of them.

She set the one million book goal in 2018. As of noon on Friday, May 12, she’d just given away 126,540 books. By Christmas, she hopes to give away a grand total of 150,000 books. To meet that benchmark, she’ll need to pass out more than 23,000 titles in about seven months.

That accomplishment would leave her with only 850,000 more books to go. Only

The Joy of Reading

To share updates about her journey, Williams—who now teaches reading and math part-time to students at Chatham Elementary School in Pittsylvania County—created a Facebook group called Joy of Reading. The page currently has more than 2,000 members. 

Beyond sharing news about the goal, the Book Lady’s Facebook presence also fosters an interactive space for those invested in the journey. She noted her desire to make the million book goal a “we” experience instead of a “me” experience. Because of that, those who follow the page often see inclusive posts congratulating the group as a whole for surpassing a milestone, rather than acknowledging Williams alone. 

Showing everyone that they’re welcome to follow along and take part aligns well with the group name, too. It’s not the “Happiness” of Reading, and that’s for a meaningful reason. 

“I believe that joy and happiness are not the same thing,” Williams said. “Happiness comes from what’s happening around you. Joy comes from inside of you.”

Cultivating that joy for the written word can help in difficult situations. In addition to giving books to children, Williams also heads the Second Chance Book Club, designed for incarcerated individuals. 

Testimonies from the group included appreciation for helping to pass the time, gratitude for a renewed sense of imagination, and interest in reading pieces of literature they might have overlooked otherwise.  

“I tell the inmates that read with me: ‘You can be anywhere—anywhere in time, anywhere in history, anywhere in the world,’” when reading a book, Williams said. 

Become a Part of the Million Book Giveaway

While Williams buys many of the books with money from her own pocket, she also accepts both physical and monetary donations. After a TODAY show appearance, for example, Penguin Random House donated 10,000 books to help the Book Lady reach her goal.

“I haven’t bought every single book, and I’m happy to share that recognition,” she said. 

One way to reach Williams is through her post office box: Joy of Reading, PO Box 10907, Danville, VA, 24543.  

While many post office boxes won’t accept packages, the one the Book Lady uses offers that capability—so people can send books directly to her, if that’s their desire. 

Folks can also send financial donations using either the PO Box address or giving directly to a GoFundMe account. According to the online giving page, the price of an average book ranges from three to five dollars.

Williams also hits the road when there’s a donation opportunity. She accepts books that are new or gently used. If titles are preowned, they need to be in good condition. A book in poor condition could send the wrong message to a child, she expressed. 

“[Individuals with book donations] can certainly reach out to me, especially this summer,” Williams said. “I’m happy to pick them up.”

When she first set out to give away one million books in 2018, Williams expected to be 94 years old when she reached the milestone. After a few years, her expected age dipped to 92. With the way things are going now, she’s shaved a couple of more years off of her original estimate. 

“If I keep giving the same amount away as I am now, I’m down to an average of 90,” Williams said.

READ MORE: The Book Lady Sets Out to Deliver One Million Stories to Local Kids

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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