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CNN ‘Young Wonder,’ Books N Bros founder Sidney Keys encourages boys to read

Winnie Caldwell and Sidney Keys III
Mary Edwards | St. Louis Public Radio

Sidney Keys III, 11, has had quite a month. On December 13, he and his mother, Winnie Caldwell, flew to California where he appeared on “The Steve Harvey Show.” Two days later he was featured on CNN’s “Young Wonders”program in a segment that had been recorded weeks earlier. On December 17, he appeared on a live CNN special in New York City honoring CNN’s Top 10 Heroes of 2017.

When Keys and Caldwell joined Don Marsh on Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, it had just been reported that the web post of their appearance on the program on March 1 was the top most read web story of 2017, having had twice as many readers as the number two story.

All of these accolades are for Books N Bros, a book club Keys founded with help from Caldwell to encourage young African-American boys to read. It grew out of an experience he had when his mother took him to the EyeSeeMe African American Children’s Bookstore and he encountered, for the first time, books featuring people who looked like him.

In his appearance last March, Keys reported seven members in his club. Now the membership has broken 100 and also includes boys in other states who join virtually. Also at each meeting now are a number of Big Bros, men who help facilitate small group discussions.

When asked about all the recognition he has received lately and what it tells him, Keys responded, “It tells me that I’m actually doing something that’s changing people’s lives. Boys in my book club, their grades are getting better in reading and they are happy while doing it, which is amazing thinking that I started something that they love, but it is still changing their lives in a positive way.”

The age range for Books N Bros is 7 to 13. That is the age when boys tend to stop reading so Keys and Caldwell want to change that. They also insist that there are no plans for admitting girls or starting another book club for them. “Boys are statistically behind in reading than girls … and African-American boys are even further behind,” Keys said. “We want to combat that stereotype.”

Caldwell is gratified by the positive feedback Books N Bros has received. “Their parents are calling and saying ‘thank you for doing this because beforehand I couldn’t get my son to read, or his friends were telling him that it’s something that’s not cool and now their friends are coming and wanting to join.’”

Marsh asked Keys the obvious question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” “I still want to be the owner of Books N Bros,” he said. “But I also want to be a really big  entrepreneur and start another business too. I just don’t know what the other business is going to be yet. I want it to have something to do with literacy, though.”

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Mary Edwards came to St. Louis Public Radio in 1974, just after finishing her Bachelor of Music degree at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She has served the station in a number of capacities over the years. From 1988-2014 she also taught an undergraduate class in radio production at Webster University. Mary was inducted into the St. Louis Media History Foundation Media Hall of Fame in April, 2017 and received the Gateway Media Literacy Partners' Charles Klotzer Media Literacy Award in 2012. Mary retired from St. Louis Public Radio in 2018, but still serves the station as a St. Louis Symphony Producer.
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