For 25 years, Judy Newman has invited families to her home on Halloween
Reading has always been at the heart of Judy Newman‘s life.
The 62-year-old mother of two fondly recalls how her parents read to her as a child, and the many times she and her siblings visited the New England Mobile Book Fair to pick out any book they wanted. Books were always regarded as a reward, a ticket to a new adventure.
“It was so much fun and so empowering — even as a 5-year-old — to be able to pick out books I wanted, bring them home and write my name in the inside cover, and line them up on my shelf and read and reread them,” Newman, of Montclair, New Jersey, tells PEOPLE. “I felt so proud of my books because I chose them, and I wanted to collect more. I still have most of those books today.”
Newman — who is now the executive vice president and president (and reader in chief!) of Scholastic Book Clubs and e-commerce — is hoping to pass on that same excitement she felt for books as a child through her annual event called Trick or Read. For 25 years, Newman has invited families to her home on Halloween to pick out several books all for themselves, free of charge.
“My immediate neighbors — and the Montclair community overall — have truly embraced Trick or Read,” Newman says. “We live on a long, flat street which has now become the favorite destination for trick or treating.”
Because of the giveaway, and her overall love of reading, many people in the community simply refer to Newman as the “Book Lady.”
The event has grown every year since it began, Newman says, and now thousands of children visit her block for their chance to grab a book.
“We get thousands of kids coming from all around Montclair,” she says. “Word spread quickly and now each year several youth organizations from neighboring communities and Newark bring kids who need a safe place to trick or treat.”
And each year, Newman hears from former trick-or-treaters about how a book they selected from the event has touched their lives.
“Years ago, one young man came and told me that the books he got from the Book Lady on Halloween were the first books he’d ever had in his life,” says Newman, who has also written her own children’s books. “Last Halloween, he came back pushing a stroller, to get books for his own child.”
With thousands of children and families returning to her house for this year’s edition of Trick or Read, Newman hopes that all will leave with an even stronger love for reading — especially during a time when children can easily use YouTube and other apps that can distract them from picking up a book.
“My mission is to show kids that they don’t have to read something they don’t like. But they do have to keep trying to find a book they will love,” Newman says. “I want to make sure every kid leaves my house on Halloween with a book they will want to read when they get home. And then will want to come back next year on Halloween and tell me exactly what they thought of the book.”
“I’ll want to listen,” she says. “Because then they are letting me know they are indeed a reader.”