Woodbury breast cancer survivor spreads magic of Little Free Libraries


WOODBURY, Minn. — Little Free Libraries have been popping up all over the country since 2009. The books inside sometimes only travel a few blocks to their new owner. Other times they can travel many miles, but the stories can stay with us forever.

Now, a Woodbury mother and breast cancer survivor is spreading the magic behind the free book exchange phenomenon with a new book.

Outside of the home of Charissa Bates and her family sits a Harry Potter Hogwarts-inspired little free library. 

The family came up with the idea years ago. Bates’ father-in-law built it and a family friend brought it to life with an impeccable paint job. 

Ever since it’s been incredibly popular among the neighborhood families, but among the classics and best sellers and the many sent in by independent authors from around the country, there’s the story of the journey these books take written in Charissa’s own words.

“It’s just a fun outlet for me to be creative and not focus on cancer,” Bates said. “Just focus on something fun.”

She said writing didn’t exactly come easy for her until her own story took an unexpected turn in 2019 when she was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer – a rare and one of the most aggressive forms of the disease.

“I, of course, thought I was going to die,” she said. “You’re like in shock, it’s like a weird feeling. It’s hard to explain.”

A therapist by trade, words soon became her own therapy through nearly a year of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and hysterectomy.

“I could get my feelings out and kind of work through them while I was writing,” she said.

She said it was also her escape in the form of a new children’s book called “The Traveling Book.” The pages chronicle the life of a book in a free little library celebrating the joy little free libraries and their traveling books have brought not only to Charissa’s family through the good times and bad, but to many others everywhere. 

“We also put in where each little library is located in each state,” she said.

Soon after she published it, the book became Amazon’s top seller for New Releases and among the top 20 Best Sellers, but she says the best part was just getting kids interested and excited about reading. 

“They can read the book and then maybe they can go find a little free library and find a book that they want,” she said.

Young readers won’t have to go far in the neighborhood to find another free little library – the Bates family is planning on creating another one next to their Hogwarts Little Free Library that will continue with the Harry Potter theme and serve as Hagrid’s Hut. 

“I want a lower one to the ground with board books for our five and under so they can actually reach in and dig in themselves,” she said.

They said they hope to have the new addition up later this summer ensuring new readers can develop their own appreciation for the magic in the many years to come.

Bates and her family are writing another book – Cancer Messed with the Wrong Family. They hope to have it published by October just in time for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

 For more information on the Hogwarts Free little Library, click here.

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