Photos by Lauren and Jeremy Pawlowski, Neighbors Creative
We produce a print magazine, so while we get excited about photography and ink and paper and advertising, we also love words. We’re passionate about language. We spend every day immersed in words. As professional communicators, we write and edit for a living.
We are also avid readers. Few things bring us more joy than cracking open a physical book. From the cover design to the paper stock to the story inside its pages, books warm our magazine-publishing little hearts.
So as we end Brick & Elm’s first year of operation, we wanted to dedicate this holiday issue to the local world of words, language and books. We are celebrating local bookstores. We are highlighting reading and literacy programs. We are introducing new programs at Storybridge—a beloved community organization—and calling attention to those Little Free Libraries you see all over town. We are investigating English as a Second Language classes and the new Amarillo residents seeking to add to their vocabulary.
This issue is all about words. Like a good book, we hope you’ll read it cover to cover.
The Gift of Reading
How Chandra, Jim, and Dolly teamed up to give away children̓s books
Everyone talks about the “small world” nature of life in Amarillo. Board a flight to Amarillo from Love Field and you’re all but guaranteed to know someone on the plane. But incredibly, Jim Whitton and Chandra Perkins hadn’t met each other until 2020.
Whitton spent most of the 1980s running a talent agency in New York City, then came to Amarillo to help market Hastings Entertainment in the 1990s before dedicating the next 15 years of his life to The Hunger Project as a regional director for funding. He retired from his multi-hyphenate career in 2017.
In the spring of 2019, Whitton attended the Zero to 5 Summit in Amarillo, an event designed to promote early education initiatives. There he heard Harvard professor Ron Ferguson stipulate that the biggest opportunity to make a difference in a child’s education was before they reached the age of 5. “That piqued my interest in the age range,” Whitton says.
The following summer, in the wake of George Floyd’s death, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church invited Amarillo’s Black community leaders to share (via Zoom) with Sunday School classes. Whitton attends St. Andrew’s, and remembers Dr. Tamara Clunis, vice president of academic affairs at Amarillo College, answering a particular question.
Someone asked what St. Andrew’s could do to make a positive difference in the Black community.
“[Clunis] offered that providing books to kids would make the biggest difference,” Whitton recalls. The class took that recommendation seriously. Over the next few months, Whitton raised money to buy books, and right before Christmas, St. Andrew’s delivered 400 books to Carver Early Childhood Academy—one per child.
In the process, Jim met Chandra.
“That was my first connection with Storybridge,” he says. Perkins’ organization helped Whitton get those books into the right hands. Having looked her up after hearing about Storybridge, Whitton downloaded Perkins’ early 2020 interview on the Hey Amarillo podcast. “I was just knocked out how she had basically created this organization that had this book-gifting horsepower. I was bowled over by her enthusiasm and passion for getting books to kids,” he says.
Not long after, Whitton had a phone conversation with a friend on the North Carolina State Board of Education. “I knew he had a passion for early childhood education,” Whitton says of the friend. “When I told him about our book gifting to Carver, he said, ‘Well, if you’re serious about giving away books, there’s only one game in town: Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.’”
A Perfect Match
Perkins, of course, was well aware of Dolly Parton’s organization. The music icon launched the nonprofit in 1995 to provide books for children in rural east Tennessee. It has since expanded into five countries, giving away a million free books each month to children who register with the organization.
The idea is simple: Parents in a selected coverage area enroll their children into the program, regardless of income. Imagination Library covers overhead and administrative expenses, along with fulfilment, while a local 501(c)3 affiliate raises $2.10 per child, per month, to cover the wholesale book purchase and mailing costs.
Kids get a free, high-quality book sent to them in the mail every month.
Having just learned about the Imagination Library, Whitton asked Perkins if she was aware of it. At the time, Storybridge was in its fourth year of providing free books to Amarillo children through book fairs and its Little Free Library program.
“It was new to him,” Perkins says of Whitton. “He said, ‘Have you heard of Dolly Parton’s thing?’ Oh, yeah. We knew all about it.”
In fact, Imagination Library had been on her radar since Perkins started Storybridge.
But in 2020, Storybridge had only just begun hitting its stride. Perkins still worked part time as an educator and mostly volunteered her time with the organization. Becoming an Imagination Library affiliate was a big future goal, but Storybridge wasn’t yet ready. “As is typical of a grassroots nonprofit that just accidentally grew, there was no nest egg for a giant program like that,” she says. An affiliation with Parton’s organization would require significant funding. Perkins had questions: “Do we spend years saving up for it? Or do we start doing what we can, right now, with what we’ve got? If we had tried to bite that off in 2016 or 2017, we would have choked on it. We didn’t have the infrastructure to protect it or to service it well,” she explains.
So Storybridge started small. It hosted free book fairs. Perkins recruited sponsors to install Little Free Libraries. She dreamed. And by the time Whitton came around, Storybridge had given away more than 160,000 books in the Texas Panhandle.
“Book gifting was their DNA,” Whitton says. “It’s what they did.”
Storybridge had been focusing on elementary-aged kids. Imagination Library sent books to kids from birth to age 5. Apart from the financial need—$25 per child annually, for the 17,000 children younger than 5 in Potter and Randall counties—it seemed like a match made in heaven.
Good thing Whitton had spent the past 15 years as a professional fundraiser.
An Easy YES
Early in 2021, Whitton made Storybridge an offer. “If Chandra and Storybridge would take responsibility for signing up the kids and promoting the program community-wide, I would take responsibility for being the point person for the fundraising,” he says. The duo came to a handshake agreement, then reached out to the Imagination Library representative for this area. Storybridge became Dolly Parton’s official affiliate for the Texas Panhandle.
Then Whitton created what he labeled a Founders’ Circle: a dozen individuals, families and family foundations to commit at least $1,250 per year—at the entry level—over the next three years. That’s enough to provide 12 books a year to 50 children a month. Some Founders’ Circle donors agreed to much more, supporting up to 1,000 children a month ($25,000 a year) through the Storybridge affiliation.
“We welcome and will make great use of contributions at any and all levels,” Whitton says, “but this Founders’ Circle has gotten us here, where we are today. They got this thing launched in a really substantial way.”
Before long, Storybridge had raised $250,000, enough to register 2,000 children in Potter and Randall counties for Imagination Library. Those 2,000 kids are covered for the next two years of the program, which is still growing.
Perkins is thrilled at the response, but not surprised.
“It’s such an easy, tangible gift for the community,” she says. “I can give you $25 and that pays for a year of free books for a baby or toddler? That’s an easy yes.”
She then turned to the administrative aspect of the Storybridge partnership with Dolly Parton’s organization. “I had to register every zip code in our geographic area,” Perkins says. “I didn’t realize there are about 30 different zip codes in Potter and Randall counties.”
One at a time, she had to enter those zip codes into an Imagination Library database. 79101. 79102. 79106. “As I entered every zip code, I would get this pop-up alert on the screen. It would say, ‘There are 12 families waiting for this program in this zip code.’ Or ‘There are 40 families waiting.’”
When a parent visits the national Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library website (imaginationlibrary.com), they can search, by zip code, to see if it’s available in their area. If not, the child gets put on a waiting list. Imagination Library promises to notify those families when their region finally has an Imagination Library affiliate.
Across every zip code, as it turns out, hundreds of local families had already been waiting for Imagination Library to come to Amarillo.
“I got chills with every pop-up,” Perkins says. “This is something people had been looking for and waiting for.”
Beyond the Trailer
Five years after launching Storybridge in 2016, Perkins has now taken big steps toward her original mission: for every child in Amarillo to own 20 books, regardless of their age or their families’ income level. “No matter what zip code they’re in, we want that to be part of growing up in Amarillo. It’s a birthright. If you live here, you get books. It’s what we do for our neighbors so they can be successful.”
Thanks to the Imagination Library affiliation, that dream is becoming a reality in Amarillo. But Perkins and Whitton aren’t done. “We’re on a roll in Potter and Randall, but now I’m thinking about the kids in Cactus and Hereford,” Perkins says. “They need it too, and we can take steps to get there. All these programs working together mean we’re going to get there faster.”
She points to the Storybridge trailer, parked downtown so it’s visible to southbound drivers on Taylor Street, outside the former AIG building where Storybridge now operates. “That trailer’s the first thing we bought in December 2016, right after we became a 501(c)3. We needed a place to store and move books around,” Perkins says. “My husband talked about making me a little office inside the trailer.”
Her early ambitions were only trailer-sized.
“It’s always humbling to look back and think how limited your predictions can be sometimes,” she adds. “But at the same time, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have dreams and visions of serving the whole Panhandle. I don’t know how long that will take, but I no longer think it’s impossible. In fact, I think it’s necessary. And I think we are the ones to do it.”
With a little help, of course, from Dolly Parton.
The Power of Children’s Books
- The No. 1 factor influencing a child’s early educational success is being introduced to books and read to at home before entering school.
- Regardless of their parents’ education level, children who grow up in homes
with at least 20 books finish three more years of schooling than children from bookless homes.
- In middle-income neighborhoods, the ratio of books per child is 13 to 1.
In low-income neighborhoods, the rate is 1 age-appropriate book for every
- Two out of 3 low-income families have zero children’s books in their home.
- Two out of 3 children who can’t read proficiently by the end of fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare.
(Statistics courtesy of Storybridge)
In late September, local author Andrew J. Brandt stepped into Burrowing Owl Books intent on buying a few spooky titles for kids as Halloween approached. The books weren’t for him, though, nor for his young daughter. Nevertheless, he spent close to $100 at the local bookstore.
Then, before the calendar rolled into October, Brandt took the books out into his yard and gave them away.
He lives in the Ridgecrest neighborhood and hosts a Little Free Library in his front yard. The brightly colored box sits on a post near the street, with two shelves behind a glass door. The top shelf is mostly filled with books for adults. The bottom shelf is stocked with middle-grade stories and a few novels by young adult authors.
“I always try to keep it stocked full of new stuff,” Brandt says. “I’ll get popular books, or themes for whatever’s going on seasonally like Halloween.” His home sits between Ridgecrest Elementary and Crockett Middle School, which means the little library sees regular foot traffic before and after the school day. And that means plenty of local kids opening the door to see what’s new, or even to replace a book they’d borrowed.
Andrew and Jennifer love it. “What’s really cool is watching kids stop on a daily basis to see if there’s anything new,” he says. “It’s a blast.”
Brandt is the author of several novels, including the YA books Mixtape for the End of the World and Palo Duro: A Thriller, which debuted at No. 1 on Amazon’s YA Thriller chart. And he’s no stranger to traditional libraries—he grew up in Vernon, Texas, where his grandmother worked at the public library.
He and his wife, Jennifer, installed the Little Free Library in their yard in 2019 after she gave birth to their son, A.J., who was stillborn at 20 weeks. “I thought a Little Free Library would be a perfect memorial for our lost baby, our angel baby, and serve a purpose to give something to kids in our neighborhood,” he says. He ordered a kit from the Wisconsin-based Little Free Library organization and assembled it. Jennifer painted the box with blue sky and green grass.
Then they filled it with books.
“It’s gotten a lot of community support,” Andrew says. “Neighbors are putting in books too. The last thing I want is for this to be a repository of old books, but these are not old or unwanted things. They’re new releases.” He points out that books, especially hardcovers, can be expensive. That hasn’t stopped his neighbors from contributing. “That’s always nice to see. We want people to find new releases and exciting books.”
In the two years since its installation, he also gets a thrill when old books get returned. “You don’t mind if people keep the books—it’s a gift from my family in memory of our angel baby—but it’s always exciting to see a book go out and come back,” Brandt says.
Little and Free
The first known Little Free Library (LFL) originated with a former public school teacher in Hudson, Wisconsin, who designed a box to look like a schoolhouse to honor his late mother, who also taught school. That was in 2009. The idea soon spread across Wisconsin and throughout the Midwest. Before long, Little Free Library had been incorporated as a nonprofit in 2012. And then the idea really took off.
Today, local parks, sidewalks and front yards host more than 100,000 LFLs across the United States and in another 100-plus countries. According to the organization, 42 million books are shared annually from these neighborhood book exchanges. While the organization sells kits and tries to register and map the locations of LFLs worldwide, it relies on volunteers like Brandt—known as “stewards”—to maintain the boxes.
In Amarillo, the concept also solves one of the biggest challenges faced by Storybridge, a nonprofit dedicated to improving book access for local children. Former teacher Chandra Perkins founded Storybridge in 2016 to distribute books to children in need, armed with statistics showing a child’s educational success can be directly tied to early introduction to books and reading. Perkins began collecting new and gently used books and distributing them through schools in low-income areas. Her grassroots effort quickly made progress.
“But when we debriefed after those free book fairs, in the back of my mind were the kids we weren’t catching,” she says, “kids who rode a bus and couldn’t stay after school, or who were only 3 or 4 [years old] and couldn’t go to school yet. It was those families who just lived a block away from the school but couldn’t make it to an event.”
She recognized Little Free Libraries as a stopgap to reach those kids. “It solved the problem of kids having to be in a certain place or certain time on our schedule [to receive books],” she says. By placing libraries within walking distance of schools Storybridge was already serving, families also didn’t have to rely on transportation. Storybridge installed the first of its LFLs in the summer of 2019.
While locals like Brandt discovered the value of LFLs through the national organization, others have invested in the idea in collaboration with Storybridge. For a $650 sponsorship fee, the Amarillo nonprofit can put a little library in one of Amarillo’s high-need neighborhoods.
As a result of those partnerships, the organization has installed and maintains 18 Little Free Libraries, with seven more in various stages of construction, painting and sponsorship. “It’s been wildly successful,” Perkins says of the Storybridge library project. “That program has attracted more people to our mission than any other program. It’s such a tangible way for a business, a family or even an individual to get involved. It’s so rewarding,” she says.
Just ask Alfonso and Britny Zambrano.
The Power to Transform
The Zambranos both grew up in small Texas Panhandle towns—he’s a native of Hereford, she’s from Pampa—and both represent first-generation college graduates within their families. Today he works as an attorney and she’s an accountant. “Education changed our lives,” Britny says. Both graduated from Texas Tech. “It was the only way for us to get out of our circumstances and change the direction of our family trees. Education has always been something that’s very important to us.”
The couple moved to Amarillo in 2010, living at first in a townhouse near South Mirror Street, which borders both Glenwood Elementary School and Glenwood Park. “We loved the area, but we saw that the resources weren’t necessarily there like other parts of town,” Britny says. When they learned in late 2019 that Storybridge was looking to install a Little Free Library at Glenwood Park, the couple jumped at the chance to sponsor it.
“That’s a special area to us,” Britny says.
By early 2020, the library had been designed, built and installed. While Storybridge gives sponsors as much authority as they want in stocking the libraries, Britny says she’s happy to let Chandra Perkins and the Storybridge team select the books. “That’s what we love so much about it, because we didn’t feel qualified to make those decisions about what’s appropriate or what’s educational,” Britny says, laughing. “It’s much better for us to leave that to the experts.”
She and Alfonso do check on the library from time to time, particularly paying close attention during the early days of the pandemic, when kids were out of school. “We wanted to be sure they had access to books, should they want to read. But the [Storybridge] volunteers kept it stocked up,” she says.
The Zambranos are now thinking of sponsoring another one.
A Post and a Box
Andrew and Jennifer Brandt wanted to honor their baby. The Zambranos wanted to support a neighborhood.
Charles D’Amico, who owns and operates Amarillo’s three Jimmy John’s locations and is the founder and president of Blue Handle Publishing, just wanted to solve a problem.
Blue Handle published Brandt’s most recent two books, and D’Amico had heard about the Little Free Library concept from the author. When news arrived that Storybridge was looking for Little Free Library sponsors, D’Amico reached out to the organization. “They were hoping maybe we could sponsor one,” he remembers. “One! I don’t do anything ‘one.’ I’ve always tried to make as big an impact as possible. I thought, ‘Let’s see how many we can do.’”
In the spring of 2020, D’Amico and Jimmy John’s had partnered with Access Credit Union to feed health care workers during the pandemic. So D’Amico called up John Hays, the credit union’s president and CEO, to see if Access would be interested in another collaboration. Would they possibly match any funds Blue Handle contributed to the LFL project? Hays agreed to it, and the partnership ended up sponsoring not one but five Little Free Libraries across Amarillo.
“The two biggest things that slow a kid’s education are access to books and access to the internet,” D’Amico explains. He’s heard conversations about bringing wifi connectivity to underserved areas and supports those efforts. But the Storybridge approach seemed to have fewer hurdles. “With a book, you don’t need the internet. You don’t need wifi. So this [project] felt like it cut through a lot of that red tape. It was really hard not to support it,” he says.
Most of all, D’Amico appreciated that Storybridge had committed to installing the libraries in areas where kids could easily access them. The children wouldn’t need a ride to or from a public library. They wouldn’t need a phone or wifi-enabled device. They just needed books, and they could walk right over to the neighborhood LFL and grab one.
“Sometimes the easiest solutions are the things that solve a big problem,” he says. “Just put a post and a box and give kids some books while we work on the other things. Start with a book and inspire some kids. There’s something beautiful and romantic
The national Little Free Library organization hopes to see a book exchange in every community—especially high-need ones—with books available 24/7 for any reader who wants one. Thanks to Storybridge, businesses like Blue Handle publishing, and individuals like the Brandts and Zambranos, Amarillo continues making significant progress toward that goal.
A Deep Dive into Panhandle History
PPHM Research Center offers window to the past
It’s a little backwards when you think about it.
The dioramas, artifacts and artwork are open to the public throughout the first two floors of Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, but all of the research that undergirds every bit of history on display? That’s all perched above the museum, in the third-floor Research Center.
“If you see something on display in the museum, we’ll have sources on it,” said Warren Stricker, the center’s director.
“I know I run the risk of stereotyping librarians by suggesting they’re all quiet and bookish and introverted, because it’s not true for all of them,” Stricker says, a grin on his face underscoring the fact that it is, indeed, true for him.
However unassuming Stricker may be, he runs one of the most important aspects of Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, the largest history museum in Texas.
As the museum is full of visual delights, the Research Center is full of words. Reams upon reams of them, in preserved letters, legal documents, maps and, naturally, enough books to satisfy even the most demanding of bibliophiles. Books on the history and culture of the Texas Panhandle. Books on natural history. Books on paleontology and archaeology. And books on the lives of the famous and infamous—biographies by the score.
“It’s a large collection,” Stricker says with a bit of evident pride. “The library collection has roughly 15,000 titles. The archival collection has 500,000 or more items. It’s almost impossible to get the full scope and scale, though. Panhandle-Plains is the largest history museum in the state. Our collection up here has to support that.”
The Research Center occupies the entire third floor of the museum, but only part of that space—the Reading Room—is open to the public. There, shelves of blonde wood and glass store ancient tomes, long out-of-print biographies and more recent histories, like Timothy Egan’s The Worst Hard Time.
Though you can’t check out anything, the center does operate as a library. Anyone researching a topic within its purview can find books or other materials in its extensive catalogue. Stricker, archivist Renea Dauntes or other staff members locate the items—anything from a 1940 Amarillo city directory to a 1624 history of Italy from the collection of a late Amarillo attorney, for example—and bring them directly to the researcher.
And just who is that researcher? Virtually anyone, Stricker and Dauntes explain.
Undergraduate and graduate students make frequent use of the center, naturally. But so, too, do professional historians: Ken Burns sent a team to pore through the archives to find contemporary descriptions of the historic natural disaster he explored in his 2012 documentary The Dust Bowl.
Authors of all stripes have found descriptions of daily life in the center’s archived letters—and not just about life in the Panhandle.
The family of John V. Farwell, a Chicago merchant and philanthropist who was among those given the land that became the XIT Ranch in payment for building the Texas Capitol, donated private papers to the museum, including letters describing the 1871 Chicago fire and trips through Europe.
Research center visitors also can examine maps (such as one from 1872 that describes the Texas Panhandle as a land “without water or timber, and with a scanty vegetation”) to
put them in the frame of mind of a pioneer arriving here for the first time.
New Canyon residents often come to the center to learn the history of their recently purchased homes, and amateur genealogists for a deeper dive into family lore than oft-retold stories can provide.
Museum visitors drop in, too. “They see something downstairs and come up to learn more,” says Dauntes, an ebullient yet soft-spoken history lover. “The exhibits just scratch the surface.”
The books displayed on the shelves lining the walls of the Reading Room make clear the historic import of the Panhandle to the myth of the Old West.
“Something a lot of people don’t recognize about the Texas Panhandle is that names synonymous with the Old West, many of them came through here or had connections here,” Dauntes says. “Bat Masterson (the Army scout, professional gambler and journalist) got his famous limp in a gunfight in Mobeetie.”
It’s not just the famous whose stories are preserved in the center: Oral histories have been collected and saved from before the museum opened in 1933.
“You get a true sense of how the region developed when you read these,” Dauntes says. “They may appear to be describing mundane tasks, but one day builds upon the next, and that’s how history develops.”
Given enough time, resources and, most importantly, money, the entire collection could one day be digitized, making available its treasures to those who can’t easily come to the Canyon museum.
But they’ll be missing out on what makes the PPHM Research Center so special.
“The information is there in a digital file, but there are other intangible aspects,” Stricker says.
“To be able to hold something that was published or printed in 1642, or letters written back and forth that crossed the oceans and the country—there’s a life in these objects that you can’t put in a digital format,” Dauntes says.
“We can read the Declaration of Independence all day long, but if you see it in person or if you’re one of the lucky few who has handled the original, there’s a thrill there,” she continues. “Access is great and very, very important, but just like you can’t appreciate a work by (Mark) Rothko unless you’re standing in front of it, you don’t really get the specialness of these artifacts unless you see them and hold them in person, which we offer.”
A Life in Books
“Every room in this house has books in it,” says Dr. Phillip Periman from his home in Wolflin. It’s far from the biggest or flashiest residences in this historic neighborhood, but the home this retired physician shares with his wife, Judy, is priceless for what’s inside it: the couple’s entire life of books.
Literally, there are books and bookcases in every visible room. There are books stacked in corners. There are chairs no longer available for sitting because they’ve become a repository for cookbooks, history books, art and photography books, books about golf or tennis. Fiction and nonfiction. Biographies. Theology books. Texas authors.
There’s even an enormous, large-format photography book by David Scheinbaum—dedicated to the Bisti badlands south of Farmington, New Mexico—with a spine and cover that have to be at least 20 inches high.
The Perimans live in a library of their own making.
“I don’t get rid of books,” he says.
Now 82 years old, Periman is an Amarillo native who grew up here in the 1950s, earned a history degree at Yale University, and then got a medical degree in St. Louis. That’s where he met Judy, a former nurse.
After stints as a research fellow at Oxford and a professorship at George Washington University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., Periman found his way back to his hometown in 1975. He became one of the first faculty members at the upstart Texas Tech Health Sciences Center and helped create the Harrington Cancer Center after that. Dr. Periman retired in early 2017.
Despite that influential career, Periman also pursued interests in photography, poetry and art while maintaining his love for books. He traces that passion back to his childhood.
“Every weekend, my mother would take me and my sister to the public library,” he says. In those days, the Amarillo library was located in a wing of the old Municipal Auditorium, prior to moving to the Bivins mansion in 1955. “We would check out the maximum number of books, which I think was five. We’d read them over the week, and then we’d take them back. So I’ve been a reader for at least 75 years of my life.”
Plenty of kids immerse themselves in reading during childhood, only to dedicate less time to it once they enter the responsibilities of adulthood. Phillip and Judy Periman never lost that passion. Dr. Periman estimates that he has read a couple dozen books every year since childhood.
In fact, he keeps track of every book he completes, publishing it in an annual list he sends out to close friends and family. “Every year I send out a ‘Christmas Ramble,’ it’s called,” he says. The Ramble includes a family photo, a few personal thoughts, and a list of all the books he’s read that year. Only books he has completed make the list.
Periman pulls out a printed portion of his 2017 Ramble, representing his first year of retirement. Beneath the heading “Books I Read in 2017,” he lists his book of the year (the novel A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles), his disappointment of the year (Cicero’s Treatises on Friendship and Old Age) and his biggest literary surprise (Old Age by the psychiatrist Helen M. Luke).
Those are just the big highlights. The comprehensive list of books read is incredibly diverse, including a dozen mysteries—Periman’s airplane-reading preference—as well as titles about Paris, French history, golf and even a self-help book by creativity expert Dr. Eric Maisel.
That’s just the 2017 list. Periman’s annual book lists stretch back into the 1980s. And because he doesn’t get rid of those books, he and Judy still live among them—and continue to add to the collection. They are regulars at Burrowing Owl Books, a local business they have come to adore. (“Mention them as much as possible,” he says at the end of this magazine’s photo shoot.)
Establishments like Burrowing Owl quicken his spirit. He says getting lost in a bookstore or exploring an immense library always remind him of childhood. But Periman worries that kind of physical, book-immersed experience may soon become a thing of the past.
“If you’re a reader, you have a certain amount of curiosity that leads you around,” he says. “One of the things that the current smartphone-driven world has destroyed is one of the pleasures of readers, which is to just go into the stacks of a library and just wander around and find something that looks interesting.”
While his wife, Judy, enjoys reading electronically on a Kindle or iPad, Phillip can’t give up the tactile nature of holding a book in his hands. “I’ve listened to audiobooks when I’ve been driving, but I just like to hold a real book. There’s something about the way it’s made, the way it falls open, the way it smells. I just don’t feel comfortable without it.”
Unlike some prestigious book collections, the thousands of books on his shelves are far from pristine. These books look very, very used. Lovingly used. Covers are tattered. Bookmarks and scraps of paper stick out from many of them.
Periman pulls one title from a wall of shelves in his study—he maintains a personal study filled with books, as does Judy—and opens the book to the back page. On it, in pencil, he’s listed a dozen page numbers followed by short sentences. “I make my own index in the back,” he explains. “When I’m reading something that interests me, I think I may want to come back and look at that. So I’ll go to the back of the book and write a little bit on the page, so I’ll know.”
Outside his study, near the home’s entrance, a sitting area has bookshelves in every corner, surrounded by walls filled with paintings and photographs. A few represent Periman’s own work. He passes through that room and into another, which serves as, well, another library. “This is my poetry collection,” he says, “but I’m going to move it into the front room.”
He indicates a pile of books near his feet. “This is a stack of poetry collections that I haven’t filed yet.”
Behind it, he points out a series of vintage, hardback Freddy the Pig children’s books by the author Walter R. Brooks, written between 1927 and 1958. “I read these when I was a kid,” he says. “Walter Brooks wrote one story after another about [Freddy] and I couldn’t wait for the next one. I bought all of these as an adult, later.”
Several years ago, Dr. Periman inherited books from family and friends who had passed away. He tried to sell a couple of those boxes to a bookstore in Austin. “I had never sold books before, but these weren’t books I would read. They weren’t part of the fabric of my life, so I was going to get rid of them,” he says. As Periman remembers, the bookstore offered him something like “94 cents for the two boxes” because “nobody reads anymore.”
He walked away and gave them to his daughter instead.
On only one other occasion, more recently, did Periman consider unloading part of his collection. A few years back, he toyed with the idea of selling some of his personal library to the late novelist and bookseller Larry McMurtry, famed proprietor of Booked Up in Archer City, Texas, once one of the largest antiquarian bookstores in the U.S.
“I’m an old man,” Periman says, “and I thought maybe I should get rid of my library and start cleaning house.” He had written to McMurtry on numerous occasions, and the two men had been in the process of haggling about the subject of human skulls—McMurtry owned a sizable collection, and Periman wanted to use them for still-life studies—but they never finalized an agreement.
“Then, of course, he died,” Periman says. McMurtry passed away in March of 2021. “I never got to see the skulls.”
He never unloaded his books, either.
Periman doesn’t seem to regret it.
Friends in Fiction
Back in 2008 or so, the late businesswoman and civic leader Mariwyn Webb started a monthly book club for local women—one of many around the city. Webb passed away in 2016, but Georgia Kitsman and Judy Periman are both members of Webb’s original club, which still meets today. “Mariwyn really wanted to make it a very eclectic group, with people from all different interests and jobs,” says Kitsman, a retired university professor. “She loved writing and loved books and put together a group of women who loved to read.”
The club didn’t meet during COVID, but has returned to its monthly gatherings in the homes of the dozen or so active members. “In August, we all sign up for a month to host or lead the discussion,” Kitsman explains. “Everyone will [suggest] a book or two they have really enjoyed over the last year, or one that is fairly new that everyone wants to read.”
On book club evenings, the women gather to discuss books like mystery novel Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead (Olga Tokarczuk), The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty (Vendela Vida), and Down Range by local author Taylor Moore. “We occasionally read a book written by a local author who will then come and talk to us,” says Kitsman. Taylor Moore and Marcy McKay have both recently attended meetings to discuss their work.
“We all really enjoy it and have enjoyed getting to know everyone else,” Kitsman says. “We’ve covered a lot of ground.”
Learning the Language, Achieving Dreams
When Silvia Shaver traveled from Mexico to Amarillo to visit her brother, she never dreamed the trip would change her life. She met an Amarillo resident who would eventually become her husband. Only she spoke Spanish and he spoke English.
“Learning English is not impossible,” says Shaver, but she soon found that mastering the language was both challenging and essential for her new life in the United States. Like Shaver, many people move to Amarillo without knowing English. Both immigrants and the community are more likely to thrive when everyone can communicate with each other.
“We are all safer, healthier and stronger as a community when we make it possible for everyone to have those skills,” says Stacy Clopton, the Amarillo Public Library public relations coordinator. Being able to read and communicate is a quality-of-life issue, she says.
According to the City of Amarillo’s website, Amarillo serves as an international resettlement community for refugees. In fact, for years, Amarillo welcomed more refugees per capita than any other city in Texas. Even in 2020, when Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced that the state would stop participating in refugee resettlement, Amarillo city leaders decided to continue welcoming refugees and other immigrants to the area.
Due to the sheer number of people moving to the area, several programs in Amarillo stepped up to teach English as a Second Language. The Amarillo Public Library started providing ESL classes as an offshoot of a program called ‘Amarillo Reads,’ a citywide book club. The director at the time was aware of the needs of the people in the community. Clopton says the former director recognized the holes in the available resources for adults. The library wanted to focus more on adult learners because there were already language-learning programs in the public school system and the library could meet that need for adults.
“We could take that statement, ‘Amarillo Reads,’ and say Amarillo is a city that reads and a city that helps people read,” Clopton says. “So, not only did we start a program under that ‘Amarillo Reads’ banner that was for tutoring adults who needed to learn how to read or improve their reading skills. Then we started the ESL classes and then the citizenship classes.”
Harold Littlejohn, an ESL instructor at the library, stressed the importance of taking advantage of the classes and programs available to adults looking to learn English. “For refugees and other immigrants, learning English and the possibility of becoming a citizen and learning about American culture—these are lifelines, these are tremendous opportunities, whether they get them here or through Refugee Language Project,” Littlejohn says.
“If somebody came in and said, ‘I don’t know how to talk about this,’ there were bound to be lots of other people who had the same issue,” Clopton says. “So the fact that these classes and these instructors have the ability to respond in real time to what people need, I think, has been one of the things that has been really helpful to the students.”
In 2020, Paramount Baptist Church’s ESL program, formally called Learning English Among Friends (LEAF), enrolled students from 28 different countries. Beverly Storseth, a volunteer ESL instructor, has served with the ministry for 20 years and has also taught ESL overseas. Storseth says that she loves teaching and particularly enjoys working with international students. Not only does she celebrate with them during joyous occasions, she’s also there for them for more serious life events.
“I’ve especially enjoyed participating in their celebrations or holidays, like engagement parties that are usually as large as the wedding reception,” Storseth says. “But often when there is an emergency illness, a student will call their teacher first to find out what to do. Even if they are familiar with calling 911, it is difficult for them to talk to the EMT or the personnel at the hospital.”
One of those students, Wancong Huang, is from Sichuan, China. He moved to Amarillo 10 years ago and currently works at Tyson Foods. Huang has been taking beginning English classes at Paramount Baptist Church for about three years. “I like it because it helps me to understand English better. The church teachers are so nice. They love to help me a lot,” Huang says.
At Amarillo College, students can also learn English through the Career Pathway Program. “Our program helps our students to achieve and reach their goals to meet their dreams,” says Kristen Wahler, an ESL instructor at Amarillo College. “It helps our community because once students learn the language, they are in the community working, living and enjoying our area.” Wahler also says students who take advantage of these classes are able to obtain better jobs.
Another organization dedicated to helping adults learn English is the Refugee Language Project. Dr. Ryan Pennington, executive director of the organization, essentially started it out of Redeemer Christian Church in 2017. Pennington says the organization is focused on removing language barriers, building leaders and cultivating community, specifically among the refugees in Amarillo as well as the surrounding area.
Although the organization does offer temporary citizenship and literacy classes, the main goal is to connect students with someone in the community who can meet with them more often and build one-on-one relationships. Pennington says he doesn’t compete with the other ESL programs in the area. Instead, he sees the Refugee Language Project as more of a lab, while the other ESL classes in Amarillo are the lecture.
“We saw a lot of people trying to work with refugees, but not having a deep understanding about where people come from, how to connect more deeply, not seeing barriers that are actually there,” Pennington says. “So maybe throwing them in an English class, trying to teach them one way—when they’ve learned multiple languages in other ways—we’re tackling problems from the wrong angles.”
As for Shaver, the process of learning English went fairly smoothly. She started taking ESL classes at the library not long after moving to Amarillo. After two semesters, she moved on to take more advanced classes with Region 16 and then Amarillo College. She also became a U.S. citizen during that time.
“It just takes effort and practice and you have to invest time, but it’s not impossible,” she says. While she was busy learning English, her husband bought a Spanish for Dummies book in order to learn Spanish, so they could communicate with each other.
The first job Shaver had in Amarillo was at Affiliated Foods and she worked there for three months. “I had never done that kind of physical job and it was really hard,” she says. Today she works as a secretary at the Amarillo Public Library’s Downtown Branch. When her ESL teacher told her there was a shelving position at the East Branch Library, she didn’t feel ready. “He said, ‘You’re not going to be talking to people, you’re going to be talking to books.’ So, I started as a shelver there and a few months after that, a circulation position was vacant and I took that job and now I’m here.”
When people call the library to find out more information about the ESL classes, Clopton hands the phone to Shaver so she can talk to the potential students and tell them what to expect. “You just need to want to be here. We provide the book. You don’t have to spend any money,” Shaver says. “You just have to bring a notebook, a pen or a pencil and be ready to learn.”
Littlejohn believes he gets as much from teaching English as his students do from learning the language. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for a person to see life as it is, at least a glimpse of it, through another person’s eyes, from their perspectives,” Littlejohn says. “However we’re raised, our tendency is to see things just that way. So what an opportunity to see things differently.”
My Favorite Book
With the holiday season approaching and this issue dedicated to books and reading, we decided to mix those two things together by asking a few city leaders a question: What book do you most enjoy giving as a gift?
Their answers were both charming and challenging. Here are a few of our favorite replies.
Principal, Bivins Elementary
Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You
by Sonia Sotomayor
I stumbled across this book when I was looking for ways to open up conversations about finding the good in what makes us different, and noticing that we all have great qualities that make us, us. My oldest child was born with a congenital heart defect, and we struggled with ways for her to be able to talk about it. This book has been a great conversation tool for us to let her be confident in what makes her different and special.
Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart
President, Amarillo College
What Do You Do With an Idea?
by Kobi Yamada (Author), Mae Besom (Illustrator)
Our world is changing at an incredible rate. We are challenged by transformative ideas in artificial intelligence, bio-science, automation and energy that will force disruption personally, professionally and organizationally. This book, so beautifully and simply told, challenges us to embrace the new rather than fear it.
Mayor Pro Tem and Amarillo City Council Member Place 2
Servant Leadership in Action: How You Can Achieve Great Relationships and Results
By Ken Blachard and Renee Broadwell
Leaders should be professional, serve their people, have respect for themselves and others, and work to build meaningful relationships, so that when issues arise, we can all have a seat at the table to discuss and find a workable solution that benefits all involved. I want to truly help people to succeed and at the same time be a change agent for the good of our Amarillo community.
Executive Director, Refugee Language Project
Every Moment Holy, Volumes I & II
by Douglas McKelvey
These books of new liturgies contain prayers that help me commemorate both the mundane and the singular events of my life. They remind me to honor the sacred purposes of moments that might otherwise be lost to time: “A Liturgy For the Labors of Community,” “A Liturgy For the First Snow,” “A Liturgy For Feasting with Friends,” or “A Liturgy for a Time of Widespread Suffering.” I love to give this to friends as a way to encourage them to join me in learning to put our phones away and to sit in the moments we’re given, celebrating or lamenting as we reimagine our lives as part of a higher calling of service before a God who wants to make all things new.
Anchor, KAMR Local 4 News and Politics Today
The F*ck It Diet: Eating Should Be Easy
By Caroline Doomer
I give The F*ck It Diet away as fast as I get additional copies because it saved my life. It helped me to heal from disordered eating and helped me to extricate my brain from the clutches of diet culture. It’s available Dec. 7, 2021, in paperback!
Dr. Walter Wendler
President, West Texas A&M University
The Soul of the American University
by George Marsden
This book talks about the roots of higher education in America, where it came from, and where it’s going. It gives an overview of American higher education, and you can’t understand the challenges of the present without understanding where we’ve come from and what our roots are.
Philanthropist and Activist
Metropolis: A History of the City, Humankind’s Greatest Invention
by Ben Wilson
This is a history of what Wilson calles “humankind’s greatest invention.” From [ancient] Uruk, which dates from 4,000-1,900 BC, to Lagos, one of today’s megacities, Wilson shows the diversity of bases from which cities have been developed in a way that reads almost like a page-turner, exploring lots of little-known history, sociology and even plumbing and wildlife biology on the way.
Executive Director, Center City of Amarillo
Nellie Bly: Girl Reporter
By Brooke Kroeger
I ordered the book that changed my life direction from the Scholastic Book Club in My Weekly Reader in the fifth grade. I loved reading biographies, so I ordered Nellie Bly: Girl Reporter. Her story showed me that girls could be journalists. She was a pioneer who blazed trails for other women. From then on, I worked as a journalist, starting with the newspaper at Coronado Elementary School. I no longer have a copy of that book, but Nellie Bly’s life story still inspires me. I wouldn’t trade for my experiences as a reporter and editor. I continue to use those skills every day thanks to that little paperback book I ordered in the fifth grade.
Fave book spot:
By Mallory Grimm
This hidden local gem is a booklover’s dream. Owner Dallas Bell first opened Burrowing Owl Books in January 2016 with a quaint, narrow shop on the Square in Canyon. After high demand from Amarillo customers, she expanded into Amarillo in 2019 with a location in the Summit Shopping Center.
Burrowing Owl prides itself on being the “friendly neighborhood bookstore,” according to Bell. Her shops focus on the local “recreational reader”—readers for pleasure—with a diverse collection of mostly used books. Bell’s staff will also special-order books for customers, especially hard-to-find titles. She says the Canyon Square location attracts summer tourists and locals alike, and customers are especially drawn to the shop’s curated Texas regional section. “You can’t find many bookstores like this anymore!” is a common phrase the staff hears.
The Amarillo store provides a more contemporary Texas regional section, and both locations boast an impressive collection of youth titles. Burrowing Owl also offers children’s literacy programs—including a summer reading program—plus storytimes for children. The shops also work alongside Storybridge, which aims to improve children’s literacy in the Amarillo area (see page 42). In addition to the youth section, Burrowing Owl carries a large selection of young adult and mainstream titles.
Dallas Bell is especially proud of her employees. “We have the best staff,” she says. “They love sharing their wealth of knowledge with each customer.” It’s true. These book lovers are always ready to give recommendations to customers or strike up a conversation about their favorite reads. That’s why these two locations are among our favorite places in Amarillo and Canyon.
Learn more at burrowingowlbookstore.com.
Fave book spot:
Aunt Eek’s Books & Curiosities
By Mallory Grimm
One of the quirkiest new bookstores on the Amarillo scene, Aunt Eek’s opened in January of this year on Sixth Avenue in the San Jacinto neighborhood. This quaint shop is owned and operated by Angela Workman—”Aunt Eek” herself—as a welcome addition to the local retailers on this historic stretch of Route 66. Aunt Eek’s specialty is visible immediately upon entrance. The whole shop is a profusion of curiosities. Somehow both spooky and friendly, it boasts a fascinating selection of books, antique furniture, vintage clothing, art prints, and collectibles.
“I wanted to open a store that I would go to,” says Workman, who personally curates the collection based on her diverse travels and interests. “We carry something for everyone.”
Aunt Eek’s also schedules something for everyone, hosting community events that cater to locals as well as the constant crowd of visitors to Sixth Street. Workman hosts an open mic night on the second Friday of every month, a storytime for kids every Saturday, and frequently schedules pop-up events with local vendors and artists. Poetry readings and art shows also hold a regular place on the event schedule. Parents love Aunt Eek’s, because every child receives a free book upon visiting the shop, which is managed by Workman and her daughter.
Despite having been open for less than a year, Aunt Eek’s has quickly gained plenty of community attention, becoming a favorite with locals and tourists alike. “When you’re the oddball shop, people tend to remember you,” Workman says. “Sometimes we get busloads of customers in the store at a time. I love getting to talk with them about their travels and interests.”
Learn more at aunteeksonline.com.
Fave book spot:
Barnes & Noble
By Mallory Grimm
We love highlighting locally owned businesses, but we’re also realists. We fully recognize the local elephant in the room of cute little Owls and Eeks. We realize that when our readers are looking for a physical book, chances are they may head to a large, national retailer like Barnes & Noble. One of the largest chain book retailers in the country, the Barnes & Noble location in Amarillo definitely carries the largest selection of new books in the city.
Local parents know something else, though: The local children’s section, nestled in the back of the store, is an absolute delight. Outfitted with interactive stations, dozens of shelves, and themed end caps, this separate section is a dream for any child with a big imagination. To help stimulate children’s minds and pique their interests in reading, the store used to offer a beloved Saturday storytime—before the pandemic. These events are no longer in person, but every Saturday, Barnes & Noble produces a family-friendly, virtual storytime video on its YouTube channel and social media. The company also publishes a fun set of printable and downloadable activities, divided by age, to accompany the story of the week.
We miss the Saturday Storytime at Barnes & Noble, but understand the corporation’s larger commitment to following a consistent set of health and safety guidelines that apply to its U.S. stores. Representatives say the resumption of in-person events is undetermined, but promise to keep the local website current with virtual events and other special activities. A weekly email newsletter offers additional updates.
Learn more at stores.barnesandnoble.com.
Fave book spot:
Amarillo Public Library
By Mallory Grimm
No city is complete without a strong public library. For more than a century, the Amarillo Public Library has served our community with its prodigious collection of books, technology and educational programs. While these programs have changed throughout the years, they still operate from a desire to educate and enlighten the people of the Panhandle.
Amazingly, the library’s summer reading program has been around for 75 years. Even in the midst of the pandemic, the library offered its 2020 and 2021 summer reading programs to keep children’s minds stimulated during the summer months. Programs like these are critical, as research shows reading program participation—complete with prizes—may help kids avoid reading loss during the summer.
Generations of Amarillo children have grown up enjoying the library’s storytime events, though those have evolved over the years and, more recently, pivoted in response to the pandemic. Every morning on Facebook Live, a librarian hosts a storytime for children, allowing families to tune in from the comfort of their homes. For those preferring an in-person event, the library system has been hosting an outdoor storytime every Monday at Sam Houston Park (weather permitting), to give families plenty of room to spread out. Attendees take home reading kits filled with craft ideas and other activities.
While COVID changed how the library hosts many of its long-standing programs, the friendly faces at the library have stayed the same. “Our staff has been phenomenal throughout the changes we’ve gone under,” says Stacy Clopton, the library system’s public relations coordinator. “They’ve stayed positive throughout the pandemic, and love doing what they do.”
Learn more at amarillolibrary.org.
Meet Our Cover Model
Kaniya Barringer, an AISD middle-school student, graciously served as our cover model for this issue. The setting was the always-delightful Burrowing Owl Books in Canyon, and Kaniya was photographed by Jeremy and Lauren Pawlowski, the husband-and-wife duo known as Neighbors Creative.
An avid reader, Kaniya identifies herself as a big fan of fantasy and YA books. Her favorite series include two by Rick Riordan: the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series and The Kane Chronicles. She’s a devotee of The School for Good and Evil series by Soman Chainani and has just begun wading into the magical world of Hogwarts and Harry Potter. Whether checking books out from her school library or stepping into Burrowing Owl for a new title—true to form, Kaniya left our photo shoot with a new book—she claims to read just about anything.
“I just kind of go for it,” she says. We hear you, Kaniya.