Books for Tots in 2021. [Courtesy photo]

“We all love books, and we all love kids,” said Shari Zollinger, head of community outreach and events at Back of Beyond Books. “So here’s this opportunity to get, through the holiday season, all of these wonderful books into kids’ hands through our schools and our learning institutions.” 

Back of Beyond’s annual book drive, “Books for Tots,” just started. During the donation event, anyone can purchase books for or make a donation toward a number of participating schools and institutions in Moab: Grand County High School, Margaret L. Hopkin Middle School, Helen M. Knight Elementary School, Grand Preschool, B.E.A.C.O.N. after-school program, Youth Garden Project, Early Intervention Program, Canyonlands Field Institute, and the Moab Valley Multicultural Center. 

Zollinger said the program is always popular: in 2021, Back of Beyond was able to donate 30 books and $400 to the middle school alone. She’s found that many community members donate year after year. 

“They wait for it every year,” she said. “They’re ready to come and put their local money back into the hands of the teachers and leaders who can then build out their libraries or their classrooms or their book collections.” 

The program has “grown up a lot,” Zollinger said; it was started around 2003 by Andy Nettell at Arches Book Company, Nettell’s first bookstore in Moab (before he purchased Back of Beyond). There was a need then to get more books in the hands of local youth, Zollinger said, a need that still continues now—when David Everitt bought Back of Beyond in April, he “didn’t even bat an eye,” to continue the program, she said. 

Now, the program works like this: Zollinger spends all year researching popular books for kids in all genres, from non-fiction to fantasy, to build up the Back of Beyond collection. In early November, she invites participating institutions to select 30 different titles from the collection. The day after Thanksgiving, Zollinger marks the selected books on the shelves in the store with bookmarks for which institution picked the book. 

So from now until Christmas day, anyone can purchase the Books for Tots books, which will be donated to the institutions in January. The bookstore also accepts cash donations for the program. 

“After Christmas, I get to be Santa Claus and deliver all the books,” Zollinger said. “Every single year, all the books get bought, and there’s often an excess of money which we donate as gift certificates.”