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Teen creates book drive for sick kids after her family’s fight with cancer

It was just days before her sixteenth birthday when Emily Bhatnagar’s father was diagnosed with stage four thyroid cancer. After spending months caring for him in between her high school classes, Emily began her own battle with serious health issues and was also hospitalized. During her treatment, Emily found comfort in books – escaping to many different adventures on the page. The relief she experienced while reading inspired her to give this same gift to others. Here’s how she did it:

In 2021 Emily was processing a lot: her own health issues, her father’s cancer treatment, a pandemic, and the fragility of her family’s business. Monsoon Kitchens, the family’s bread shop located in Gaithersburg, Md., has been the primary source of their livelihood. With the extra tips that Emily earned working here, she began purchasing lightly used books that would help her escape the world even if just for a little bit.

She diligently cared for her father, picking up his prescriptions and feeding him through a tube. In addition, she tried to fill the gap he left at the bread shop and maintain a solid GPA. But as the reality of his situation hit, her own conditions began to worsen. And that’s when she really fell in love with reading and the escape these stories offered.

Emily was hospitalized and it was in her own brush with death that she began to realize just how invaluable novels were for her. She soon realized the potential they had to help other kids and adolescents who were undergoing serious health issues themselves. Yet access to books was limited for a lot of them. Emily knew she had to do something. As her father’s cancer stabilized during the summer of 2021, Emily began collecting new and lightly used books with the aim of delivering them to healthcare facilities across Virginia and Maryland.

She initially posted on Nextdoor asking her neighbors to contribute books they had. Expecting only a handful of responses, Emily was floored when she received replies from hundreds of people. This resulted in stacks, and stacks of books showing up on her front door. Her priority was to donate books to pediatric cancer patients, but with so many extra books she decided to also donate to other health-care institutions that cater towards kids.

On October 5, 2021, Emily, her mother and her father (who had just recovered from an emergency tracheotomy) rented a moving truck and set out to deliver their first donation. They brought over two thousand books to the Children’s National Hospital in D.C.. After that, an additional 1,400 books were donated to Inova Health System in Virginia. Hospital staff explained that the books were a well received gift to the many patients who receive constant care and could desperately use an escape.

Emily has continued to donate over 10,000 books to children in need of health care.

But since then donations have slowed and Emily could use some help!

These are a few of the top books on her wishlist, if you’d like to donate to her cause and buy a book:

Ivy + Bean’s Treasure Box by Annie Barrows – one of Emily’s childhood favorites.

Theodore Boone Box Set by John Grisham – mysteries that keep kids ages 10+ turning the page.

Harry Potter Box Set by J.K. Rowling – because everyone deserves a little magic

The Chronicles of Narnia by Clive Staples Lewis – for a little extra adventure

Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey – so we can share the laughs

Paw Patrol Phonics Box Set by Jennifer Liberts – so that kids ages 3-7 can find their love of reading

Emily has these and many other titles on her wishlist, which you can view in full here.

Browse the full selection of books today and send a child on an adventure tomorrow!

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