PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Put down your phone and pick up a book.

That’s what the Rhode Island Center for the Book and the Washington Park Library are hoping students across the capital city will do this school year.

The library and nonprofit organization are giving out free books to Providence children.

But these aren’t any ordinary free books.

Kate Lentz, director of the Rhode Island Center for the Book, tells 12 News the books are all brand new.

“To know that this book is theirs, it’s never been owned by somebody else, it’s brand new and they can take it home,” Lentz said. “Most of the books have been signed by an author or illustrator, so it’s extra special.”

The goal is to give students more learning opportunities, especially those who struggled during the pandemic.

Washington Park Library manager Amy Rosa said she’s seen those challenges firsthand.

“Kids fell behind,” Rosa said, noting that some students struggled with internet access and couldn’t connect to their virtual classrooms. “They couldn’t get online … then you add in the summer slide, where kids fall back.”

“At the library, we often step in for after-school reading to help kids get back up to the level they should be at,” she added.

The free book changes each month, according to Lentz. This month they’re giving out copies of “Wherever I Go” by Mary Wagley Copp.

The picture book tells the story of a young girl who lives at the Shimelba Refugee Camp in Ethiopia.

“It opens up worlds to children,” she said. “We all know stories are important … they can entertain us, they can inform us and persuade us. But most importantly, they connect us.”

Wagley Copp, of Westport, wrote the book after working on a documentary about the refugee resettlement camp.

The experience left a lasting impression on her, and she hopes the book will do the same to those who read it.

“I hope it piques their curiosity,” she said. “[Refugees] sit next to us in school, and their stories are important and not often told.”

Providence resident Munir Mohammed, the book’s illustrator, can relate to Wagley Copp’s story.

“I’m from Ghana, and growing up in Ghana wasn’t that easy,” Mohammed said. “Even though today I’m drawing and painting realistically, I taught myself how to draw by using my hand in the sand.”

“You can go on the internet and do what you want to do, but to pick up a book and read … it’s a teaching tool when the teacher is not there,” he continued. “So, it’s up to us to really find a way to let children read books.”

Mohammed said today’s children are tomorrow’s leaders. That’s why he believes everyone should do their part to help them learn and grow.

Anyone interested in contributing to Rhode Island Center for the Book’s mission can donate or become a member by clicking here.