Do you know The Reading Ninja? The Reading Ninja, who tackles New York streets with literary art? Why yes, we know The Reading Ninja! Based in NYC, a mom and son duo took their love for reading to the streets by stealthily putting up “Reading is Rad” stickers and dubbing their project, The Reading Ninja. The dynamic duo’s mark has been spotted from Japan to Australia, all because of the help from their loyal global ninja posse. Love the idea of discovering page-turning adventures and inspiring people to read? Then you’re going to love what The Reading Ninja is all about. Catch this interview with the elusive mom and son tag-team before they slip back into the crowd.
Red Tricycle: We’re absolutely in love with your Instagram! Your reading suggestions are spot-on, and that Harold street art immediately had us drawing connections to BANKSY. So, while preserving your anonymity, tell us: who is The Reading Ninja?
The Reading Ninja: Thank you! The Reading Ninja is a place on Instagram (and soon to be website) where you can follow to find awesome books for kidlets, be inspired to read, and also [serves as] an alias for my ninja obsessed 6-year-old son.
He came up with the character while we were talking about his favorite topic… Ninjas. He described this “reading ninja” character who would come onto the subway car to stealthily give out books to everyone. Cut to me listening captivated with my jaw-dropped.
We took his idea and ran with it, thinking it would be the perfect project to make reading more fun. Little did we know the response would be so great and that there is such a warm community of mothers, fathers and librarians who are passionate about reading quality children’s literature and looking for good books. It is growing and we’re growing with it.
RT: What inspired you to take “Reading is Rad” to the streets?
TRN: It was his original idea of stealthy book-giving that really inspired it. And paired with our love for street art, it seemed like an interesting and fun direction to head. The art from children’s books and the nostalgia linked to children’s books makes for such an awesome juxtaposition. I love the idea that standing there on the cluttered streets of New York City and being taken to a warm and loving memory of being read to by a loved one as a child. And, of course, to do street art, you have to be quick, quiet and unseen like a ninja.
RT: In the beginning you mentioned that your lil’ ninja wasn’t that enthusiastic about reading yet. Has that changed since the “Reading is Rad” movement started?
TRN: The Reading Ninja has always loved books and would sit and have me read to him all day if he could. But it’s the learning how to read part that he has not been into, and is only moving slowly toward reading himself. So until that clicks, I read to him everything we can get our hands on, with a motivation to instill a LOVE of literature that will last him a lifetime. It’s a view that sometimes is lost in the standardized era we live in. Reading on their own will come. Until then read to them with love.
And yes, The Reading Ninja project has been a very positive tie to reading. We have this cool place to share our book finds and have fun making different ideas about reading become a reality.
RT: How did your son’s first ever Book Drive go?
TRN: It was fantastic! I was leading the charge, but involved The Reading Ninja in each step, making sure to not push too much or make a big deal of it. We asked a wonderful community of women in our hometowns, and they so generously pulled together and raised nearly 200 books.
He helped passively, but it wasn’t until we were cleaning and sticker-ing the books that I think it really sunk in. There were some of his favorite books in the mix and we had the chance to talk about how a lot of kids we were giving them to had possibly never read these stories. A lot of them don’t have the opportunity to own books at home.
He was really excited to deliver them, but was also bummed that he didn’t get to personally give the books to the kids. So he took the opportunity to tell the administration all about the cool books that he thought the kids were going to love, and made me promise he could see the kids next time. It was definitely the start of something I would like to do more with him. We want to share our love of reading through recommendations as well as physical books.
RT: Ninja-watch! How long does it take to sneak a sticker on the wall? What about street art
TRN: Always as quick as possible :) The street art takes a few minutes of stealthy ninja work and the stickers require less stealth but are faster to put up. We have had so many people request to join the initiative that the stickers are going up all over the place by different people. It’s really fun to see people posting, sharing and being involved in this mini movement.
RT: Name the most exciting place you’ve seen your sticker pop up:
TRN: The most exciting place is seeing them around the city in places I know we haven’t put them, like Japan and Australia! Knowing that people care enough to share the word gets both the Ninja and me super pumped.
RT: Living in NYC, you must be used to train rides. Which books go into your arsenal against boredom?
TRN: We love books on our commutes, a great way to minimize screen time, and if we are lucky our fellow commuters will join in and listen along. As any city mom knows, we are basically pack mules so we have to limit our book choices by size and weight which make the smaller Dr. Seuss books our favorite go-to.
RT: Where’s your favorite place to get books?
TRN: We are avid patrons of the New York Public Library system and their excellent librarian staff. But when there is a book that we want to add to our permanent collection, we love Books of Wonder and Bankstreet Bookstore. Both are beautifully curated with shopkeepers who know their children’s literature.
RT: What makes a perfect reading day?
TRN: A clean house, homework done, full stomach, and a cozy bed. But who are we kidding…don’t wait for the perfect scenario, read everywhere and every chance you get.
RT: Thank you! Last but not least, can our community get a set of “Reading is Rad” stickers?
OF COURSE!!! Email your address to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll hook you up!
Have you spotted “Reading is Rad” in your neighborhood? Take a picture and tag it with #readingisrad and #redtricycle!
— Christal Yuen