Through her new business, Casita Bookstore, and the work of her nonprofit, Equity Through Literacy, Antonette Franceschi-Chavez has a clear goal in mind: Make books accessible for everyone.

The 35-year-old mother of two is passionate about literature, and she understands all too well what it’s like to grow up with books out of reach.

Franceschi-Chavez is from the Los Angeles area, where she was raised in a single-parent household by her mom who worked three jobs to support her and her brother.

Back then, Franceschi-Chavez’s only access to books was during the yearly Scholastic Book Fairs or when the bookmobile would go to her school, she said.

To a kid like Franceschi-Chavez who loved reading, those moments were “like magic,” she said.

They also became one of the driving forces behind Franceschi-Chavez’s mission to create community spaces where people, especially kids, can come together and engage with stories they can connect to.

Owner Antonette Franceschi-Chavez helps a customer at her new Fourth Street business, Casita Bookstore, Friday, Dec. 23, 2022.

“Most kids don’t read because they can’t find connections to the books,” Franceschi-Chavez said. “So that’s our biggest thing is we want to make sure that the books are engaging, and kids can see themselves, or if it’s not a book that represents them, physically or culturally, it’s a book that they can make a connection through sports or art or something that will keep them engaged wanting to read.”

Almost three years ago, Franceschi-Chavez used her expertise as a parent engagement coordinator at the Main Library in Long Beach and a former dual language program teacher to start the nonprofit Equity Through Literacy with co-founder Marysol Perez.

The goal of the nonprofit is to provide parents and families with tangible resources to bridge the literacy gap within their communities.

“What we do is we go into communities in LA, the marginalized communities, underrepresented communities, communities that might be considered, like a book desert where libraries are kind of far and few in between … and we give away books,” Franceschi-Chavez said.

Since Franceschi-Chavez and Perez started Equity Through Literacy, the nonprofit has partnered with publishers such as Penguin Books and Lil’ Libros to give away roughly 10,000 books to underserved communities.

And her work to make books more accessible hasn’t stopped there.

In October, Franceschi-Chavez had just quit working at the Main Library because she wanted to spend more time with her newborn daughter, Valentina, when she saw a little green home available along Fourth Street in Alamitos Beach.

It was Franceschi-Chavez’s dream to open up her own bookstore someday—maybe in the future, she said, when her daughter was old enough to go to school.

But this particular space caught her attention, Franceschi-Chavez said. So she focused on figuring out a way to spend time with Valentina while operating her first business.

Owner Antonette Franceschi-Chavez holds her 8-month-old daughter Valentina behind the counter after checking out a customer at Casita Bookstore, Friday, Dec. 23, 2022.

On Dec. 4, less than two months after first spotting the building, Franceschi-Chavez opened Casita Bookstore. The name Casita, which is Spanish for “Little House,” comes from the exterior design of the business, in addition to the “welcoming feeling” Franceschi-Chavez has worked hard to create.

“It looks like a little house… and my big focus is increasing the amount of bilingual Spanish books that are in this community,” she said. “So Casita just made sense.”

It’s a small space, with walls painted in a vivid shade of orange that give off a warm feeling. There’s a large selection of books and bold titles that catch attention from a distance. And each one is meticulously chosen by Franceschi-Chavez to make sure they are representative of Long Beach’s communities.

“Long Beach has such a diverse population, so I hope that’s exemplified in the store because I want everybody to feel welcome,” Franceschi-Chavez said. “I want to make this a staple here in Long Beach and make it an open community space.”

Casita Bookstore is located at 1440 E. Fourth St.

Owner Antonette Franceschi-Chavez, 35, sits with her 8-month-old daughter Valentina inside Casita Bookstore, Friday, Dec. 23, 2022.

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