Margaret Jenkins raised seven children in a rowhouse in Towson Park and instilled a love of reading in each one.
“She laid the groundwork for the love of reading,” said her eldest daughter, Meg McFadden. “Then she continued to set an example throughout her life of reading all kinds of things, and sharing that with her children, her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren.”
So when Jenkins passed away in January this year at age 88, McFadden, decided to honor her memory with a “Little Free Library” – a free book exchange box outside McFadden’s Knollwood home.
About 40 family members gathered on Mother’s Day last week, May 13, to dedicate the box as “Margaret’s Free Library,” McFadden said.
The family read a poem, said a prayer and stocked the library with their own books, and books they had purchased at the Towson Library’s recent used book sale, McFadden said.
The book exchange was built under the auspices of the nonprofit organization, Little Free Library, which helps communities build neighborhood book exchanges by providing building plans and online resources, according to its website. Visitors to the book exchanges are encouraged to take a book and leave a book.
David Riley, president of the Knollwood Association, said the Little Free Library is a welcome addition to the neighborhood.
“These type of small, quiet gestures add to the texture of a community,” Riley said. “It’s just one more small, nice way for the community to interact.”
The area, Riley said, has a lot of children and pedestrians, particularly in the summer when the Wiltondale Pool opens for the summer just a 10-minute walk away.
Inside each book put inside the exchange box, McFadden and her family placed a custom bookmark, with a photo of Jenkins reading to her great-grandson, Connor McFadden, now a third-grader at Stoneleigh Elementary.
McFadden’s brother, Michael Jenkins, designed and built the library box as a nod to Margaret Jenkins’ home on Joppa Road, a white house with green shutters and an off-center gable, where she lived for more than three decades.
“It’s far from an exact replica,” Jenkins said, but it is close enough that the family will look at the library and be reminded of the house. “All of our Christmases, all our holidays, everything was in that house,” he said.
Another member of the family has a Little Free Library in front of their house near Stoneleigh Elementary, McFadden said. Little Free Library also maintains a worldwide map of registered Little Free Libraries on its website, littlefreelibrary.org.
The decision to put the free library in front of McFadden’s house seemed appropriate as in recent years, McFadden lived with her daughter and enjoyed greeting passers-by while reading on the front porch.
McFadden now keeps a stash of books in her home, in Jenkins’ old bedroom, to re-stock the library if it runs low. She makes sure to stock books by Anne Tyler, a well-known Baltimore author she said was Jenkins’ favorite.
McFadden said since installing the library, she has enjoyed watching from her living room window as people stop at the library and take or donate books.
On Monday, she said she saw three children plop down in in the grass to read while their parents chatted.
“It’s like watching the birds,” she said. “It’s nice to see the activity and see the enjoyment.”
Michael Jenkins said the library is special to his family as a way to keep their mother in their thoughts.
“It just means she can live on a little longer,” Jenkins said. “You think about it, you see it, and you think of her.”