The winners have been selected! Fifteen of your neighbors in the community will be honored with a Beacon Award on Nov. 17 at WoodWinds. Join the celebration.
Person of the Week
Cecarelli’s Peace, Love, Books! Bus Combines Passion for Reading and the Community
Inspired by an Instagram post, Jenn Cecarelli and her husband Rich launched Peace, Love, Books!, a mobile used bookshop that supports local independent booksellers and gives back to the community. (Photo courtesy of Jenn Cecarelli)
Last summer, Jenn Cecarelli was scrolling through Instagram when she was drawn in by a post @CincyBookBus, a mobile bookstore set up in a classic VW bus. Jenn, who has been an elementary school teacher in Middletown for the past 25 years, couldn’t stop thinking about it.
“When I saw it, I thought, ‘I need to do this’ and I started looking for a vehicle online,” says Jenn. “I reached out to [@CincyBookBus operator] Melanie Moore, who’s a retired schoolteacher, and I was really inspired, so I started looking for a vehicle.”
This past April, on Independent Bookstore Day, Jenn officially unveiled the Peace, Love, Books! mobile bookstore with three goals in mind: sustainability in maintaining the bus and its catalog of offerings, supporting the local economy by making necessary purchases through locally owned independent bookseller People Get Ready on Whalley Avenue in New Haven, and giving back to the community by donating books or supplying People Get Ready gift cards to those in need.
“It’s been great and I love meeting people and seeing how they get excited about the bus itself and what we’re doing,” says Jenn. “I see them have the same reaction I had when I saw Melanie’s post for the first time.”
After originally seeing the Instagram post, Jenn told her husband, Rich, and their children, Charlotte and Andy, that she wanted to start her own mobile book bus, though she says they were used to her pitching them her “hare-brained ideas.” Rich was intrigued, though, as he has a passion for older cars.
The couple began scouring the Internet for the perfect vehicle, landing on a 1968 VW Transporter located in Bellevue, Washington by September. As it was the midst of COVID and Jenn was teaching remotely, they had to explore how to confidently purchase a vehicle on the opposite coast. They enlisted the services of an inspecting firm and upon receiving an inspection with “rave reviews,” they made an offer.
“Unfortunately, his asking price wasn’t in our budget and I approached him with our idea and he asked me to give him a few days to think about it,” says Jenn. “In that time, he got other full-price offers, but he decided to sell to us because he loved the idea of what we were doing with it. He’s followed our progress and reached out to say he was glad he sold it to us.”
The Cecarellis’ offer was accepted on their wedding anniversary in September. Jenn shared the idea with her class of 2nd-graders, who were excited to track the bus’s journey on a freight carrier across the country. It was delivered the first week in October and Jenn says it was “even better in person.”
In the meantime, Jenn had asked Moore for advice. Moore shared her business plan that involved purchasing books from wholesalers. While Jenn appreciated the advice, as a lifelong self-proclaimed “bookworm” and a 20-year educator, Jenn wanted to make a bigger impact on several levels.
Instead of purchasing books wholesale and selling new books, she put out a call for donations and curated a collection. She then supplemented the collection with purchases from People Get Ready. When it came time to choose a local bookseller, Jenn also made an intentional choice. People Get Ready is one of the closest independent bookstores to North Haven.
“Wholesalers don’t need our money. I wanted to support local, especially after COVID,” says Jenn. “The owners, Delores Williams and Lauren Anderson, are fantastic and have a pulse on the community.”
After curating a collection all winter, Peace, Love, Books! began to make appearances in the spring. The books are 50 percent off of the cover price and adult hardcovers are $10. As books sell and a profit is made, Jenn reaches out to People Get Ready, where the owners let her know of needs in the community. Jenn then purchases a gift card to the bookstore for people in need to support the local community and promote a love of reading.
Jenn has found that her call for donations was very successful and, with limited space on the book bus, she has found even more ways to send books back into the community. She not only donates them to local organizations, but also keeps the Little Free Library in her front yard stocked. The Middletown school district where she teaches also benefits. The district has a bookmobile and Jenn also hosts a book swap for her class.
Even though Jenn loved playing school when she was young and has now been a teacher for 25 years, she originally began studying marketing when she went to the University of Connecticut. She soon realized that teaching combined many of her interests and switched her major to education, going on to get two graduate degrees from Southern Connecticut State University.
Jenn met her husband at UConn and the couple settled in his hometown of North Haven in 1992, raising their children. Charlotte is now entering her senior year at the University of Pennsylvania and Andy will be a senior at North Haven High School, where he’s active in the music programs and fencing.
“We love the school district. North Haven Public Schools are terrific and both of our kids had great school experiences,” says Jenn. “I love the location between New York City and Boston and being able to get to the beach quickly. I’ve also enjoyed being able to get involved in town.”
Jenn currently serves on the Board of Education in North Haven. With many years in education, she has seen school districts and educators face some of the biggest challenges of her career since the pandemic began. Over the past 18 months, Jenn has seen the importance of flexibility and understanding at every level.
“As a person who always likes to know how things will turn out, it was hard to ride the wave and try not to control everything, but that’s what I found I had to do,” says Jenn. “Kids needed a lot of grace, families needed grace, and so did I. I’ve always stressed the social-emotional side of things and caring for one another and that was even more important this year as everyone had to buy into that to survive and thrive. North Haven did a tremendous job with that and so did the families in my classroom.”
Jenn is also currently training to be a parenting coach through the Parent Coaching Institute. When she isn’t training, teaching, or running Peace, Love, Books!, Jenn enjoys spending time with her family, journaling, painting, crafting, and of course, reading. She is continuing to find outlets for the Peace, Love, Books! bus and loves connecting with readers at events and giving recommendations.
“I read a lot and can make recommendations for people and as a teacher, I’m able to utilize what I’ve learned about kids and reading levels to help them find the perfect book,” says Jenn. “The bus is a passion project that lets me be of service to people in community. As a bookworm for my entire life, I love bringing books to people.”
For more information on the Peace, Love, Books! bus, visitwww.facebook.com/peacelovebookbus or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The bus can be found at the Hamden Farmers Market at the Hamden Town Center Park each Thursdays from 4 to 7 p.m. for the season.
Jenn McCulloch is the Correspondent for Zip06. Email Jenn at .