By: Danielle Sammut

Reading at a young age is the most important indicator for future success, but there are many children who grow up without access to books in their homes. These children have fewer opportunities for their parents to read aloud to them before bedtime and may even miss out on the magical adventures found in their favorite books. During the summer of 2023, Danielle Sammut, Miss New Jersey for America Strong 2022 and two Colts Neck residents, Dan Constantinou and Kenneth Madden set out to create Book Ark free libraries to ensure more children have the chance to read and succeed. 

Ken, who is a lawyer by trade, is also a master woodworker in his spare time. When he was approached by Danielle to build a Book Ark for the Bridge of Books Foundation, he was enthusiastic to use his skills to help children in need. His first reaction was,”why build one when we can build three in an assembly line process?” The Bridge of Books Foundation provided plans from previously built arks. Ken studied the plans and made several improvements to build the best looking and most sturdy arks possible. Ken used a computer fabricating program to determine the exact dimensions of each individual piece of wood that would need to be cut, and also determined how many slabs of plywood they would need in order to build three Book Arks. 

For each component of the project, Ken and Dan bought the best materials to ensure the arks would be able to be enjoyed and withstand weather, wear and tear for years. The manager of Home Depot in Marlboro, NJ was kind enough to donate three, 4×8 slabs of premium grade plywood for the project. They also purchased roofing tiles, hidden door hinges, thick plexiglass for the door window, weatherproof paint, cabinet knobs and latches, and locking wheels to ensure the Book Arks could be easily moved and locked in place. 

Once the team had all the materials, they used various equipment in Ken’s workshop including a table saw, miter saw, clamps, various power tools and more. When assembling the Book Ark, they used pocket hole joinery to conceal all screws throughout the arks. Once the arks were built, Danielle and Dan sanded, primed and painted the arks with several coats. Lastly, they wrapped the top of the Ark with a waterproof membrane and covered it with roofing tiles. All together, the process to build the three arks took about 20 hours spread out over several days. 

Each of these Arks were painted and filled with books by the Bridge of Books Foundation before being welcomed into their communities. Since the arks are placed in central places inside their towns, the arks ultimately foster a culture of reading within the neighborhood. Most importantly, every time a child picks out a book, there is one more child who gets to proudly call the book their own. There is one more child who listens to a bedtime story read aloud to them. And perhaps even the most magical, there is one more child that is able to go on an adventure of a lifetime to a place beyond their wildest dreams.