eading is my first love. Fact. As a little girl, I swooned for
books as presents and craved them more than other toys. From a very
young age, once I was reading a good book, I just couldn't put it down.
As I approach age 41 (eek!) I can safely say that my love of reading and
by extension, the English Language, has served and continues to serve
me quite well. So it's no surprise that I was enthralled when I
encountered a brand dedicated to encouraging the love of reading in
children here in Trinidad and Tobago, namely, The Reading Garden.
This San Fernando-based brand was created by Reiko Mitchell (or
Aunty Reiko, as the kids call her), with one goal in mind, Bring the Book
"As a stay at home mom, I found that I too often had to go to Port of
Spain to find interesting and educational things to do with my baby
(now a demanding toddler). As such I embarked on a journey of
exploring what was being offered in Trinidad and the USA to entertain
infants and toddlers as well as engage caregivers."
Reiko explored many ideas for her son, and had many a conversation
with other Mums. And then the entrepreneur in her kicked in. I must
add that having gone to school with Reiko, I can safely say that her
talents and skills in singing and drama served to fuel her passion and
purpose, to conceptualize her model for The Reading Garden.
Reiko knows the value of reading and she converged her needs and
passions to create a product aimed at entertaining and educating
children. "Initially I thought of only providing The Reading Garden
services to toddlers, but as I explored and discussed the idea with my
spouse and close friends I realized that it could be so much more," said
"We need to encourage our children to love to read and to appreciate
reading as a form of entertainment and relaxation. We need to bring
the book back."
My vision for The Reading Garden is that it will grow into a place where
children, of all ages, can be inspired, through reading, to explore their
creativity, use their imagination and follow their dreams."
One of the more popular sessions at The Reading Garden is the Parent
and Me, which targets two age groups, namely 0 to 3 and 3 to 5. Of
course the Little Chatterbox tag caught my attention. The Parent and
Me sessions simply make reading a fun alternative for the little ones, as
this can sometimes be a challenge with parents competing with the
omnipotent tablet or smartphone for their children's attention.
"These sessions are designed to peak your child's interest in reading
and storytelling as well as build their fine motor skills. As an added
bonus it presents an opportunity for you to bond with your child as
the Creative Me part of the session requires you to assist your little one
in crafting and bringing their thoughts/imagination to life."
But Reiko didn't stop there, she has aligned with an international
movement to truly bring reading back to the community. Which
movement, you ask? The Little Free Library!
Little Free Library is a non-profit organization that like The Reading
Garden, inspires a love of reading while at the same time encourages
community building, by fostering neighbourhood book exchanges
around the world. Through Little Free Libraries, millions of books are
exchanged each year, profoundly increasing access to books for
readers of all ages and backgrounds. And with a presence in more than
80 countries, I was more than proud to see Trinidad and Tobago on
Reiko certainly believes in the model and sees the partnership
between both brands as that type of collaboration needed to improve
the education and social landscape here in Trinidad and Tobago
"The Little Free Library take a book/return a book structure provides a
way for the community to share books with one another. It also
provides an alternative for persons/children who cannot readily access
the public libraries. It is a great tool in promoting reading enjoyment
and by extension improving literacy among our children," added
"From the moment I saw the LFL, I knew that this would be the perfect
organization to align myself with to bring the book back! I love that
Trinidad is now on the LFL world map and is part of a worldwide effort
to promote a spirit of community and a love for reading. "
Now to turn a challenge she faced into a business is something I
wanted to delve into with Reiko, and seek some pearls of wisdom too
inspire all of you reading this that may have an idea and just don't
know where to start. And her advice was quite simple.
"KEEP AT IT! When I started The Reading Garden, I showed up every
Tuesday at the Vistabella Community Centre for a class of sometimes
only 3 children. One Tuesday a retired primary school principal
brought her grandson and she probably realized I was a little
discouraged by the numbers and she said to me "Keep on going! We
need this!" Having someone who taught for over 40 years say those
words to me really gave me the encouragement I needed. I took her
advice to heart and kept on trying different locations and times until I
got it right. Even today when I launch a new service if it doesn't work
the first time, I never give up. I keep on assessing what I am doing and
tweaking it until it works. Sometimes it's your price point, sometimes
your location, sometimes your attitude. You just have to keep on
pushing and taking the time for introspection. Nothing happens
before its time." Spot on, Reiko! She even had some advice for female
"For female entrepreneurs, particularly mothers, I would say shake off
the guilt! As mothers, we tend to feel guilty when we are working on
our business while our children are at home with us constantly
demanding our attention. Shake off the guilt. Set a schedule. Let your
little one know that they are important and that what you do is also
important. Involve them, if you can, and let them feel proud of what
you do. In turn they MAY give you the extra time you need to work
on your business".
Brands like The Reading Garden truly illuminate the potential that we
have here in Trinidad and Tobago, not only to harvest an idea with
purpose but one that can get international attention and most
importantly, improve the fabric of our twin island republic of Trinidad
and Tobago. Keep bringing back the book, Reiko!