Because this is a blog about children’s books, I will now attempt to write one. Pretend like you are seated in a semi-circle in front of me, crisscross applesauce.

Once upon a time, and that time is right now – we’re living in it – a magical unicorn with a heart of gold named Natalie Magnatta came to Black Belt training. As often happens in Black Belt, Natalie made a lot of friends, but because Natalie is after all a magical unicorn with a heart of gold, she was able to turn these friendships into ways to spread books and brain development all over the city. This is the story of how Natalie created a web of literacy all over Denver with her friends from Black Belt.

As a Library Program Associate in the Early Learning Department at the Denver Public Library, Natalie’s passion is creating a lifelong love of reading in every child from the time they are babies. There are several ways of doing this, including creating book-rich environments and training parents and other child caregivers on brain development and how to best interact with kids around books.

Natalie Magnatta with some book boxes!

While in Black Belt training in July this year, Natalie met Jessica Calderon, who currently works with the Race and Social Justice Initiative at the City and County of Denver and worked for many years at Denver Human Services (DHS) before that. When Natalie mentioned that part of her work included putting book boxes in places where children in the highest need might be, Jessica suggested she contact Valerie Draughon, a lead social case worker at DHS. With Valerie’s help, Natalie was able to place 13 book boxes in waiting rooms throughout DHS. This included 11 at the Castro building which is in Sun Valley, where 63% of kindergartners are not meeting expectations on the cognitive assessment and 87% of third graders are not reading at grade level. Each book box contains 30 books written in both English and Spanish that are either weeded books from the library’s collection (gently used books that are no longer needed in circulation) or purchased through a $5,000 grant provided by Denver Preschool Program. Natalie wanted to ensure that the book boxes were fun and inviting so she worked with Teen Advisory Board members at several different DPL branches to paint them with engaging designs. To date, Natalie has stocked and restocked the boxes enough to provide over 1,000 books to kids who need them the most. This project was originally started by a local group called Leamos Juntos, and Natalie is thankful to continue doing this work in partnership with other city agencies.

Book boxes for DHS

But she didn’t stop there. Another connection Natalie made during her Black Belt cohort was Marc Venisse, the Operations Center Coordinator at Carla Madison Recreation Center. Through conversations with Marc, she set up a training to teach early literacy best practices to the Kid Watch staff at Carla Madison, who watch any children who come to the rec center while their parents are working out. She also gave them books to fill the shelves at Kid Watch.

And the connections from Black Belt are still coming! Natalie has now trained Denver Art Museum program facilitators in their interactive studio in early childhood brain development and early literacy best practices through a Black Belt connection with Erin Cousins, DAM Studio and Artist Programs Coordinator. She is also working with Steve Ellington, Treasurer of the City and County of Denver, to put book boxes in all five of the DMV locations. Through her efforts she has brought over $67,000 of value to our customers throughout the City and County of Denver.

And so our magical unicorn Natalie continues to fly through the sky spreading books all over Denver. With super powers of friendship, caring, persistence and heart, Natalie has given children all over Denver a gift and superpower of their own: a lifelong love of reading. Her friends and family are so proud of her and the Peak Academy team is too!

Natalie the Magical Unicorn

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