With a paper grocery bag full of books in one hand and her fluffy 3-year-old pup Sassi in the other, Sharon Esterley strolled through her Eastbluff neighborhood on a recent morning to refill the newly opened community library before the first kids of the day arrived.
She stopped at the bright blue miniature house positioned on a wood post along the walking path of the small community park along Basswood and Alta Vista Drive, carefully repositioning books on the twoshelves inside the house until she could fit the hardback adult mystery novel alongside the children's picture book about penguins.
Esterley has made it a point to stop by garage sales throughout Newport Beach in recent weeks to replenish the stock of her neighborhood's first community library, Little Free Library, which opened in June.
The library is a gathering place where neighbors, both adults and children, can share their favorite literature for free. You can take a book, place a book inside or both, Esterley said.
Inside the petite model of a house, those looking for their next literary adventure can find mystery novels, self-help books, as well as nonfiction for both children and adults.
"The goal is to get people out of their houses, give them an opportunity to meet one another and most of all, promote literacy," Esterley said.
Eastbluff's library is part of a nationwide effort by nonprofit Little Free Library, which encourages communities to place "schoolhouse like" structures somewhere in their neighborhoods to foster a love of reading and sharing stories among neighbors. Balboa Island also has a Little Free Library.
Esterley heard about the movement several years ago and immediately thought that Eastbluff, with its population of young families and active community members, would benefit from some type of book exchange.
The project, which she originally thought might be housed in her front yard, sat on her to-do list for several years, she said. Inspiration struck the longtime Newport Beach resident when she noticed a miniature wood house full of books set up on the front lawn in her daughter's Connecticut neighborhood.
Upon returning from her vacation, Esterley said she was energized by the prospect of making her longstanding dream a reality. The Eastbluff Homeowners Community Assn. unanimously approved the project and neighbor Chad Sparks offered to donate the supplies and build the house for free.
Resident Grace Hobbs often visits the Free Little Library at the park with her two daughters, Chloe and Stella.
"It's a really fun, neat idea," she said. "The kids love it."
The library is just one of several improvements planned for the park, neighbors say. The association is planning to put in new playground equipment and benches to replace the current aging infrastructure. The group also decided the space, which houses holiday celebrations and other events for the neighborhood, was deserving of a name — Blue Heron Park.
Esterley hopes the library will allow kids and adults in Eastbluff to share their favorite stories with one another and ultimately form friendships through a shared love of the written word.