NEW YORK (PIX11) — The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way children learned and attended school. Some said it created a reading crisis and to help, hundreds of free books were given out in eight communities across New York City Thursday.

From Washington Heights to Jamaica, children got hundreds of free books. The idea is to get kids to enjoy reading over the summer.

Latoya Walker and her son, 3-year-old Kaiden Swaby, were busy popping bubbles in the park. She said it’s not easy keeping her son entertained during the summer.

Walker said reading is like magic. Her son has special needs and she told PIX11 News she makes it a priority to read to him for at least 15 minutes every day.

Now, Kaiden is thriving.

Walker was one of the dozens of parents that came to Rufus Manor Park on Jamaica Avenue to get free books and take part in a read-a-loud. The event was put on by a non-profit organization called Literacy, Inc. and Fidelis Care.

Staten Island, Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx also had free book distributions. The program, called “Diversity Through Literacy,” focuses on helping children under five years old develop a strong love for reading.

Dr. Lisa Moreno, the medical director of Fidelis Care, said Black and Hispanic children, as well as those from low-income families, have fallen the furthest behind in literacy rates across the city.

Just 15 minutes a day reading with your child, she said, can make a big difference.

If you want more information about upcoming free book distributions near you and virtual free programs, click here.