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Novels In Nature: An Unprecedented Approach to Combat Illiteracy

Photos by Jayden Cao

Introduction by Julian Riccobon


As Polyphony Lit continues to expand on a global scale, we regularly receive messages from students who are passionate about literacy, creative writing, and global issues, and are hard at work on projects of their own. We are always happy to spread the word about new student-run literary magazines and projects, so this week, we bring you an inside look at Novels in Nature, a project created by New York high school student Jiachen (Jayden) Cao.

If you're interested in learning more about Novels in Nature and Jayden's literacy initiatives, then check out the links below!

Novels in Nature Website:

Novels in Nature GoFundMe:


Novels in Nature:

An Unprecedented Approach to Combat Illiteracy

My name is Jiachen (Jayden) Cao, and I am a current junior at Horace Greeley High School in Westchester, New York. I was born and raised in Beijing, China, where I spent the first twelve years of my life. Since I attended a traditional Chinese elementary school, I had to learn English virtually from scratch when I came to America in 2019 as a 6th grader. My language and cultural learning experiences (in all seriousness, consisting mostly of watching Netflix documentaries and imitating NBA commentaries) led me to appreciate literature and view literacy as one of my supreme values. To me, literacy is not a privilege but a right.

Unfortunately, roughly one in five American adults is illiterate – that’s almost 50 million people (or, put into perspective, the entire population of Spain). It’s a scary fact and one that requires our immediate attention in a way that goes beyond the efforts currently underway. Receiving roughly 312 million visits a year, the American national and state parks are some of the most popular spaces. So why not use them as an innovative platform to promote literacy?

Guided by this belief, I founded Novels in Nature—an initiative that places little free libraries in the campgrounds of state parks around the country, offering campers and visitors convenient book access. Partnering with local libraries ensures the continuous circulation of books, allowing for regular updates and maintenance of the libraries within the parks. By dedicating each library to a honoree (whose name is printed on the library charter sign), Novels in Nature also recognizes generous donors and individuals who have significant impacts on their communities. Please feel free to visit our website for more information regarding donation and project specifics.

At the time of this post, Novels in Nature is located in New Hampshire’s Bear Brook State Park, Arkansas’ Cane Creek State Park and Bull Shoals-White River State Park, Maryland’s Cunningham Falls State Park, New Jersey’s Belleplain State Forest and Bass River State Park, and Idaho’s Hells Gate State Park and Ponderosa State Park. In the 21st century where technology and the internet constitute much of people’s lives, books are becoming a less spontaneous element of society. Novels in Nature reminds us of the intrinsic value of reading by reviving the opportunity for people to simply walk into books in nature.

In fact, I’m continuing to expand the Novels in Nature network to other state parks and reach a wider audience. But in the meantime, if you (or anyone you know) are going to be on the trail or go camping, please don’t hesitate to grab a book and get lost in a fiction story as part of your journey!


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