Piccolo Lewis promotes literacy the best way he knows how: Giving away thousands of books for children. Photo by Dietmar Quistorf

Don’t ask Piccolo Lewis how many books he’s given away in his lifetime. He’s only recently started counting, but the number is probably in the hundreds of thousands.

Lewis is an entrepreneur. A community leader. An education advocate. And when it comes to books, he’s also a philanthropist.

He’s the Piccolo behind Piccolo’s Books and the One Dollar Bookstore, with locations sprinkled around Southern California. Piccolo’s Books recently donated 25,000 books for South Los Angeles and Boyle Heights elementary schools through USC’s Civic Engagement Book Drive, in partnership with the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Books will fill new classroom libraries and promote reading in the USC Family of Schools.

A man of faith and believer in goodwill, Lewis made savvy investments that today enable him to run his bookstores almost as a charity. His mission: affordable literacy.

“Oftentimes classroom libraries are the first to be cut,” Lewis says. “We’re happy to do what we can to supplement knowledge libraries.” He’s donated to communities as far away as Kenya and Ghana.

His generous donation means the book drive might be able to stock home libraries for hundreds of families, too, building a culture of learning.

The book drive runs until mid-to-late April. Last year, more than 8,000 new and gently used children’s books were donated and dispersed to the USC Family of Schools. More books are always needed.

The drive runs in conjunction with the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, which is sponsored and hosted by USC. The April 20-21 event will feature live entertainment, arts and talks, all aimed at bringing together people who create books and people who love to read them.

Lewis is one of those book lovers. When asked why he donated the books to USC’s drive, his answer was simple. “They asked,” he says. “As much as I respect the digital realm, I believe we need to preserve the written word. Browsing books and turning pages is an irreplaceable learning and tangible experience — especially for children. This donation is a great way to get books to families and schools who need them the most.”

To donate books or see a list of donation sites, contact Kim Tomas-Barrios at thomasba@usc.edu.

If you have questions or comments on this article, write to us.

Social Impact