Paula Norton Madriles '71

Books are Gems

Near the U.S.-Mexico border, in the south valley of El Paso, is a bookstore that has given away almost half-a-million books since its inception, spreading literacy and a lifelong love of reading to as many children as it can.

Paula Norton Madriles founded this 501(c)3 organization in memory of her daughter, Grace Elizabeth Madriles (hence GEM in the store’s name), who died in an automobile accident in 2002 at 16 years of age. Today, Grace’s love of reading and her brilliant smile are surely reflected in the happy smiles of children—proud readers who can select up to five free books a month at BOOKS ARE GEMS.

Initially, Paula, then an elementary school teacher in South El Paso, bought the books at yard sales and thrift stores. Eventually thousands of books were donated. GEM’s GEMS became BOOKS ARE GEMS. In 2010 the store moved to its current location where Paula now works part-time. Community volunteers—75 to 100 at any one time—help sort, pack, stock, and transport the books.

Books in the Children’s Bookstore are always free. Proceeds from new and used books sold in the General Bookstore (paperbacks for $1, hard covers for $2) are used to purchase more books to give away to children.

A teacher may select 25 children’s books for the classroom and take unlimited materials from the Teacher Resource Center that includes professional teaching literature, teacher’s editions, textbooks, and supplemental and “math manipulative” materials.

Community schools and agencies frequently distribute BOOKS ARE GEMS books to children at health fairs, parents’ days, teacher-training days, and even at baseball games.

In partnership with community institutions, the bookstore runs reading camps in June and July where children can work with well-trained tutors on programs specifically designed for them. There’s also a story hour on Saturdays.

Learn more about this inspiring literacy outreach project on the Web at

—Sally Adams ’66, M.A.‘68