TURLOCK -- Little libraries filled with big ideas are popping up around the Central Valley.
The small, hand-built mini libraries are part of the Little Free Library movement, started in Wisconsin in 2009. It has since grown to thousands of participants in 36 countries around the world.
Two of those are just block from each other in Turlock, where the customized free library boxes have been up since summer.
"I just thought it was such a great idea," said Turlock resident Jo Cunningham, who put her Little Free Library up in July in front of her home at 1805 Guatavita Drive. "I thought, 'What a good way to spread literacy.' "
The concept is simple: build a small covered box with a door to fill with books, install it in your yard and put a sign on it telling people to take or return a book for free.
The 60-year-old Turlock resident had her father, who lives in Placerville, build her box, then she adorned it with decorative ironwork. The speech therapist for the Turlock Unified School District and her husband both love to read and wanted to share their passion with the community.
In Cunningham's little library, there are nearly 20 books, ranging from works by Virginia Woolf to James Patterson to Herman Melville.
Less than three blocks away at 2690 Castleview Drive, Turlock's other Little Free Library also is packed with a wide selection of close to 30 books from John Grisham bestsellers to religious novels, children's picture books and educational nonfiction.
Seventeen-year-old Turlock High School senior Leilani Almeida built her library with her grandfather and had it up by the end of June.
Almeida learned of the nonprofit Little Free Library organization through her mom, who heard about them while living in their former home state of Minnesota. Almeida said she was inspired to start her own to spread her love for books with others.
She painted her box, which has colorful flowers and the saying "Made with Love" emblazoned on the inside of her door, herself.
"I just love reading. I know a lot of kids don't get the same advantages I did growing up. The countless books I got as gifts. So it's so cool to see people using it," she said.
The libraries work on the honor system. There are no membership cards, checkout slips or due dates. People take books they'd like to read and return them when they want. Or exchange them for others and leave their own.
Cunningham and Almeida seeded their library when it was first opened with 15 and 50 of their own books, respectively. Since then, the libraries have fully sustained themselves. People drop by to borrow or share while on walks. Passerby park their cars to check it out. Kids ride up on their bikes to browse the selections.
"People stop by all the time asking about it," Cunningham said. "Kids from around the corner and down the block put their books in. As long as people keep reading the books and sharing, we'll keep it here."
Cunningham said the only book she has vetoed from her tiny library was "Fifty Shade of Grey." She said because children frequently use it, she decided against allowing that risque book. But otherwise the selections are random and rotating.
Almeida said she even had a young woman from Denair stop by recently and inquire how she could start her own.
Almeida and Cunningham, who do not know each other and were not aware of the other when they built their libraries, have registered their projects at the Little Free Library website. As chartered members, they pay a $34.95 fee and receive placards to hang on their libraries. They also appear on the website's interactive map of other registered Little Free Library locations.
So far, neither has had problems with vandalism or damage to their libraries. And both want the idea to keep growing.
"I hope there are more in our neighborhood that pop up," Almeida said. "And all over."
For more on the Little Free Library project, visit www.littlefreelibrary.org.
Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2284. Follow her at www.twitter.com/turlocknow.