Revere author opens new chapter on book donations

Boston 3d-graders among recipients

Nila Webster, a children’s book author who lives in Revere, draws inspiration from a line in one of her mother’s poems: “Because we dreamed it /it came true.”

Since a diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer in 2010, Webster has dreamed of devoting the rest of her life to sharing her positive energy through her books. This month, that wish is taking shape: Webster is donating copies of her book, titled “The Mystery of the Hidden Room,” to every third-grader in Boston, as well as in Lynn, Revere, Pittsfield, and Swampscott, along with numerous pediatric units around the state.

The donation, she said, is just a “simple labor of love.”


“The theme of this book is that we are all a gift and have a gift,” she said. “And we must find our inner gifts, and share them with everyone around us and for our own selves.”

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Webster, the author of four independently published books, started writing at a young age with the encouragement of her mother, jani johe webster, a Rochester, N.Y., poet who spelled her name in lowercase letters as a metaphor for the freedom of creative writing. Her mother died in May.

The story behind “The Mystery of the Hidden Room” was inspired by a moment Webster shared with her mother when a librarian brought her to a “hidden room” at a local library in Rochester, where she lives.

Since then, Webster said, the hidden room in her childhood library has become a symbol for the “hidden room” that she believes exists within everyone, a magical place where dreams can come true. She hopes the metaphor will carry over to the children who read her book.

Webster collaborated with Edward Lee, interim network superintendent for Boston’s public schools, to organize the donation of more than 4,200 of her independently published books for the Boston students. Lee said Webster has done similar projects with other school districts in the past, but the project in Boston is one of the largest.


“This has such a benefit on our third-graders that they could perhaps look back on this, and help them start their own love of literacy,” Lee said. “This has the ability to have an effect in unanticipated ways. . . . Only good things could come of things like this.’’

Lee said the generosity of donating the books, which are valued at about $12 in bookstores, will benefit students who might not be able to afford to buy them.

Webster has visited dozens of classrooms and donated thousands of books over the years. With “The Mystery of the Hidden Room,” the number given away in the last year exceeds 41,000. She said she hopes to donate 100,000 more before her diagnosis “takes its course.”

Previously, Webster visited the Harrington Elementary school in Lynn to hand out her book to the third-graders.

Dr. Catherine Latham, superintendent of schools in Lynn, said Webster provided all 1,300 third-grade students across 18 Lynn schools with copies of her book “The Gift of You, the Gift of Me.” Latham said receiving the books was like Christmas for the third-graders.


Webster also conducted various activities with the children, and engaged them in discussions about the book. She plans to do the same thing on Nov. 12 at the Harrington Elementary School Library, where she started telling the story of the hidden room.

“I’ve seen her with the kids and she absolutely mesmerized them, and she brings out the best of them in the most creative aspects,” Latham said. “It’s wonderful, and just infectious.”

When telling the story of “The Mystery of the Hidden Room,” Webster said, she always asks the students to imagine what their own hidden room may entail. The sense of wonder and inspiration that comes upon them, she said, is what validates her donations.

Webster said Literacy Awareness month in November carries a double meaning for her, because it coincides with Lung Cancer Awareness month.

“So much goodness has come out of’’ her diagnosis, Webster said. “For me, November is like a multidimensional celebration: an opportunity to give, but also a reminder that there’s so much hope.”

Trisha Thadani can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @TrishaThadani.