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From the Library Of

April 17, 2012
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“Today, you’re going to get to take home not 1, not 2, not 3, but 11 books.” This is what we told every group of students that came to the mini-store of donated books that we set up at a high-poverty elementary school, and without fail, the announcement was greeted with cheers and children jumping up and down. It was like everyone’s birthday was happening at once.

I will never forget the faces of the children as they picked out their books. They carefully combed shelves and read back covers, they helped each other choose, they recommended books, and they ferreted out books on subjects their friends were looking for. They carefully picked books for younger siblings from the board book selections. Some cried when they realized that these books were theirs to keep, forever. Others became almost giddy when they went from shelf to shelf to choose not one, but a whole bag full of books.

By giving more than a couple books, we hope that they will have enough to take them through the summer. But as important, we found that because we were giving lots of books, children were able to pick a wide variety of types of books at different reading levels and about different subjects. While if limited to one choice, a student might have picked a bestseller or Disney character book, because they were picking a lot of books, they would choose that book and then maybe a science book or a collection of folk tales, or even a reference book.

We want to build libraries in the homes of children who do not have books. We want books to be accessible to all children, all the time.

The kids who received books met two criteria: they were behind in reading, and they had a financial need. Research shows that having a stack of books over the summer mitigates the summer slide and can improve graduation rates and academic performance. Having books can open worlds to a child, and finding joy in reading can provide deep fulfillment for a lifetime. Books have the power to change lives and can empower struggling students to attain their own academic successes, even if adults at home are unwilling or unable to read with them.

We gave 11 books to 120 students last year and set up a borrowing bookshelf so that books would be available to all students all the time. This year, we are hoping to help put 12 books in the hands of 300 students. At times, it seems a daunting goal, but the payoff is immeasurable. We are so inspired by the children we have met through this program, and we are inspired by the children and adults who have volunteered to help us.

And while raising thousands of books may seem a big mountain to climb, putting a book into a child’s hands is something anyone can do. If books are important in your life, or if you see the potential for books to change lives, we urge you to help a child become a book owner and a reader for life.

And we also urge you to get your children involved in sharing books with others. Our own children became deeply involved in our book drive, and it has changed the way they think about books—they are much more active in thinking about the kinds of books others would like, and they often ask to donate books that they are finished with. It allowed us to open up a much broader conversation about books, literacy, and giving.

If you live in Wake County, we are always collecting donations of used or new books that we will get into the hands of children who need them. If you live elsewhere, or if you want to spearhead a project on your own, here are some ideas to consider:

    * If you’re in a book club or other social organization, why not each bring 5 books at the same reading level to your next meeting, call a local school, and “adopt” a class?

    * At your next neighborhood gathering or potluck, ask everyone to bring a few books, and then take them to a school in your town.

    * Have a Face-Book challenge and see how many books you and your Facebook friends can raise for a school or organization in your area.

    * Ask your child’s school if they would sponsor a book drive.

    * Domestic violence shelters, The Boys and Girls Club of America, and SmartStart programs are often grateful recipients of children’s book donations. Reach Out and Read is another great organization that focuses on giving books to children from birth to kindergarten.

Having books matters, and having the ability to build your very own library at home can be transformative.

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