“I’m in love!” shouted a 4th-grade boy as he walked through my library. Had he just met one of my beautiful high school library aides? I wondered. But then he actually clarified: “I’m in love with all these books!”
A smile warmed my heart because after all–even in these days of a 21st-century librarian’s “multi-hatted” life–my most important job still is to promote the love of reading in children. This youngster had just entered our book drive book fair, hearing that he could select twelve books to take home and keep forever. And he was not alone. After a year of fundraising, donation seeking, and grant writing at River Road High School, we were able to provide thousands of books from which over 600 children were able to choose.
Our K-6 Books4Keep Book Drive came out of the brainstorming of a few motivated high school freshmen who wanted to promote literacy in our district. The small vocalization of “how ‘bout we have a book drive” grew from a tiny flame of an idea into a community-wide event in one year’s time.
In our rural district, with approximately 75% of children coming from low-income homes, the need for summer reading books is critical. Most of our students live a great distance even from their own elementary schools and do not have ready transportation to any library over summer break. With this in mind, we set out to provide 12 books each to our most in-need children–with the number of books based on research showing that economically disadvantaged students who received 12 books each over a three-summer time period were able to minimize the effects of the reading setback known as “summer slide” (Allington, McGill-Franzen, Camilli, Williams, Zeig, & Nowak).
Having merely dipped our toes into the book drive waters last year–and feeling quite successful with giving books to over 150 children–we set our sights on helping 200 children this year. But we now knew better the work required, so we began with fund-raising events from the start of school–hosting a $2 per student DEAR Day and a Halloween “Feed the Monster” sticky-eyeball throw; selling Santa-gram cookies and car wash tickets; helping to host a chili supper, and more. Yes, a lot of work, but the book drive allowed our school the opportunity to invest in the lives of students who were actively and eagerly involved in helping to improve the lives of children in our community.
The book drive officially began in February, continuing through May. We partnered with three local churches who collected new or gently used books appropriate for our target age group. Through on-air time with our three local network news affiliates, the word spread about our need for books, and a nearby university hosted a book drive to assist with ours. Individuals delivered checks and boxes of books to our library. Classes even held contests to see who could bring the most books.
As librarian, I wrote letters and made calls to local businesses and charitable organizations seeking donations. But the biggest sources of funding for our cause came from two grants (I wrote and we received)–one of which was AASL’s Innovative Reading Grant. The $2,500 we received, combined with the outpouring of support from our local community, and the awarding of $5,000 from a local grantor, allowed us to raise nearly $12,000 for this year’s book drive. Our goal of helping 200 children increased three-fold, enabling us to purchase far more new books than anticipated and increasing the number of children we could assist to over 600.
With grants comes accountability, but we also want to know that our hard work is paying off. So in the fall, elementary teachers will send us results on spring vs. fall reading levels for every child who received books. Along with reading levels, students will complete a quick survey, making sure they read their books.
It is with this age group that true literacy begins, and children must have engaging books to spark their love for reading. This passion can, in turn, allow them endless possibilities for academic and life success. The AASL Innovative Reading Grant enabled more of our district’s children to find the joy of discovery that reading can bring, hopefully igniting the flame that will have them each shouting, with every turn of the page, “I’m in love!”