“Breathe in … just smell the new book smell.” The girl in the plaid jumper closes the book, looks up at me and smiles. St. John the Baptist School’s Scholastic Book Fair is open and I stand by the door and feel a breeze from the rush of fifth-graders as their feet race into the room, trying not to run. Some are not successful.
As the chairwoman for our fair, I witness the students’ reactions firsthand as they discover new titles and exclaim, “Oh my gosh! I have to have ‘The Guinness World Records 2013!’ ” Walking to my desk, I observe two boys standing shoulder to shoulder searching for their favorite characters in the newest chapter of “The Kane Chronicles.” In the entertainment section, one girl jumps up and down, but her feet do not leave the floor as she loudly whispers to her friends, “Look at that! It’s not just a movie – it’s a book, too!”
The initial rush of quick exclamations slowly fades as the students browse the book fair cases and make their purchases. Plastic bags crinkle when the group joins me on the rug for story time. I read several chapters of “The Name of This Book is a Secret” by Pseudonymous Bosh. While I read, I realize the boy to my right has read the story before. He is covertly holding his hand to his mouth while whispering the story’s secrets to his neighbor as the girl in the plaid jumper interrupts me to ask how to spell the author’s name.
The book fair is only one avenue by which the children can add to their personal libraries. Scholastic also holds clearance sales twice a year, during which volunteers can earn books. Our school chooses to use these books to give to the children on their birthdays. The students are excited to hear their name announced at school and look forward to receiving their birthday book in celebration of their special day. While volunteering at Scholastic, I met Amy and Kathy who, like me, are striving to get books into the hands of students.
Amy loves both children and books and finds pairing young children with worthwhile books of their choosing to be a magical experience. In retirement, she knew that one of her primary volunteer activities would involve literacy. She is currently the vice-chairwoman of the Buffalo Jewish Coalition for Literacy. She says, “The organization is one of over 40 local affiliates throughout the country committed to helping all of America’s children learn to read and to eliminating illiteracy.”
Since the majority of the children with whom she works come from impoverished families, the books she gives away may be the only means of developing even a small home library. Amy approximates the number of books given away each year at 2,700.
Another retired teacher, Kathy, chooses to take the opportunity to donate books to Amazon Valley Academy in Belem, Brazil. The school was originally set up as a school for missionaries to send their children to so they could receive an “American” education. In recent years, however, children of other internationals living in Belem also attend the school. The books constantly have to be replaced because of the humidity creating mold and mildew in them.
Amy, Kathy and I often hear people say that printed books are becoming obsolete, but our love of books is reaffirmed when we hear the girl in the plaid jumper say, “Breathe in … just smell the new book smell.”
Antoinette Shriver has been a librarian at St. John the Baptist School in Alden for seven years and has chaired numerous book fairs