ROCKLAND—On Wednesday, December 18, a classroom in Rockland’s South School looked like a book sale with 4,600 children’s books filling every available table and box underneath.
The best part? Every single book was given away for free.
This is the fifth year educator Jenny West got to feel like Oprah Winfrey and do the “Favorite Things” Giveaway, in which every student from South School got to pick 10 books to keep and bring home.
“I started the Books in Every Nook program years ago because I’m a reading teacher here at South School and I was finding that many students didn’t have books in their homes,” she said. “So, to solve that problem, I came up with the idea of gathering new and used children’s books and then re-distributing them to students once a year.”
Not many people realize how much work goes on behind the scenes to do this giveaway. West spends her time year-round collecting books and a number of volunteers help her to set it up. “I get books everywhere,” she said. “I collect a lot over the summer from library book sales. I go to yard sales. I get books from local publishers and authors who donate books every year and then I get people who donate money for me to go out buy books.”
“In past years, we’d typically allow students take five books home, but we have 300 students this year, and with so many to give away, I’m allowing them to take home 10,” said West.
In 20-minute increments, each grade assembled inside the classroom where West explained how to select a book and how many could be taken. The reaction from the students when they discovered they could select 10 this time, was to simultaneously throw their hands up in the air and cheer or jump excitedly up and down. And then, like an episode of Supermarket Sweep, the kids swarmed the tables, looking for books that interested them.
“We carefully planned this to get the books in their hands right before they took off for Christmas break,” said West.
Asked what types of books she knows how to buy for the students, she said, “They love nonfiction. They love reading about real things, especially animals. I don’t think I have a single nonfiction book about animals left and I bought a good 300 of them.”
The older grades tend to like the chapter books and more fiction titles.
The entire room organized like a library: in fiction sections, nonfiction, picture books, chapter books, poetry, biography, even a Christmas section.
At one point a 2nd grade boy walked up to West. “Do you have anything scary?” he asked.
She instructed him to search the far table. “There’s a bunch of Goosebump books over there,” she said. Delighted, he found a couple of R. L. Stine’s best sellers.
“We’ll probably give away 3,000 books today,” she said. “At the end of the school year, we do an open house and I give away the rest then for the summer break.”
Dressed like a Christmas Elf, West said, “This is my favorite day of the year. It’s so great to see that kids still love books. The first group of students that came in this morning only to discover they could keep 10 books this time—they went wild. One little girl asked me, ‘We get to keep these forever?’”
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Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org