By Ginger Young, founder and executive director
Renata grabbed my sleeve. “I found another one!”
She was hugging Tomie dePaola’s Book of Poems. After a celebratory flourish in the air, the book went snugly into her new string backpack, joining a volume of poems for children by Nikki Giovanni that she had earlier selected.
Renata is a second grader in Durham; along with exactly 700 other students at her school, she shopped for 10 books this week as a part of Books on Break, heading home for the long weeks of summer fortified with lots to read. The 7,010 books that were added to home libraries will help enrich the students’ brains, give them stories to share with their parents and siblings, and enliven their imaginations.
“You really like poetry, huh?” I asked.
“It’s kind of a secret, but I really want to be a poet when I grow up,” she whispered to me nervously.
Nearby, a boy was excitedly adding a Fancy Nancy book to his stack; he said he couldn’t wait to get home to read it to his little sister. And three boys were bursting with pride over the Junie B. Jones books they had each scored. Their teacher had read Junie B. books out loud to the class this fall, and “it was like the most fun we had all year!”
People often ask me why we insist that children be allowed to select their own Book Harvest books. They are right that we do: it is a deeply imbedded part of our culture and is woven into our agreements with our more than 100 school and community partners. This week I was again reminded why, as I watched young readers in action assembling their summer arsenals of books.
Being told to read a particular book is a profoundly different experience than selecting one all by yourself, guided by personal interests and a sense of dispatch. Our Books on Break students were empowered, energized, excited. They took home lots of high-interest books – including graphic novels, books about superheroes and princesses, and copies of the ever-popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Whether they were budding poets, scientists, or race car drivers, they found fodder to feed their dreams and fuel their passions. We don’t want anything to get in the way of that wonderful exploration.