By Catriona Moore, ESL Teacher, Forest View Elementary School
“When you get, give. When you learn, teach.” I love the no-nonsense simplicity of this quote by the late, great Maya Angelou. It is a perfect way to describe what happens through Book Harvest when people who have books give them and others who need books receive them. I have had the pleasure of helping the children in my school community with this process of giving and receiving books through my involvement withBooks on Break at Forest View Elementary School over the past four years.
Books on Break is a Book Harvest program that provides students with books prior to long school breaks, so that all students can continue reading while school is out. We collect books through book drives and ongoing donations from our school community, supplemented by Book Harvest as needed. Then, we identify students who need books, and run a “free” bookstore just before winter break and summer vacation. In exchange for promising to read every day, students get to shop for ten books each to bring home and keep forever. We get the whole school involved by sending home reading logs to everyone, which can be returned after breaks to receive bookmarks. All students leave for breaks prepared and committed to read every day, and return ready and excited to share what they have read.
Here’s the thing: it’s the intuitive simplicity of the program that makes it so successful. Although not all students need books (typically about half of our school population receives books during a giveaway), everyone is part of the giving and receiving. Initially, we ran annual book drives requesting families to purge their libraries and gather from friends and neighbors, solicited overstocks from local stores, and benefitted from scout group and church book drives. Books came in, and we gave them out. We now collect and store books continuously, in donation boxes near the office and media center. Books trickle in steadily all year long.
I have noticed that many of the books that show up in the boxes come from families who have received books. They have been read and loved and shared, and eventually a student decides it is time to pass them on to a new owner. Students often tell me which books they plan to return; they imagine the new owner reading and rereading a favorite part of a much-loved book at home with her brother or his mom, and, from firsthand experience, they anticipate the joys of owning and giving. Students simply get it: reading and sharing books is as natural and pivotal to health and happiness as eating, playing, and sleeping. It’s what all families do together.
For our first book giveaway in December 2011, our school collected and distributed nearly 2,400 books. Since then, we have run five more Books on Break events, collected over 8000 books from our own school community, and, with support from Book Harvest, provided over 16,000 books to hundreds of students at Forest View. That’s momentum. That’s what can happen when those who get, give and those who learn, teach.