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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Spreading the Love of Reading

It was a book lovers's dream come true. Yesterday I got to share 30 copies of one of my favorite books with young readers at KIPP Middle School, thanks to an amazing worldwide celebration called World Book Night. The USA version of this great organization just tried this for the first time in 2012. So it was quite a feat that at least half a million books were distributed across America last year thanks to more than 25,000 volunteers like me. The final numbers aren't in yet, so I have no idea how many volunteers and books were distributed yesterday.  But this is a well-run operation. First the books were selected, then publishers had to agree to publish them for free, then the volunteer "givers" applied and were selected, then the bookstores distributed boxes of 20 books to each volunteer "giver," then the givers distributed the books to light or non-readers in their community.

When I saw the list of this year's books, I knew I wanted to be a Giver. I just had to decide which book and who I wanted to distribute it to. I had to focus on light readers. Here's the list of books - which would you have chosen? I finally selected Looking for Alaska by John Green as my first choice and Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward as my second. I reviewed Looking for Alaska in one of my first blog posts. My daughter wrote her first author fan letter after finishing this amazing YA novel.  Salvage the Bones is a piece of literary artistry written by a young Mississippi writer. I couldn't lose either way. But a few months later, I received the happy news: I was selected as a Giver and could share Looking for Alaska!  I decided to give the books to the seventh and eighth graders I teach two afternoons a week at KIPP Middle School, a magnet school for underserved students in the heart of the city. I am their creative writing teacher in a unique joint project with Writers in the Schools and Aurora Picture Show. They are a  rowdy bunch, full of hormones and other distractions, so I was a bit apprehensive about how my generosity would be received. 

A couple of weeks before World Book Night, my local bookstore, Blue Willow Bookshop, emailed me about picking up my books on a certain day. I requested an extra 10 books, since my class totals 30 students and WBN was only distributing 20 to each giver. Valerie and her staff were generous, as always, and allowed me 30 special WBN editions of Green's book and sent me on my way with handouts and a button and giant sticker designating me as a giver. I wasn't allowed to share my books until April 23, which (if you are wondering) is Shakespeare's birthday, UNESCO International Day of the Book and the anniversary of the death of Miguel de Cervantes. 

Finally the big day arrived. I had prepared a poster for my students because I felt I wouldn't have their attention long enough to really tell them what I was doing. I told them I had a "surprise" for them. They asked if it was candy and I said, "No, you know me better than that, what would I think would be the best thing I could give you?" Someone quickly guessed. "Books!" 

"Yes!" I said. "I brought you each a special copy of one of my favorite books." I had written each student a letter to go with the book telling them why I loved the book and asking them to email me their thoughts after finishing the book. A couple of them had even read the book already. The students quickly mobbed around me grabbing their book and letter.  The students were really sweet and grateful; They couldn't believe the book was theirs for free. I can't wait to hear back from them. World Book Night was a wonderful opportunity to share my love of reading with a population that rarely had the opportunity to receive a free book. Join me next year and spread the love of reading. 

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