BEUSCHEL: Spreading the gift of reading to everyone

The wonderful thing about March is that it is “Reading Month." For those of us who work in an elementary school, this is a big deal.
Mar 21, 2013

Promoting reading all through the year is standard fair, but this is the big finale as the school year begins to wrap up.

The National Education Association offers promotional materials for March is Reading Month. The theme for year has been focused on Dr. Suess, his characters and books. The kickoff was on Dr. Suess’ birthday, March 2. On that day’s celebration, there were children walking around school with Cat in the Hat hats and faces painted with black noses and whiskers. How cute is that? 

Even better is the seriousness on their faces as they wait to see people’s reactions as they walk down the hallway. As you can guess, that by the end of day the whiskers are smeared, the noses are half-gone and the hats are cockeyed on their heads, but a great time was had by all!

The celebrations continue on throughout the month. There’s “Read at the Beach” day, which fills the cafeteria with students spread out on their beach towels, wearing their shorts and flip-flops, and reading a good read. Then there’s logging reading time, reading contests and guest readers in the rooms.

You get the idea: Creating a world of readers is the goal.

But along with all of the other aspects of school life that have been affected by the school budget cuts, so has our library. Year after year, the budget for staff and books has been reduced. Although each student still gets to go to the library one time per week, the staff hours have been cut that are used for ordering books, shelving books and planning reading-related activities. 

In school libraries, paperback books are being replaced by hardcover books because of their durability. However, the average “library” bound book costs about $15 to $20, compared to paperbacks which average $5 or can be picked up for 25 cents at a garage sale. 

Our twice-annual book fairs during conference weeks bring in some extra funds to the library. The book fair supplies come rolling into school the week before the fair and our librarian spends extra time redoing the library to accommodate the rolling display carts of books for sale. She and volunteer helpers staff the book fair on conference nights, along with having it open during the day for classroom visits and book sales. It’s a lot of extra work, but it brings needed funds and bonus books to the library shelves.

Our PTO sponsors a “Wild About Books” bookmobile in the summer. It runs four days a week on different routes and each route includes five stops of about 20 minutes each. 

The PTO bought an older school bus, had it outfitted with shelves, painted with wild animals on the outside and recognition signs of all the original donors. Staff volunteers are the librarians traveling with the bus in the summer, and a paid driver is hired by PTO. 

During March is Reading Month, the “Wild About Books” bookmobile comes to school so the students can get a quick tour through it and be ready to visit it in the summer.

Being a book lover myself, I can remember what a special treat it was to be able to buy a hardcover book at the school book fair. I also remember that the public library was a favorite place of mine after school got out. 

Although my dad mostly read blueprints at work and the newspaper at home, my mom was an avid reader from her childhood and I guess that is what rubbed off on me.  During a recent trip to the library, I got into a conversation with one of the librarians, who remembered me bringing my children there years ago, and now I bring my granddaughter and my mom with me. She was relating that, during the years she was babysitting, she would always be shocked to go into a home and not find any books. 

Wow, that got me to thinking that if children didn’t have any books in their homes, their reading could really come to a screeching halt when they got home! Developing a culture of readers can’t happen just at school. 

Enter the Little Free Library! In between writing this article, I was catching up on my newspaper reading and there it was — American Profile magazine tucked into the Tribune and, on the cover, lo and behold, was an picture of a little library box stuffed with books. I quickly went to the related article and read about this nationwide effort to put boxes with free books out into communities so that books could be available to everyone, 24/7. What a great idea! 

It started in 2009 by Todd Bol in honor of his mother. With his Little Free Library idea, he aimed to surpass Andrew Carnegie, whose philanthropy created 2,509 large libraries. Currently, there are more than 1,000 Little Free Libraries! 

Unencumbered access to books might just be the next best thing beyond a public library system. Let’s see, hmmm — where would be some good places for those Little Free Library boxes?

— By Janice Beuschel, Tribune community columnist. She can be reached at her website, JaniceRBeuschel.com.

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