Sunday, June 14, 2015

How to Have a Middle School Book Swap

Considering organizing a community book swap? Let the CRL guide you with some helpful hints from our first venture.

It's a Book Buffet!
We looked at several options before deciding which incarnation would suit our school best. Since our focus was on community service, we would not keep track of who donated what. We knew that was a bit of a risk, but if you staff the swap with teachers who aren't afraid to speak up, it's not a problem. We were prepared to stop shoppers who left with a few dozen; however, due to the sheer volume of books we received, it wasn't something we needed to address.   Given the "browse and take whatever you want" atmosphere, we decided to market this as a Book Buffet.

We are open for business! Photo: Colleen Donahue
Fairness is something middle schoolers positively adore.  The kids more than any other group voiced opinions about how to keep people from taking more than their fair share.  Our open concept Book Buffet was a tough sell, but let us tell you: Letting go of the "give tickets to kids who donated and then let them pick x-number of new ones" was the best decision we made.  We were able to accept donations from all sorts of places (more below) and several students did leave with armfuls.  Because we had embraced openness, we were able to rejoice rather than rebuff.  Hooray!
Emptying the Bibliosaurus for the last time

The Drive

A month before the day of service (see last week's post), The Crazy Reading Minions created the Bibliosaurus.  He's big.  He's green.  He's spotted.  He has a theme song.  And he eats books.

After collecting trash, books that were older than Mary, and one diaper (yes, it was used), The Crazy Reading Minions hit the school news with a little public service announcement asking for books that middle schoolers might actually WANT to read. When in doubt, be explicit: No bodice rippers and no self help, please and thank you.

We placed want ads in both the town email system and the Friends of Franklin Facebook page. We received donations from students, former students, and community members. We encouraged teachers to purge their classroom collections with the promise to add to them later. We put signs in each and every classroom and bathroom. In a little over one month we collected a little over 400 books.

The Set Up
Setting up on June 4
The month-long drive gave us the opportunity to filter through books beforehand. Between us and our Minions, we spent about four hours sorting books in advance of the Book Buffet. We know it sounds crazy to have this in June, but hear us out: people are ready to clean, kids are looking for summer reading books, and teachers have little-to-no patience. This was a very good thing. You'd be shocked at the number of books the CRL deemed "unworthy" and dumped in a recycling bin.

We got so much done.

On June 4th our student volunteers gathered in the cafeteria to transform it into the Book Buffet.  Books were sorted by genre, arranged accordingly, and marked by balloon bouquets.

We have glitter and we aren't afraid to use it
If you want to sell anything to Middle Schoolers, it has to look cool. Now, we know the CRL version of "cool" isn't for everyone, but it usually works.

We indoctrinated our helpers to make it look as professional as possible. "That sign? It needs to be bigger. And centered. And nicer" (see lack of patience, above). We had staff recommendations and catchy neon starbursts. We had balloons and color-coded genres. We used book stands and displayed our inventory in concentric circles. And when several boys made helmets out of empty boxes and held jousting matches from opposite ends of the cafeteria, we told them to pick up scraps of paper off the floor.

Proud "staff" reviewer
While the students worked on physical merchandising and Erin herded 6th graders, Mary called students over one at a time to provide a review for the book of their choice. Students were photographed holding their book, and the photo and review were displayed alongside the books.

Our WWII section with the student-created label "Sad but True."

The Event

Stocking up for summer
Our Book Buffet opened (we were technically knee-deep in ice cream sundaes and just a few minutes late) for an evening event that welcomed students and their families. This was another benefit - so what if we lost track of time? The Book Buffet was essentially self-sustaining. Sure, the CRL would be there to supervise, smile, shake hands, and offer suggestions, but the fact that we were 10 minutes late didn't delay the opening.
"You mean they're free?"

We asked local businesses to donate small shopping bags which encouraged kids to pick more than one.
Before-the-bell crowd Friday morning
Though the evening event brought nearly sixty people through our doors, we kept the Buffet open the following day. It was so cool to watch students wander through the next morning as they arrived at school. Our Assistant Principal commented that she saw three 8th-grade boys reading their newly-selected books as they waiting for the first bell. Additionally, students and teachers were invited down before lunch to shop at their leisure. That's when the books really flew.

"I'm the mascot!"
The Breakdown

As sad as we were to see it end, our Book Buffet had served its purpose - re-homing nearly 350 books in less than 24 hours - and gone swimmingly enough for us to consider doing this again. Since our Buffet had to be cleared in time for lunch, we looked at the remaining selection with critical eyes and threw away a handful of rejected books. It took less than twenty minutes to collect balloons, take down posters, fold tablecloths, and pack one box with books we deemed "Keep for next time." Easy peasy. And our event wasn't short any amount of pathos. Students selected books as gifts for siblings. Mary's son - exhibiting great patience at yet another CRL event - found a quiet spot in the back and began reading. Friends sought out multiple copies so they could read together. And when Erin returned to her classroom the next day, she found a book waiting on her desk with a note. A 7th grader had selected one for her.

I promise.
Of all the things we've done to spread the love of literacy and put good books in the hands of kids, this was - by far - the simplest and the cheapest. Kids were chatting about books, making recommendations to each other, and seemed thrilled to have the gift of free choice.

We've already decided that this will be a semi-annual event at our school. Since the family element was so powerful, we'll likely connect the Book Buffet to an evening event such as parent-teacher conferences or concerts.

Let us know if you decide to pursue this at your school, and be sure to let us know how it goes!

Happy Summer Reading!

New books, ripe for the picking!
One of the three fiction tables
Nice view!

Shopping before school

Thursday, June 11, 2015

This is why we work

For years, Erin has been talking about wanting to do a book swap. Unable to visualize Erin's concept, for years Mary has been humoring her.  "Yeah.  That would be cool.  Uh huh.  Yup." 
CRLs stand ready at the grand opening

Posing with the Bibliosaurus
This past Thursday night, Erin's idea came to fruition under the most unexpected circumstances.  We certainly didn't plan for it to happen this way, but the Crazy Reading Ladies are not known for planning ahead anyway. When opportunity knocks, we've decided it's best not to ask too many questions. We simply say "yes" first and figure out the details later. We just work well together. And we know we work. And we have way too much fun doing it.

So how did our (Erin's) book swap opportunity present itself?  Well...

Horace Mann Middle School  recently hosted singer and songwriter Chadwick Stokes and his charity Calling All Crows.  Chad worked with students to workshop some songs they'd written and teach them the songwriting process.  One lucky girl had her lyrics turned into a song, and it was performed by Mr. Stokes at a benefit concert that evening.  (How cool is THAT?!)

Staff Recommended
Because Calling All Crows emphasizes service to others, every student in the school was engaged in some form of community service for the second half of the school day on June 4th.  Teachers were given the opportunity to put forth ideas for community service, and students were then given their choice of service activity.  Animal-loving teachers helped kids make homemade dog treats to be donated to animal shelters.  6th grade teachers worked with students of all grades to create Welcome to 6th Grade informational pamphlets to be given to current 5th graders.  Students planted flowers on school grounds, read books to preschoolers, made cards for the troops, and turned old t-shirts into reusable shopping bags.  It was a super cool afternoon for teachers and students, and the CRL took advantage of the opportunity to pull together a book swap.

Okay, full disclosure.  Erin took advantage of the opportunity.  Mary, suffering from a condition known as 8th-graders-in-June, whined, "I don't care what I do, just please put me with Erin."
Voila! A scrumptious book buffet!
That night, before the Chadwick Stokes benefit concert, the doors of the Book Buffet opened (while Mary and and Erin were enjoying hot fudge sundaes and losing track of time), and students were able to fill bags with 100% free, no strings attached, new-to-them books. 
We're totally working.
Before we inundate you with photographs of the event, it's worth mentioning that the event was such a success that we've decided to make the Bibliosaurus a permanent fixture in the HMMS hallways and hope to make the Book Buffet a semi-annual event.  Hey, we're the CRL.  Go big or go home. 
"Can we take more than one?"
Shopping for summer reading