Friday, September 13, 2019

How to Get the Good Stuff

We all know that the greatest thing we can do to grow readers is to put good books in the hands of kids.

We know. We believe. But how do we do it?

On Tuesday, we bore witness to a teacher wrestling with this very problem. She reached out to the Twitter-verse, seeking ways to build her classroom library and offer her kids the books she knew they wanted.

"How do you do it?" she inquired. "Good books cost money. Those are the ones that interest my students, but classics are often free. How do schools afford to buy the books kids want?" 

We didn't even know this person, but our heads nodded in agreement, we sighed right along with her, and then got to work on this post.

It's true. Good books cost money. And, unless you're a Donalyn Miller devotee or the owner of a Crazy Reading Lady shirt, many people in positions of power simply don't understand that it takes money to maintain good libraries.

"But we bought new books last year." or "We have all of those copies of *fill in the blank* in the storage closet. Why can't you use those?"

The misguided logic behind the struggle is worth at least one other blog post, but that is not our aim here. Please know that we are not intending to solve the problem of access and budgets, we simply wanted to share a few of the things that have enabled us to keep good books on our shelves and in the hands of our kids.

All donated, all available for free
Host a Book Buffet: Twice a year, we hold book donation drives. We ask community members and families to purge their book shelves and consider "re-homing" books they've read and loved. The Bibliosaurus (a dapper recycling bin) stands ready to collect them in the school lobby. We then invite teachers and families to shop and get new-to-them books for free.

Meet the Bibliosaurus
Library Book Sales: Public libraries typically hold book sales several times a year, during which they sell donated books at a very low cost ($5 a bag.) Three years ago, the two of us attacked the sale early one Saturday morning. We were there to purchase new books for homeroom libraries and had agreed to split the cost. We were caffeinated and probably wearing matching t-shirts. We got some GREAT STUFF - new releases, hard covers, and books in like-new condition. We stopped once we took the time to count and realized we had accumulated over $60 worth of books. When we went to check out, we verbalized our excitement and told the volunteer what the books were for.
"These are for kids?" he asked.
"Yep!" we told him. "Hopefully, each homeroom will get some new books for the start of the school year."
"Wait here" he said.

Moments later, the library director came over to us. "Take them" she said. "They're for the kids, we want you to have them." We cried, gave her a hug and $20 and then loaded them into the car. Since then, our library lets teachers shop book sales for free. Perhaps your library director is as wonderful as ours.

Book Fairs: Check with your local book store (independents are the way to go!) and see if you can arrange a book fair. Our awesome indie allows us to host a 3 day fair, during which we get 20% of the proceeds. What do we do? Turn that money right back around and buy new books - which they will likely sell to you at a discount. Advertise like crazy - send fliers and emails home and try to tie it in with another school event - can the band perform? Would the art teacher put things on display? The more students that are involved, the better your attendance will be.

Savers/Yard Sales: Again, you'll be using your own money but you can easily get new books at a fraction of the cost. Don't be afraid to ask for a discount at the store! Online sources such as Freecycle and Facebook Marketplace are also ripe for the picking.

Grants: Though this is by far the most involved of any option, is it also phenomenally successful. When you write your grant, be sure to include research about kids and access to good books. If your school doesn't have a full-time, licensed librarian, tell them. Talk about accessibility and the achievement gap. And yes, we are speaking from success - just last year, we were awarded a grant to update our homeroom libraries with an influx of high-interest, contemporary titles. We tied it to social-emotional learning and decided to purchase books in sets of five, allowing kids to read with their friends. Just this week, we placed an order for 104 new titles, thanks to a local grant.

This post hasn't solved any problems, we know that; but hopefully, it serves to unite all of us in our struggle: our love for our kids and our desire to do what it right by them. Continue to push for new, contemporary titles and do whatever it takes to get them to your kids.

Do you have any favorite ways to get the good stuff? Leave a comment or reach out to us on Twitter @allinreading