The Thrill of New Books by Millicent Flake
When I started as a middle school media specialist after 10 years in an elementary school, one of the biggest adjustments was the lack of money for new books. I went from a fairly large school to a much smaller one and my budget was practically non-existent. After a frustrating few years, I decided I had to find some money that was mine alone and started going after grants.
Being in a low-income school has its advantages in getting grants, and I was very fortunate one year to receive $3,000 to buy nonfiction books from Dollar General Literacy Foundation and the next year to receive $5000 from the Laura Bush Foundation. Both of these organizations are very generous to schools that serve under-privileged children and have a fairly easy grant proposal process.
I was excited to weed out and replace many of the tattered copies on my shelves, but what I had not anticipated was the excitement the new books would generate among the students. As the boxes of new books started arriving in the library, kids would gather around to be the first to see them. Each new shipment was like Christmas morning as they got to experience that new book feel and smell. Many of them wanted me to put their names on certain books so they could be the first to check them out once they were catalogued!
The windfalls from the two grants have changed the atmosphere in my media center. Students have gotten used to having the latest titles to choose from, especially in the more mature Young Adult section. I have seen the difference having quality, up-to-date materials has had on their excitement for reading.
This past year I did not apply for a grant, but I have been ordering through First Book Marketplace, a book seller dedicated to putting books into the hands of low-income children. They also provide mini-grants that enable schools to receive books, audio books and other materials for only the price of shipping. Through one of these mini-grants, I recently received 12 boxed sets of Wonder and Mr.Brown’s Precepts by R.J. Palacio for only a few dollars per set. We created a writing contest for the students on the topic “My favorite quote,” and rewarded the boxed sets to the winning students. The students were thrilled to get the quality, hardback books to take home, which for several of them, may have been their first books ever. The pride they felt was priceless.
In my career as a media specialist, I have been through all of the different ways to try to get children and young teens to read, from Accelerated Reader stores and chances to win an iPad, to forced reading and book reports, and I have decided that the best way to encourage a love of reading is for the students to have access to up-to-date, relevant literature. When they find a well-written story that has characters with whom they can relate, we can keep them coming back for more.
Millicent Flake is a middle school media specialist who enjoys helping students find books they love. She also enjoys running, working in her flower garden and writing. You can read her blog at Under the Magnolia Tree.