Sharing the Wealth by Sarah Haywood

Although I had absolutely no idea at the time, I know now that I grew up in a house of privilege. We were not “rich” by any means, but we had an entire wall in the family room with bookshelves filled and overflowing. Both of my parents were avid readers and learners, and there’s no doubt that had a tremendous impact on both my sister and me.

Several years ago I was looking for a unique way to honor my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. My mom, in particular, loved donating to various charitable causes, so I knew a donation was what they’d want. (“We don’t need a thing”…is all I had heard.) However, this needed to be a memorable donation—not just writing another check and sending it in the mail.

After some thought, I chose to combine my family’s passion for books and some of our community children’s need for summer reading material, into this honor. I still live in the same community where I grew up, and my sister and I, and now my son, have all attended the same elementary school. In fact, where that school is built was also the site of the school that our parents and even our grandparents attended. With this school’s students in mind, we purchased 10 sets of 5 books, and titled the project “50 for 50” (as in 50 books to honor the 50 years my parents had been married).

I knew that I wanted to include some perennial favorites that I think all students should read (Because of Winn Dixie and The One and Only Ivan), but I also wanted to select books of significance to my family- so I included nonfiction, my Dad’s favorite, (from the “Who Was?…” series and a “National Geographic for Kids” selection), and my son chose a favorite title, too. Of course price influenced which books were selected, and I took advantage of Scholastic’s bonus points. However, I felt like the quality of books I chose was ultimately the most significant factor of the project’s success.

Next, I created a bookmark for each book, which listed 3 or 4 questions that could be discussed as a family after reading the book. The back of the bookmark explained that the book was a gift in honor of my parents, and at the bottom there was a reminder to “pay it forward” by sharing the book with someone else when finished.  School staff members selected 10 rising fourth or fifth grade students who would benefit from receiving the books, by mail throughout the summer. My sister and I provided the books in mailing envelopes, with the postage prepaid. The school’s office staff added the mailing labels with addresses, and they were also responsible for delivering the packages to the post office every 2 weeks or so during the summer break. I have never been made aware of who receives the books, and I think that little bit of mystery makes this project even more exciting.

While it is important to have community library programs and opportunities for students at school during the summer, sometimes even these initiatives do not help those students who lack an adult at home or transportation to help them attend these events. With the “50 for 50” idea, students receive mail directly at their homes. And, they can read for pure enjoyment- no worksheets, projects, or assignments to complete when finished. By the end of the summer, each student will be able to read 5 books and develop his/her own book collection.

As this summer approaches though, it’s another reminder that this year is different. A lot different. At the end of last summer, Momma unexpectedly passed away. During the winter I had thought about not continuing with the book project. What in the world would I write on the back of the bookmark? And how silly is that to even be a concern? However, her love of reading is something I want to continue to honor, and of course, I am now preparing for this annual activity. My sister and I have started the 4th year of buying books, and the titles selected have improved to reflect a commitment to sharing more diverse books that provide “windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors” for these students. Save Me a Seat and One Crazy Summer have already been purchased for this year’s mailings, and they will definitely help broaden the perspectives of students from this small community.

I tend to think of people who share their wealth as those who create grand events and develop elaborate projects. I think of people whose impact is evident and noticed by many. However, I found a simple method to help address the summer slide, book deserts, the need for diverse books, and at the same time honor my parents—by sharing the wealth that I took for granted. Their love of reading and well-stocked bookshelves were indeed a tremendous gift. Over the past few years I have realized that there is a lot more to “loving children’s literature” than simply keeping up with new releases and booktalking with students in class. It’s essential to share the wealth.



Sarah is a faithful reader of the Nerdy Book Club blog, a serious Twitter lurker, and she has an out-of-control book collection. She works with gifted students and their families in Virginia. You can connect with her on Twitter at @zeppahaywood.