I’ve always been an avid reader for as long as I can remember, and in elementary school, the Scholastic Book Fair was basically as fun as Christmas Day for me. Those metal carts filled with all kinds of books, from picture books to chapter books, mysteries, biographies, The Baby Sitters Club, Nancy Drew, The Boxcar Children, Clifford — I was in heaven. Man am I having all of the nostalgia right now. And who could forget the bane of every parent’s existence? All those erasers and pencils and other plastic stuff. But dang it, I loved those pencils so I could have a special writing utensil to use while journaling in my Harriet the Spy notebook I made from a Composition Notebook (remember those?). I guess my love of writing stories and my nerdiness started at a young age.
Looking back, I realize I was so fortunate that my parents gave me some dollars to spend on those pencils and books every time the Scholastic Book Fair came to school. But what about those kids whose parents couldn’t afford to give them money to spend? I can only imagine how disheartening that would be to be the only kid not picking out a book to buy.
Luckily, writer and book publisher Jon M. Sweeney tweeted out a wonderful idea on Oct. 20 about a way to make sure every kid in his daughter’s class would have the opportunity to purchase a book at the Scholastic Book Fair when it came to her school.
“Scholastic Book Fair fliers coming home. Suggestion: Quietly offer to your kid's teacher that you'd like to give $8-10 to her/him to quietly give to 2 kids who don't receive $ from home to buy a book. I've watched at the fairs the kids who wish they could buy a book, but can't,” the tweet read.
What a thoughtful and brilliant suggestion. Can you imagine if we all did this for our children’s classrooms? Understandably, this tweet was loved and shared over 10,000 times, and it's been making the rounds on Facebook. Such a simple idea and I'm sitting here thinking, "Duh, why hasn't anyone else thought of that?"
So what prompted Sweeney to tweet this idea? "What caught my attention to this cause was volunteering at the fair last year and watching a few kids come up with $1 to spend, saying, 'This is what my dad gave me. What can I get for this?' And all they could get was the plastic crap," he says. "I came up with the idea of giving a bit of money to my daughter's teacher. It happened last year when my daughter was in 2nd grade, and her teacher perfectly understood the need, as well as the quiet subtlety of the approach I was hoping for. We didn't want to single out any kids, or draw attention to what we were doing in any way. Then, later, I did the giving directly myself, while volunteering during the fair and kids would come in who didn't have money for a book but clearly wanted one."
And looking through Twitter, most teachers also wholeheartedly agree with Sweeney's sentiment, and not-so-ironically, a lot of them were English teachers. Manhattan high school English teacher Chris Van Dyke says he thinks having a donation system in place for children to use money at the book fairs is incredibly important, since "not all families have the financial means to buy books for their kids.
"Access to books is not only incredibly important for a kid's reading and academic development, but there can be a huge social stigma for students who are unable to afford to buy books when their peers can," he tells Romper in an email. "This is true to some extent in all schools, but in an economically diverse school, it's even more important that the school actively have some system in place in order to make that diversity a community asset, rather than a burden on the less economically advantaged students."
In fact, this year Van Dyke says his daughter's class did a 'collective' book fair fund. "The week of the Scholastic Book fair, parents were asked to send in $15 if they could afford it, and then on the day her class attended the fair, every kid was allowed to choose up to $10 worth of books. I thought this was particularly thoughtful, as there were no kids singled out, and every kid got to pick what they wanted. (We did then attend the fair after school with our daughter and bought her a few more later, but the class experience was equal)."
For teachers who teach in lower-income schools, they usually have to take it upon themselves to help their students out. Ashly Benford, an ESOL teacher for students in third through fifth grade, says she prefers to give students books from her own classroom library since she works at a Title I school. "My school is a Title I school and most of the parents that have money for their child to purchase books don't have the money to fund another child," she says.
And a donation, whether it's for your own child's classroom or for another classroom at a Title I school can go a long way. In fact, one person replied to Sweeney's tweet by saying, "Someone did this for me as a kid and I am so grateful to them. Like I loved reading and I loved those scholastic book fairs. They were my whole world."
So remember, one little act of kindness can go an extremely long way for a child. Reading and literacy opens doors for everyone, so why not make sure every kid has a chance? Thanks for the great message, Jon. Maybe your suggestion will ensure another kid will have the tools needed to become an author one day like you.