Sunday, November 20, 2016

Book Fair!

My primary responsibility as a Peace Corps Volunteer here is to improve the literacy of school children. As such, one of my tasks is running our school library. During my first year, I had a nice, albeit small, room upstairs that became our library. Each of the three classes downstairs (kindergarten/1st grade, 2nd/3rd grade, and 4th/5th grade—we had no 6th graders last year) had a specific day and time scheduled each week to come up to the library for books.

This year, our children advanced one grade, meaning that we now had 6th graders. The Ministry of Education alloted us a new teacher, but we also needed a new classroom. Thus, the little room that served as my library last year was converted into a classroom. The library shelves were relocated to the hallway area outside the principal's office—a smaller, tighter area, but it was the best we could do given the particular circumstances. In an effort to push academics harder, the weekly designated 10-minute library periods for each class were removed from the class schedules. Instead, students would simply check out and return library books during their lunch and morning breaks (assuming I was around at the time to log the transaction).

I was supportive of all these administrative decisions. However, I noticed that the circulation rate for my little library had declined this year compared with last year. Yet I knew I had "an ace up my sleeve" that would improve the situation and spark the joy of reading for my students. Brand new books were on their way!

There is a great American charity that supports school libraries in the Eastern Caribbean region called Hands Across The Sea. They had sent a shipment of new books last fall that really jump-started my tenure as school librarian. The children get very excited about new books to read! Because at least one of my friends had made a donation to them last November (during their special 3:1 matching grant period), I knew I would also get another new shipment of incredible books this fall (for example, the World Book science set pictured above). [By the way, the 3:1 match is underway again until November 29. It is a great way for even a small donation to make a big difference. Plus, by designating it for my school, you will get a personalized thank you card (with picture) from one of my students. Please click on this page for more details before this special deal expires.]
Because of customs hassles, it took a little longer for the shipment to arrive this year. However, it was certainly worth the wait. It was like Christmas morning as the principal and I opened the boxes this week (that is the two of us in the picture above). I'm so impressed with the fantastic new books they sent, especially the non-fiction books that I had requested (I feel that I benefited immensely from reading non-fiction books, and so I'm trying to pass along that love of non-fiction to my students). Heck, I wanted to read many of the 200+ books they sent for myself, such as some of the following examples.

Since the Road Runner cartoon show was one of my favorites as a child, this well-written non-fiction book gets my personal prize as the best of the new books. It teaches them simple physics by analyzing Wile E. Coyote's mistakes. The picture below shows both the front and back covers.

Similarly, below is a book that teaches science based on Batman.
They also sent some beautiful National Geographic books.
The books in the pictures above are just a mere fraction of the fantastic books they sent to us. After opening the boxes, I had to inscribe the inside cover to show the donor, the date, and our school. I then had to record each book into a log book of donations that we keep. Then, each book gets a green, blue, or yellow dot taped on the spine, to designate them as being for advanced, intermediate, or beginning readers. I always add a white stripe (cut from the extra paper surrounding each dot) to easily sort the non-fiction from the fiction (see my previous blog post with pictures about this process). Between all my other duties at school, it took several days to process hundreds of books.

It dawned on me that we needed to hold a book fair to showcase all these new books. Book fairs are a common occurrence in American elementary schools, but are rarely held in Dominica. This was the perfect time to introduce my school and village to the concept.

Just stuffing them on our limited shelving space would make it hard for the children to really see all these great new books. By inviting the children to come to the school on a Saturday afternoon, we could place all the books face up on tables where they could easily examine them. We could also sell some of older books that we need to remove from our shelves to make room for all these new ones. Plus, we could sell some snacks and drinks to raise some much needed money for the school. The staff agreed with this idea, so in just a couple of days, we threw together our first book fair. The children were informed, signs were put up around the community, and an announcement was made on our school's Facebook page. We weren't sure what to expect in terms of participation, but we figured it was worth a try.

On Saturday morning, another teacher and myself arrived early. The folding walls between the three classes were swung back, and desks were pushed together (plus covered with cloth) to form six tables. Signs were made denoting the six tables for the fiction and non-fiction versions of the three Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced book categories. The books were then arrayed on each table to optimize viewing of their covers. It was the best way for the children to peruse all these great new books.

We started the afternoon with a “celebrity” Read Aloud session led by a member of the Village Council, who used one of the new extra large picture books that were included in this shipment (a student holds one of these oversized books in the picture above). [I can remember performing several celebrity Read Aloud sessions at book fairs when I served on our county school board.] Finally, the students were allowed to enter the ground floor of our school building to peruse the books.
We sold quite a few of our used books at a dollar apiece, as well as sandwiches, cookies (known as “bisquits” here), and juice drinks. Children could also pay a dollar for a chance to reach into a big box and pull out a prize (this is called a “Prize Dip” or just a “Dip”). I'm not sure how much money we made, but the total doesn't matter—every little bit counts here.
One of my joys (after I explained the premise to them) was seeing how much fun they had searching for Waldo in their very first “Where's Waldo” book. The photo above shows eight boys huddled around the Waldo book collectively searching for the elusive fellow in the red and white striped shirt. Many of the students were not just picking their favorite book that they would choose later in the afternoon, but were also planning which subsequent books they would check out from the library--Where's Waldo is probably on several lists.
Towards the end of the day, we allowed the students to choose a book from the tables to take home (in other words, rather than waiting until the books get relocated to the library shelves upstairs, we opened the library log book and let them get a new library book on a Saturday). This was done in seniority (6th graders first, kindergarten last) order. Seeing the excitement about their new books on their faces made all the hard work setting everything up worthwhile!

We finished the afternoon with a prize drawing. I had five kites (which the children love flying on our playing field) that I had brought back with me, which I had decided to donate for this event. With one of them, I also added a few of those glowsticks that can be curled into bracelets. I explained that this kite was a “night kite” because you could bend the glowsticks, attach to the kite, and fly your kite after dark. The boys especially were excited about this prospect. It will be interesting to see if this idea works out successfully.

As I write this on Saturday night, I look back on this first Book Fair with mixed emotions. I had hoped to have more people turn out on a Saturday afternoon (we had about two dozen of our nearly three dozen students, plus various community members). I would have liked to have sold all the used books we had, and made more money for the school. However, one of the things I am learning in Peace Corps is that you cannot control everything, and that I should feel good that we pulled off this event in a relatively short timespan of just a few days. The good news is that I am sure this will “jump start” the excitement about reading at our school, and will have an immediate impact on the circulation rate problem that I had noted earlier.

One more interesting thing happened this day. Just like when I left the school after Community Service Day, our local fisherman had returned with an unusual catch. On that day, I had purchased my first shark to cook. On this day, I purchased my first lion fish (see a picture below). This invasive species is from the Indo-Pacific area, but has been proliferating in the Atlantic where it has no natural predators. It is believed that humans caused this invasion by dumping unwanted lion fish from home aquariums. To combat this invader, people are being encouraged to eat this fish. It is very healthy and quite tasty! I certainly enjoyed my fried lion fish, and will buy it again whenever I can. It was a good way to end a productive day.

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