The metal crates rose like a fortress above the heads of the Lake Ridge Elementary students, encasing books, posters and gummy-bear-scented erasers. The Scholastic Book Fair was in town at last.
On Feb. 6, the doors to the library opened, revealing popular children’s books like “Making Bombs for Hitler,” “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and “Enemy Above.”
“[The kids] love it,” said Lake Ridge librarian Maria LaBarbera. “They [were] lined up at the door Monday morning with a bag full of change.”
LaBarbera partnered with Scholastic when she began working at Lake Ridge in 2006. Her contract with the company enables her to keep 25 percent of the $24,500 profit made in eight days. The book fair was the biggest fundraiser for the library program, and teachers were allowed input on what was purchased.
“It buys things for centers like 3-D pens and materials to run our 3-D printer,” said LaBarbera. “Also decorative things like signage, beanbags, things that make this place feel welcoming and homey.”
It takes LaBarbera the entire month of January to plan for the book fair. She hosts several activities leading up to the event, such as the author preview video showing what will be offered at the fair. Then the children are prepared for the Scholastic-sponsored All for Books program, which is funded by students bringing in spare change for the benefit of their peers.
“[Scholastic matches] one book for every dollar that we raise for children’s charity, but all that money stays here in our building,” said LaBarbera.
The All for Books program allows students to purchase books if they don’t have the money, and the leftover funds are given to teachers for classroom libraries. This year Lake Ridge collected $6,800 in loose change.
“That’s important for our kids especially to learn how to give back and learn that it’s not all about us; it’s also about others,” said LaBarbera.
Students also have the opportunity to earn free books throughout the year through “myON,” an online reading program that tracks student engagement in books. Cathy Botts, a multiage teacher at Lake Ridge, explained why reading is so important.
“I tell mine, ‘If you all want to drive a car and you can’t read, then you can’t pass your driver’s license test, and you will not be driving a car,’” she said.
Botts took some of her weaker readers to the book fair to pick out books for her classroom.
“They just got extra excited,” said Botts. “They felt so important, and they actually have been reading more this week. I’ll probably do that every year until I retire.”
Students are allowed to peruse the book fair by themselves, something that isn’t typical in the real world.
“We don’t take a kindergartener to the mall and say ‘OK, go pick out what you want, and I’ll meet you back at the food court,’” said Botts. “Just having that autonomy of shopping by themselves, oh my goodness, they think that is the greatest thing. They take that shopping list home, and they just feel so important.”
The final event of the book fair occurred on Valentine’s Day. The children invited their grandparents to eat lunch, and then they all proceeded to the library to buy books. An estimated 100 grandparents attended this year.
“I think our parent involvement is a huge part of it because when you have so much extra help, you can do more,” said LaBarbera. “And the kids just end up benefitting from it, as well as the teachers.”
The families of students helped serve as well. Of the 118 volunteering slots that LaBarbera requested, 90 percent of them were filled.
Lynda Burns, an active parent to fourth-grader Allison, volunteered at the book fair all day everyday, as she has for the past five years.
“I think it’s a good way for parents to get to know the children, the staff, and it’s just interesting to be here,” said Burns.
Older age groups also help out with reading in the classroom.
“The little ones come in, and they look up to the big kids,” said Botts. “And when these big kids are sitting there saying ‘Hey man, did you know alligators…’(we have a lot of nonfiction books now), it just draws the little kids into wanting to read. If the intrinsic desire is there, it will happen.”
From a student’s perspective, the book fair’s mystique is simple.
“Just the fact that there are lots and lots of books and all the little popular gadget thingies is enough for me,” said Allison.