Fourth-graders at Thomas Edison Charter School in Wilmington shoved free books into their drawstring bags as they excitedly hunted through a library set-up Wednesday morning.
My Very Own Library, a program created by the University of Chicago, aims to provide access to literature for children while developing their passion for reading.
Thomas Edison Principal Salome Thomas-El, who grew up in crime-ridden North Philadelphia, said the knowledge that comes with books is what helped him escape that environment.
“A lot of these kids face the same challenges that I did growing up,” he said, “and I know these books are a step in helping them overcome societal barriers.”
Bringing books to students
United Way Delaware and Scholastic Corp. have partnered with the University of Chicago to bring My Very Own Library to the First State for the past 10 years.
The weeklong book fairs typically take place twice a year, once during the holidays and once in spring.
The book fair will travel to 17 other Delaware schools this holiday season, according to Ken Livingston, who’s the director of Get Delaware Reading – Wilmington and Delaware’s site coordinator for My Very Own Library.
When students choose the books they want to read, they develop stronger literacy skills, which can lead to better test scores and a lifelong love of reading and learning, Livingston said.
“I don’t read books too much because I don’t really have many, so now I’ll be able to have a collection to bring home,” said student Kayden Washington. “When I have books available, reading is one of my favorite hobbies.”
Thomas-El said that comment highlights why the book fair is so important.
“Underserved children in the city may have homes that have 1, 5, 10, 20 books,” he said. “Children in a more affluent community or in a suburban environment live in homes with hundreds and thousands of books, so this gives them the opportunity to even the playing field.”
Owning the books, rather than borrowing from a library, is an important factor in developing a student’s ability and love for reading, as well as creating a sense of responsibility.
“Having ownership of these books really makes the kids take great care of them and treat them with respect,” Thomas-El saud. “It also helps them to develop good habits, because now they are readers who actually own books and want to own more.”
Livingston noted that studies have shown it’s critical students are able to read by the third grade. By fourth grade they are reading to learn and it becomes harder to keep up and to improve reading skills.
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“Reading by the third grade only happens if parents and schools work together to give students quality books to bring home to keep,” he said.
Each student is allowed five free books to take home, and the book fair is stocked to accommodate the student body size of a specific school.
Thomas Edison Charter serves 650 students from kindergarten through eighth grade. Accounting for extra orders, about 3,500 free books will be given to students over the course of this week.
Out of Washington’s five freebies, a Spiderman graphic novel is the one he’s most excited to read.
His classmate, Alaijah Thompson, says the first book she will read is “Wild River,” a spooky adventure book.
“I love to read scary books in my freetime,” she said. “This is a great holiday gift.”
Thompson said she and her family go around Wilmington and give homeless people food and little presents during the week of Christmas.
“It’s awesome that my school can give us brand new books as gifts,” she said, “especially since us as kids don’t have the money to buy books we like.”
Here are the other schools My Very Own Library will travel to:
Brandywine School District
Harlan Elementary School
Capital School District
Fairview Elementary School
Towne Point Elementary School
Caesar Rodney School District
Reily Brown Elementary School
Christina School District
The Bancroft School
The Bayard School
Stubbs Early Education Center
Mclary Elementary School
Brader Elementary School
Colonial School District
Eisenberg Elementary School
Wilmington Manor Elementary School
Indian River School District
Georgetown Elementary School
Red Clay School District
Highlands Elementary School
Lewis Dual Elementary School
Warner Elementary School
Forest Oak Elementary School
Raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Jarek earned a B.A. in journalism and a B.A. in political science from Temple University in 2021. After running CNN’s Michael Smerconish’s YouTube channel, Jarek became a reporter for the Bucks County Herald before joining Delaware LIVE News.
Jarek can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at (215) 450-9982. Follow him on Twitter @jarekrutz
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