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Practically Paradise
Inside Practically Paradise

The Reading Race

Practically Paradise was quiet last week as we prepared for our annual book fair. I hear from some traveling teachers and technicians that some schools do not create such an elaborate event as we do, so I thought I’d share some of what you’ll find during our book fair this year.

Why should we work so hard to decorate and create an atmosphere of excitement for a book fair? The moment a group of students walks in to see the book fair each year is worth it. They ask about it constantly and look forward to finding new books. As I guide them on a tour and mention new titles and their favorite authors, there is usually a chorus of excited "Yeah’s! Oh, oh, oh’s! and Hooray’s!" I paused in my tour Friday to call to my assistant Dorothy "That sound is the best medicine to a librarian’s ears!"

We are using THE most popular book fair company in the country, but I didn’t like their theme revolving around snow while our temperatures were still in the 100’s. Having grown-up in the north in the coldest spot in Iowa, I have a different appreciation for snow and a healthy respect/disdain for large accumulations. The last major snow in Nashville of 7 inches in an hour was before this group of new Kdg’s were born so it is unimaginable. So…. we planned our own theme "The Reading Race: Readers are Winners!" We are connecting with related arts teachers also to show that Creative People are Winners and Healthy People are Winners.

I used my knowledge of stock car racing and racing terms to bunch together the crowds for our tour around turns 1, 2, and 3 before giving them the green flag to begin making their wish lists. We signaled the white flag of one minute and my fourth grade library assistants (those who passed the test last week to qualify) waived checkered flags when it was time to line up so another group could enter.

The Hy-Vee grocery store in Cherokee, Iowa, lent me their racing pennants (thanks, Brother Randy Ritts!). They covered our ceiling and extended along the hallway all the way to the front foyer. My father builds race cars and sent additional racing flags and posters of his car (thanks, Dad Alyn Ritts!). My poor mother tried to smuggle some of his trophies into the box, but he noticed the gaps throughout the living room and all over the TV immediately. Instead Mom Sue Ritts was able to sneak in their collection of pinewood derby cars from years of leading Cub Scout troops. Thanks, Mom!

One of my parent volunteers is a graphic designer so she was able to scan in the race car poster and create new posters about Readers are Winners using my dad’s  #57 car. She even created a poster for Donuts For Dads that has donuts on the car instead of tires. Thanks, Gillian Housewright! She created exceptional posters for our reading contests by grade level that have cars advance alonging a track based upon the number of books classes are reading. With the help of Nana Charlene Smith, Gillian conceived of a spectator grandstand in the hallway with large full-color photos of parents cheering on their children with sayings like "Way to Go! Keep it up! I’m rooting for you!" We know that parents will be touring the building during open house Thursday night and will want to add their pictures to our wall of honor. Gillian explained that she believes our students will be filled with pride to see parents cheering them along and that they will behave better knowing someone is watching them. I love it!

We offer two big parent events – the school wide Open House Thursday night with a PTA sponsored ice cream party at the end and our Donuts for Dads (And People With Mustaches!) We have mom’s creating fake mustaches and I’ll have my eyebrow pencils on hand to draw on mustaches for all the non-dads that come join us Wednesday morning. I am yearly amazed at the number of parents and grandparents who appreciate the opportunity to come to school before 8 a.m. We appreciate parent support of our students’ interest in reading.

We will offer the One for Books program and collect coins to help students purchase books. Many of our teachers use their prizes and their own personal funds to provide books to students whose parents cannot afford them. It is my goal that every child receive at least one book so we save lots of coins throughout the year to help them with sales tax. In my 18 years of librarianship, I have never had a child leave the preview without wanting one book. I take it as a personal mission to be sure everyone receives something. Sometimes the Book Fairy visits classrooms with coupons for children who have "won" a free book.

What has amazed me this year is the response from dad’s and other people who have never really showed any enthusiasm about books before. Our theme for the entire year in the library is The Reading Expedition. Our Reading Race is the kick-off to the year and I can’t wait to see how this grows as we travel through genres, to places, visiting people, and through resources. Enjoy the journey with us.