Do you know what a book fair is?
I’m not talking about a carnival based on literature, or a convention. I’m talking about a small market, opened in elementary schools, where the bookstore comes to the students. I know that I attended a few, blank check in hand, my mother checking on my selections. And it was exhilarating knowing that I could buy any book, any amount of books that I wanted. I did and I read, and I loved it.
I believe in books. I believe in that invisible world that exists under our eyes, if we only choose to open its cover. And I love choosing a book from my shelf, reading it and savoring the fact that it is mine to choose, read and love. They are the vehicles to a happiness I think should be universally known and celebrated.
My mother is an Area Reading Coach in the city; she deals with twenty-six elementary schools, many of which are at-risk and have a student body lacking the financial means to buy food regularly, let alone a book. Book fairs are held, but as can be expected, sales are low. Heart-wrenchingly low when you think about the world these kids can’t hold in their hands. The characters they can’t meet and own; Clifford the Big Red Dog or Sam I Am with his green eggs and ham.
Classroom libraries and regular libraries are wonderful, don’t get me wrong. But there is something intangibly perfect about placing a book upon your shelf, knowing that it will be there whenever you want to read it. You own a world. Or at least, you can if you can pay. And five dollars becomes exorbitant when juggling the grocery, water and electricity bills.
Sometimes a local bank helps; they donate money to the book fairs so that the students can buy a book. So when my mother saw a young boy pick up a book, look through it with a resigned interest, and put it back, she couldn’t help but ask why?
“I don’t have enough money,” he answered. And he said it with such honesty and finality. My mother’s and then my own heart broke. My mother took that book and bought it for him and she doesn’t do this for every child. You see, my mother saw me in this boy. She knew that he believed in what I believed, what I still believe. That book held something he wanted for himself, something he didn’t have already.
I guess you could say that I also believe in the smile the little boy wore as he left the book fair, carrying his gift with a reverence uncommon even among adults. As I become an adult, I only hope that I can share that gift with the thousands of others whose shelves are still bare.
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