Posting this entry earlier got derailed by the Marathon bombings and the subsequent lockdown and then a return to school, but I did want to record how I organized the fair. If I had to point to any one reason the book fair was as big a success as it was, I would say it was the time and effort I put into organizing it.
I began laying the groundwork more than a month in advance with a letter home to parents giving them an overview of the fair, the dates, and the parent night event. I also gave this information to the science teacher, who makes the monthly school calendars, so that the dates were on more than one piece of paper. If memory serves, I wound up sending home at least two more notices - one explaining how the book fair would work, the other soliciting volunteers. Each was on brightly colored paper and repeated the dates and times of the fair.
Next, I began to generate excitement amongst the students. I talked up the fair during library and did a 100,000 minute reading challenge. Due to various unforeseen interruptions, the challenge is actually still ongoing, but the kids got really jazzed up about it. I updated the chart (in a high visibility area) weekly, and communicated the progress during morning announcements. If the kids reach 100,000 minutes, the prize will be a teacher-student quiz show, so I'm hoping I can pull if off before I leave. I also postered the school with the posters Scholastic supplied.
Two weeks before the fair, I handed out the preview flyers to the older kids, and one week in advance for the younger ones. I then showed them the preview DVD during library time. This took nearly the entire period, but it was worth it. Many of the highlighted books were my best sellers, and kids definitely remembered books from the flyer and DVDs when they came to make their wish lists. Finally, when students had library the week of the fair, I reminded them of the parent night event, talked up the fun and games and food, and encouraged them to dress up as their favorite book characters.
Lastly, I sent out an email to the entire parent listserv (not a comprehensive list, but a decent percentage) to solicit volunteers, but also to remind people about the book fair and the parent night in particular.
I'll write a separate post detailing how I kept the actual fair organized, but I think laying the groundwork far in advance with both parents and students was essential especially since many had never experienced a book fair before. Credit must go to my principal for knowing her audience, because she told me how to strategize my waves of publicity, and it worked.
When all was said and done, we raised more than $2000 in sales, so more than $1000 in new books for the library. Given that we will not have a budget this year, this is a tremendous amount of money to have on hand, and will go a long way. This is why I did it.
Marathon Monday is a big deal in Boston. The city shuts down to cheer on runners as they cross the finish line of an epic race that takes them through towns and suburbs into the heart of Boston, outside the Copley Square branch of the Boston Public Library. It's also the first official day of spring break, otherwise known as Patriot's Day, and when the weather is gorgeous like it was today, I'm reminded why I have fallen in love with this city I call home.
Around 4 p.m., I received a phone call that alerted me to the fact that something had gone horribly wrong. As soon as I hung up, I did what I always do in times like these: I turned to the internet to find out more. I'm thinking and feeling many things right now, but part of what I've been reflecting on is how my use of the internet in tragedies such as this has evolved over the past twelve years.
The first time my life was directly impacted by a violent event, it was my 16th birthday, September 11th, 2001. I found out about the attacks on the Twin Towers via the phone, and then spent my time getting updates from CNN and BBC News and writing frantic emails to friends in D.C. (where I'd moved from) to find out if everyone was ok. This was in the era of poor internet connections in India and no Facebook, so I made do with what I had.
The second time it happened was November 26, 2008 - I was in Taiwan for a year when I received a text message in the middle of the night from my mother telling me that attacks were underway in Bombay (Mumbai), the city where much of my family lives, where I have lived, and a place that is dear to my heart. I sat down in front of the TV with my laptop opened, chatting over MSN with a friend who lived there, gleaning as much as I could in real-time via news websites and CNN, heartbroken as a city I loved went up in flames and a family member lost his life. I used Facebook, but I didn't rely on it as my primary source of information or sharing, preferring instead to lean on an online message board community.
And now today, April 15th, 2013, I'm in Boston and the way in which I responded to this tragedy is markedly different. Yes, I still found out about it via a phone call, but after that, my entire engagement with this tragedy has been online. The BBC's site supplied me with streaming video, a link posted by a friend from Scotland who shared it on my Facebook wall. To let loved ones know I was alright, I updated my status on Facebook, tweeted, wrote emails, text messages, answered phone calls, replied to WhatsApp messages, and posted on my message board.
As I turned to the New York Times and the Boston Globe for more information, I noticed that both offered streaming news, with information collated from a variety of sources - streaming video or photos from bystanders, tweets from both individuals and official channels, links, and more. individuals as well as official channels, pictures, and more. After seeing another status update from a friend about a woman who is reported missing on Facebook, I headed to the Google site that is crowdsourcing information on runners, filling in vital information about their safety and whereabouts.
None of this is new, obviously, but reflecting on my experiences made mye the observation not only struck me, it made me think about implications for my teaching. As librarians and other educators work to instill in students concepts such as credibility, reliability, and evaluating sources, we must take into account how the obtaining and delivery of news is changing and adapt accordingly. These same concepts are as important as ever, but if our students are to be effective at thinking critically and engaging with the news, we must work to make sure that we teach them how to apply these concepts to a news landscape that is ever-changing. It's a fascinating, challenging endeavor, and one I look forward to immensely.
Wow. Just, wow. Even though it's been more than a week since the parent event, I've still been in book fair mode all week wrapping up the paperwork and distributing ordered books, and I still can't quite believe what happened. I want to pinch myself.
Not only did everything magically come together at the last moment for the parent night event, the event was an unqualified success. Everyone had a fantastic time, and the kids are STILL talking about the book fair, asking if they can still buy books (which I regretfully have to say no to). The fair and the parent night event came together despite my being sick and having no voice, despite being uncertain of if and when I would have volunteers, despite the disruption of standardized testing - it all worked.
Thursday morning dawned with my voice slightly returned, and fifth graders coming down to purchase books. We'd managed to scrounge up two more tables in preparation for the parent night, and so as soon as students were gone, I began rearranging the entire fair. My desk got cleared to hold excess books, and a heavy wooden table got put up against it (my desk is really high) to serve as the cashier's table. Next, I moved the long row of tables in the back so that they didn't spill into the narrow alcove, but allowed instead for easy browsing. Another long table got moved into the hallway opposite the stairs, and one of my two round tables got put outside as well, at the bottom of the stairs.
As soon as dismissal occurred at 2:30, I got to work in earnest. Each table was temporarily cleared to put down colorful plastic tablecloths from iParty. I then began to rearrange books by rough grade/interest level - YA in the back, chapter books on one table, picture books outside, and miscellaneous on the round table by the door. Next, I dashed up to the computer lab to print out new price tags (my handwritten ones had taken a beating), to print "last book - please don't take me" notices to attach to popular books, a form for books that needed to be reordered, and signs for different cases saying "YOUNG ADULT FICTION," "CHAPTER BOOKS," and "LIBROS EN ESPANOL." I also took this opportunity to take all the books out of the closet so that every copy was on display or stacked on my table, something I hadn't been able to do earlier.
It would have been overwhelming and stressful to manage on my own, but thankfully parent and community volunteers began to materialize one by one, and by 4 p.m. the library was filled with people hard at work. While they dealt with the book displays, cutting papers, and sticking price tags on cases, I set up the stations - food in the cafeteria, a candy estimation/author matching game, the photo booth (inspiration from the fabulous Cari Young, who found it on Pinterest), and our face-painter, Ione, who did a phenomenal job.
And suddenly, there were people. An endless stream of people. I didn't get a chance to eat (a kind parent made me a plate) or sit because I was kept busy processing orders until the very last moment, when my principal finally had to drag me away from the table after first telling me to take a deep breath. I got away just in time to see the fashion show of book characters who had come dressed up, with such illustrious visitors as Ramona Quimby, Rue, Katniss Everdeen, Frankie Stein, and a beautiful purple fairy princess.
By the time the night was over, we had raised over $2000. Two. Thousand. Dollars. This translates into something like $1140 in Scholastic dollars, which is simply amazing. Astounding. I nearly cried when I told the Scholastic consultant how much we'd earned - she said that the last book fair, held in 2009, raised a mere $300.
This money is going to have profound implications for the Nathan Hale School Library. I've only got a month left at school, but if a revamped non-fiction collection is my legacy to the school, I will be extraordinarily proud. Knowing that I have helped to make a difference, and seeing the sheer delight on my students' faces as they got their books - those are the two priceless things that made this whole crazy endeavor worthwhile.
This will be brief because it's 11:30 and I have to be up in mere hours for the fourth day of the fair and the parent night, but I wanted to capture some of what I've been through the last two days.
As providence would have it, despite having a severe case of laryngitis that only got worse on Tuesday (to the point where I could barely whisper), I had a dynamic duo of a grandmother and a mother from my first grade class working all day in the library, and for a few hours, a third mother as well. Thank goodness for them, because they made a huge difference to my stress levels and to help me communicate. There've been some rough patches, miscommunications, things I could have done better, a book that was taken without being paid for and written in, students in tears, and trying to juggle teaching with the book fair and having no voice, but overall, I'm astounded.
I'm astounded because everything has come together - well, the parent night remains to be seen, but I think it'll be grand. I'm grateful that my help materialized when I most needed it. And I'm beyond astounded to the point of wanting to cry with sheer gratitude that we've raised a phenomenal sum of money for our library, and the number of new books we're going to be able to buy is filling me with indescribable joy.
For the last two years, my predecessor had a modest (and by modest, I do mean modest) budget of a few hundred dollars, which gets you next to nothing in the book vendor market. She built the library mainly through resourcefulness, hard work, grants, donations, and research. When you consider that fact in conjunction with the fact that 80% of my students are on free/reduced lunches (meaning their families meet the federal indicators for living in poverty), it becomes even more astonishing and remarkable that in two days, TWO DAYS, we have raised just short of $900. And I still have a group of eager fifth graders who have to purchase tomorrow, and the parent night. Sure, there've been some really large orders - parents who are prioritizing buying books, and a handful of kids who've walked in proudly with saved up allowances/birthday/Christmas money, but it's really the little purchases that have made the difference. $5 here, $4 there - it adds up.
I'm hopeful the book fair will end with a huge success tomorrow night at the parent event, but even if it doesn't, my kids have had the best time ever, and the delight on their faces when they hand over their money and the fact that there's going to be HEAPS of new books to hand them when they ask "Ms. Bery, have you gotten any new books recently?" makes every moment of sore feet, stress, worry, and effort worth it. A million times over.
It's never a good time to lose your voice when you're a teacher, but do you know whats' a really BAD day for it to happen? Yeah, the first day of your book fair. But, this whole crazy venture rests on my shoulders, so in I went.
At about midnight last night, I decided to email all the teachers again and tell them that I was going to take their classes in groups of 7 (roughly a third of a class at a time) instead of the originally planned half, since the space wouldn't allow for it. I have to say, despite not having a voice, and without the help of two of the paras who would usually be there (one was out sick, the other had to supervise lunch/recess because we got way behind schedule), we made it, and the day was a relative success.
It helped tremendously that I had two mothers and a grandmother show up for the craziest part of the day. They took care of the kids (the youngest ones, who can't fill in their own sheets), and I got to finish putting the price tags on my book displays (more on that in a future post). I do worry that it's going to take some time for the message to get across that the kids need to bring in money to pay for the books, but I'm hoping that since we did previews on Monday and I'll be in all week, that eventually we'll hit decent sales as the kids get the idea that they can bring in money any day this week.
Even my parent night event is coming together - after an urgent plea sent out over the weekend, I got three parents saying they could help with stations for part of the evening, which is better than no parents. I even managed to wrangle a face painter/balloon artist for the low price of $100 for two hours, and my principal OK'd the idea. Dinner might not materialize in the form of pizza as hoped since none of the local pizza joints seem to have general managers who work five days a week, but I think between parents bringing some food, popcorn and cookies, we'll have enough nibbles to go around.
I keep reminding myself that other than Thursday, today was the most stressful day. It's downhill from here, and for that my mind and my voice are truly grateful.
My name is Ms. Bery. I am a PK-8 library media specialist in the Boston area. In addition to being a certified school librarian, I am also certified in instructional technology, and have a strong interest in exploring and integrating technology in new and exciting ways in the classroom.
I am also a 2016 PBS LearningMedia Local Digital Innovator, and a 2015 recipient of the Massachusetts School Library Association's President's Award.
Check out the Sandbox for apps and websites I've found useful in supporting student learning and creativity. I also review children's, middle grade, and young adult books on Instagram.
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