It started with a phone call. I had already read the book that I was to be giving away and felt that this novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, needed a different venue than the grocery store where I had given them away the previous year. That giveaway was a more mainstream story; this book was a coming-of-age novel, with themes befitting the life of a teen. High school students, particularly those who were having difficulty reading or felt marginalized, might be my target audience.
I called and left a message for the principal. Mr. Mathews* called me back a few days later. I explained the concept of World Book Night—that a half million books were to be given away to light and non-readers on the night of April 23, and that I was to be one of the volunteers giving books away. I told him about the book, that it was a coming-of-age novel set in the ninth grade, and how I thought that it might be a good fit with some of the students. “Do you wish to discuss it with some of the English teachers?” I asked.
His mind had already jumped ahead. “No, but how about giving them away during the freshman lunch period?” he said. “We are really trying to get students to read. In fact, we have just converted our media center back to a library (with actual books).”
What I thought would be a hard sell turned out to be easy. Inwardly, I was screaming and shouting, fist in the air, “Yes, yes, yes!” after we worked out a day and time. Everything was all set; I just needed to pick up my books.
My choice of pick-up point was a local library, and the coordinator, Katie, had already scheduled a World Book Night event on the 23rd inviting all the givers to come and celebrate. This was a first experience for her, but she was clearly on board with the concept. As it turned out, it was not well attended, but that provided a couple of bonuses. First, it gave me a chance to get to know her. I also found out that she had received several extra boxes of books that had been damaged in transport. Many of the books themselves were fine, but she wasn’t sure what to do with them. Being in the right place, I added to my inventory of books to give away at the high school. Now, I had the Dover Thrift edition of 100 Best-Loved Poems and Walter Dean Myers’ Sunrise Over Fallujah, and both were perfect for ninth graders. Instead of the original twenty copies of Chbosky’s novel, I now had well over forty books to share.
When I phoned the high school to make sure that I was expected the following day, I found that Mr. Mathews had been actively promoting the event. Several announcements had been made over the loudspeaker on days prior to my visit.
After signing in at the office, I began setting up a display table when two sophomore girls came up and asked, “May we have one? Please, please, please? We aren’t freshmen, but we’ll share. Promise!” I felt I couldn’t turn them down, and off they went down the hall.
Freshmen lunch period arrived, and the principal made an announcement: “Come get a book from Mrs. Smith. I want to see it being read. I want to see it dog-eared from use. I want you to not keep it, but share with your friends. I expect to see you guys reading it.” In this way he introduced me to the students, and I spoke about World Book Night and the three different books I was giving away.
As students walked to the lunch line, a few stopped and tentatively asked to have a book as if they didn’t want to be caught taking one. Students dressed as Goths, students who seemed quiet and shy, students from all the various groups slowly, but eventually, descended upon the display of books sitting on the table. A few kids acted aloof, but covertly checked out the books as they sat eating. Some definitely wanted The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but others were thrilled to have the poetry book, and at least one girl that day exclaimed over the novel by Myers. “I loved his novel Fallen Angels; may I have one?”
As the lunch period ended for the freshmen, I still had copies sitting on the table. That didn’t last. As the mass of freshmen passed by, a few class members each surreptitiously snagged copies as if they didn’t want their friends to know, yet there were some more motivated kids who were interested enough to ask questions about World Book Night and how to get involved.
When the upperclassmen arrived, they were more self-assured and asked if they could have a book, too. As the last lunch period neared its end, the principal was quick to reassure me that they’d make sure all of these books would be handed out by their librarian, if necessary, and read.
By the end of the last lunch period, however, all the books were in the hands of the students, who were already making deals to swap titles with friends. As I was leaving, I thanked Mr. Mathews for allowing me the opportunity to hand out the books. “You are welcome anytime,” he said. “Next year?”
“I can only hope.”
This was originally written for the World Book Night essay contest that was held post-event, but it couldn’t be shared until the selection of the winner. Unfortunately, World Book Night US was cancelled because of rising costs of giving away books free; however, the organization in the UK is still going strong, and they are even encouraging givers to give away books of their choice on April 23, 2015. So, despite the official end of World Book Night US, I will be giving away some books that I purchased through the Friends of the Huron Public Library’s book sale last fall as well as some books donated by Drinian Press, LLC. Theses books won’t be handed out at the local high school as I had planned when I wrote the essay, but regardless, I still plan on honoring World Book Night. Some of the books will be new; some will be used, but all will be given away free to readers of any kind.
Additionally, on April 21, 2015, it is International Bookcrossing Day, a day to share books through http://www.bookcrossing.com and I will be giving away books by “wild releasing” books then. I won’t be the only one; bookcrossers from all around the world plan on sharing our love of reading and books with the world so if you find a book or are handed a book in the coming week, accept it, read it, or pass it along.
* The books were given away at the Huron High School on April 24, 2014; some of the names were changed for anonymity’s sake.