SkyHorse books on tableIt’s hard to believe this post is coming less than one month after book distributions began.

It seems like we blinked and they were over – that magical period of two-and-a-half weeks in which we gave away 45,000 books to 3,700 students at 10 elementary schools.

It was, by turns, exhilarating and exhausting, joyful and humbling. It was a reminder of how crazy we are for doing what we do in a matter of just a few weeks — and it was a reminder that it is one of the most worthwhile and rewarding endeavors of which many of our volunteers, board members, and (tiny) staff have ever been a part.

We nearly doubled our program reach this year – to 3,700 students from 2,000 the year prior. We added five new schools: Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary, Winterville Elementary and Downtown Academy in Athens; Paul E. Dunbar Elementary in Atlanta; and M.E. Freeman Elementary in Warrenton.

Thank you to Designer Transport Services, in Atlanta, for donating delivery of books to Dunbar Elementary School! And thank you to the teachers and staff who came and helped unload the truck so efficiently!

Thank you to Designer Transport Services, in Atlanta, for donating delivery of books to Dunbar Elementary School! And thank you to the teachers and staff who came and helped unload the truck so efficiently!

These additional schools were a huge stretch for us — in terms of fundraising, in terms of logistics (just getting the books to the out-of-town schools was a major challenge), and in terms of staffing. But it was really remarkable to serve new schools for the first time in three years.

In many of our existing schools, the students are totally familiar with Books for Keeps. It’s a good thing. They start asking in August when Books for Keeps is coming back (and we love hearing that from media specialists). But, it also means that there’s no sense of delighted surprise when we tell them they will take home 12 books — by this point, many of the older students can recite exactly how a distribution works. And children can be spectacularly blunt: “We still only get to pick out one ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid?'” or “You had most of these sports books last year.”

At the new schools, seeing faces light up just when we tell them we have “Wimpy Kid” or watching a gaggle of boys flip. out. over the sports books is such a joy. (But those blunt, demanding students keep us on our toes and remind us that we can always work harder to bring better books and more of what they want each spring.)

Still – at the newest service sites and at our existing schools – we saw, heard and experienced so much that brings home the reason we do this year after year. So, we wanted to share with you just a handful of the many stories from this year’s distributions –

Many thanks to Michael Huebener (www.huebener.com) for sharing his wonderful photos of our distribution at Freeman Elementary School in Warrenton.

Many thanks to Michael Huebener (www.huebener.com) for sharing his wonderful photos of our distribution at Freeman Elementary School in Warrenton.

On the first day of distributions at J.J. Harris Elementary School, students were walking into school that morning clapping and cheering “It’s Books for Keeps day!!”

One Alps Road Elementary School kindergartner told a volunteer, “I’m gonna read Spiderman a thousand times!”

One volunteer observed a little boy who, as he was walking into the media center, was clearly disinterested. It seemed obvious that he did not think he’d find anything he would want to read. By the time the volunteer was helping him count his books, the volunteer told us that this little boy was *so* excited he had a bag full of 12 sports books.

Deirdre Sigiuchi, the media specialist at Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary School, called Books for Keeps day “The most exciting day in the history of our school.”

For the first time this year, based on demand last year, we had a small selection of children’s cook books. They were a huge hit. Many young people told us they were going to cook with Mom or Dad, or with Grandma. One little boy told a volunteer, “I’m going to give this to my mom for Mother’s Day.”

An Oglethorpe fourth-grader walked up to Executive Director Leslie Hale and said, “I just wanted to say, ‘thank you,’ because this is, like, the best day of my life.”

An email from the mother of a kindergartner at Dunbar Elementary School: “I would like to THANK YOU and BOOKS FOR KEEPS very very much!!!! On Wednesday April 30, I picked my daughter up from school (and) she was so excited to show and tell me about what was contained in the bright green bag she toted so proudly. It was a bag full of beautiful and amazing books!!! We read all night. I cannot Thank you all enough! Thank you for not only giving my daughter Christmas in April but all of the children!”

Freeman-2014-7

Photo credit to Michael Huebener – www.huebener.com

A second-grader at Gaines Elementary School to a volunteer: “I think it’s going to be great, because I’m going to read to my sister and share her books, too. We’re going to mix and match – she’s in Kindergarten.” And another second-grader: “It’s awesome because my mom doesn’t have to spend money.”

At Freeman Elementary School, we saw so many examples of children sharing and being kind to one another. One little boy was walking around with a book in his hand, and when a volunteer suggested he put his book in his bag, he shook his head and pointed to his friend, saying “it’s for him.” He held the book up to show his friend from across a table and said “Thomas the Tank Engine!” His friend’s face lit up, and the first little boy handed the book over. He had spotted the book, knew his friend loved Thomas the Tank Engine, and wanted to make sure that the friend got the book.

An email from a second-grade teacher at Winterville Elementary School: “Thank you so much for the work you do to provide students with one one by TWELVE free books. When the students returned to the room, it was like I was witnessing the most magical Christmas morning. It brought tears to my eyes and joy to my heart. Most of my students have no (books) to very few books at home so they were very proud of the books. Several parents called to pass along their thanks.”

An email from another Winterville teacher: “I cannot express what joy the Books for Keeps program brought to the boys and girls in my first grade class. I simply could NOT keep them from going into their bags and sharing books. It was remarkable to see some of my struggling readers reading with other students and highly engaged.”

Allstate 4Lastly, we want to thank the many people and organizations who made distributions not just possible, but a huge success. The Clarke County School District, Atlanta Public Schools, and the Warren County Board of Education top the list for welcoming us into their schools. Thank you to the Annie E. Casey Foundation Civic Site in Atlanta for providing critical support to make distributions a possibility at Dunbar, and to Warren County Family Connection-Communities in Schools for helping make sure we had volunteers at distributions in Warrenton.

We received invaluable help with book deliveries – from Designer Transport Service in Atlanta for donating delivery of books to our Atlanta school, something that saved us roughly $800; and from Two Men & a Truck in Athens, for again providing us with a big discount on delivery of roughly 40,000 books to seven Athens-Clarke schools in a single day. The crew from Two Men & a Truck were troopers, to be sure.

Thank you to the countless volunteers who came early, stayed late, gave selflessly, and delighted in doing it. That especially goes to the civic groups and businesses that staffed entire shifts: the Lions Club, the Elks Club, Food Buy in Atlanta, Allstate in Atlanta and Athens, Wells Fargo in Atlanta and

Photo credit to Michael Huebener - www.huebener.com

Photo credit to Michael Huebener – www.huebener.com

Athens, Zaxby’s Franchising Inc., Junior League of Athens, and the Kiwanis Club. More than 100 volunteers worked at distribution shifts over a 13-day period, and we could not have done what we did without their help!

Last – but certainly not least – thank you to the community for supporting us all year to provide Christmas in May to students who, in many cases, go home during the summer with no other opportunities for educational growth. That’s the reason we do this, and we couldn’t do it without you.