When Amy Franks was talking to a group of third graders she had never met before earlier this month, one student raised her hand for “more of a comment than a question.” The girl said she knew about Book Harvest, the organization where Franks works, through fliers and free books at her dentist’s office.
“I always take some home,” the student said.
“Ah, you’re talking about our Community Book Bank shelf!” said Franks, Book Harvest’s education partnerships manager.
For elementary students in Durham and elsewhere in the Triangle, Book Harvest provides access to books so students can build their home libraries more and more each year. The organization partners with groups like the local dentist office to put books in the most convenient places for students and their families.
But the third graders at Fayetteville Street Elementary School were participating in another Book Harvest program — Books on Break. At a free book fair, students picked out 10 books each to take home with them during the summer. Franks said the idea is to prevent “summer slide,” or the loss of skills due to months without exposure and practice during summer break.
“They’re either retaining or increasing their reading skills so that when they return to school in the fall, you don’t have that one to two months of reteaching and reviewing to get them back to where they should have been on the first day of school,” Franks said. “So we’re hoping that reading the books that they select and take home over the summer will help them be on track to start the new school year exactly where they need to be. So it helps them and it helps their teachers.”
Book Harvest staff and volunteers facilitate free book fairs at nine Durham elementary schools with the highest percentages of students who qualify for free- and reduced-priced lunch and provide books and toolkits for others in the area to host similar ones. Before the students at Fayetteville Street Elementary were released to each pick their 10 books, a different student raised his hand and asked if he would eventually have to pay. Franks reassured him, “No, we never charge any money for our books. Our books are always free.”
“So you can get 100 books and they would be free?” the student asked.
Franks replied: “Yes sir, you can get 1,000 books and they would be free!”
Later, in an interview, Franks explained children are often not familiar with this model: “We have to reiterate it, because, again, the question is, ‘What’s the catch?'”
The children were visibly excited and also took their selection seriously. Many students picked out books for younger siblings or cousins. Book Harvest does not limit students to grade-level material.
“For us, both the quantity and choice are key,” said Daniele Berman, Book Harvest’s community and events manager. “So it’s not just one book, it’s not just a book that we hand out.”
One student picked out a book from a table full of Spanish text and said, “My grandmother is going to love this. I’ll read it to her.”
Book Harvest has been in schools in Durham and Orange counties in some capacity since 2012, Berman said. But before school lets out this year, Book Harvest is doing free book fairs like this one in Columbus and Bladen counties in schools still recovering from Hurricane Florence. Franks is from that area and wanted to make sure the expansion served communities who need books the most. One of the elementary schools they’re headed to is the one Franks attended.
“As you can imagine, there was a lot of destruction,” Franks said. “The kids were out of school for weeks. And there were many supplies, including books, that were destroyed, whether it was because of the flooding initially or when things get wet, they get moldy. So lots of things had to be thrown out. That went into our decision-making around where we were going next.”
For schools who use their toolkits, Book Harvest provides enough books for each child to pick out three books. The organization wants as many children as possible to have access to free books.
Berman wrote in an email: “We aspire for this to be a universal statewide experience for every K-5th student in NC.”