World Book Night. It was a really great experience.
After managing to forget (for an entire week) to go by Quail Ridge Books to pick up my box of World Book Night editions of Kate Dicamillo's "Because of Winn-Dixie" I drove by the store on the way home last night. My first sign that it was going to be a fun evening was the enthusiasm with which I was greeted by the sales clerk who took me to the back of the store where my "Givers Box" of books was waiting for me. (This is one of the great things about Indie Bookstores. They're run by people who genuinely love books and get behind people who want to share a love of reading.)
I drove home, got ready, and headed out.
Now there's something potentially creepy about a middle-aged man scouting out kids to approach, even if it's just to give away a book. Besides, it was heading towards dinner time and I didn't know how many kids were even going to be out. One safe place that came to mind was our local library, a Regional Branch that is often used as a free after-school care facility by the families who live in the low-rent apartment complex across the street. I checked in with the head librarian who said he thought it would be okay if I gave away books. (Despite being involved in the distribution of Giver Boxes, he seemed perplexed that someone would come to his library to give them away.)
My thought was that these kids may be surrounded by books all afternoon, but they rarely check any out. I see them playing on the computers, but rarely do I see any of them reading. I also had my doubts about there being many books in their home, meaning they likely didn't have many books of their own.
I walked up to a kid sitting at a computer and improvised an opening line that worked well in the library: "How would you like a book of your very own?" Most of the kids said a mystified, "Yes". Only one said no, but another kid who ran up to me asking if she could have one made up for that.
With slightly over half the books gone I headed out to the local grocery stores thinking parents might have their kids with them as they shopped for dinner. My opening line changed as I started by addressing the parents and then the kid. "Tonight is World Book Night," I said, pointing to the World Book Night logo on the box, "and lucky people like me get to give away books tonight. Would you like a book of your very own?"
I gave one copy to a mother to be able to read to her two young daughters. One kid looked at the book and said, "My teacher reads this!" Only one parent asked, "What's the book?" (When I told her, she smiled and said, "That's a great book!")
The best moment of the night, though, was a kid in the library who wasn't too sure at all about this old guy offering her a book. When she saw the cover, her face brightened into an amazing smile. "Because of Winn-Dixie!" she said. "This is my favorite book! I'm going to read it again tonight!"
Being able to give away copies of a book that I love to kids for whom it might be the only book they can call their own is an incredible feeling. It's hard to describe how great it made me feel to be able to put that book into so many young hands.
I'll definitely sign up again next year. (If you didn't this year, you should next year, too!)