I’m a PTO mom, and yes, I have a ponytail and yoga pants, but I don’t drive a minivan so there’s that. My kids started school, and I started volunteering—helping in the classroom, baking the occasional cookie, leading the grandparents to the gym for the big concert—oh, and I’m also part of an amazing group of people building an awesome outdoor play and learning environment for our school, but that will be a post for another day.
Today, I want to talk about one of my favorite volunteer tasks—co-chairing our Scholastic Book Fair. I’m just coming up for air after our fall fair (we’ll do a smaller fair in the spring). It’s a lot of work, but I have to admit, there are moments when I’m positively giddy. When I arrive in the evening to set up, and all of those boxes are stacked on the stage (our fair is held in the school’s performing arts center), it’s such an anticipatory moment. I throw back the lids, revealing stack after stack of paperbacks and hardcovers, preschool picture books to middle grade novels. It’s like…oh, it’s something like Christmas, though of course most of the books will not be mine to keep; I’ll end up purchasing a half dozen for my kids, and the rest will find other homes or be packed away again at the fair’s conclusion.
As I stack them on the tables, positioning them just so, touching those glossy covers (is this getting weird? Tell me if it’s getting weird…). But, honestly, it’s all I can do to keep standing, and not just sit cross-legged in the middle of the room and pull down book after book and read. There are so many books I’ve never read! And my head gets filled with ideas for children’s books I’d like to write.
My absolute favorite fair ritual occurs after everything is set up, when I walk into the room alone the next day, getting ready to open. It’s a large room, with tiered, carpeted seating off to my left. On my right is the shiny, polished wood floor of the stage, where most of the books are waiting. It’s completely quiet as I walk to the panel of light switches and slide each lever up, taking the room from dark, to dim, to full brightness, the spotlights hitting the books on the stage, illuminating them like the stars they are. I want there to be trumpets, but it’s just my breathing. When I come back the next day, there will be a few less, and I’ll throw the lights on again, wanting to say, “Hey there, friends. Some of you will be leaving here today, but don’t worry, you’ll have a good home and people will love you.”
Lest you think I have just come by this particular weirdness, let me explain that I have always felt this way about books. I remember sitting in the closet-sized library at my elementary school, and wondering if I could read all the books in a year’s time. The anal, list-maker in me wanted a print-out of the names of all the books so I could go about systematically crossing them all off. I didn’t want to miss anything! And spectacular libraries have always made my jaw drop. The first time I walked into the law library at the University of Michigan, I believe I started to cry; it was just so beautiful. I believe libraries do for me what churches do for some other people, filling me with a sense of reverence and awe. Books! They’re as close to a religious experience as I get.
But of course, I’ve got no time to dawdle at our school’s book fair. Kids will be coming each day at lunch, some with a check for $20 to purchase as many books as they can, though quite a few of the kids at our economically disadvantaged public school will enter the room with a Ziploc full of pennies or a couple quarters they have left from lunch. Unfortunately, they can’t get a book for that. All I have to sell for 50 cents is a pencil, a bookmark, an eraser that, ironically, looks like a twenty dollar bill. Still, the money we raise goes back into the school’s reading program, so every kid benefits.
One of my joys is when parents come in with their kids in the evenings, fresh off parent-teacher conferences, and the kids are pulling books off the shelves, holding them up like jewels to mom or dad, asking, “Can I have this???” And when the parent looks down and says, “Yes.”“Would you like a bag for that?” I ask at the check-out, but I know the child wants to carry it. She wants to feel that book in her hands that same way I do.
My favorite memory from last week’s fair was when I was sitting at the cash register, just after opening. A little boy ran past, on his way to the cafeteria. He was heading to lunch and did not stop, but he briefly glanced inside the room as he went past in a blur, and I heard his voice echo in the hallway, yelling, “Book Fair!!!!” I know how he feels.