The importance of books to a child’s imagination

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At United Way Blackhawk Region, we want every child to be inspired. We want every child to experience book fairs.
Shelves of books at a Scholastic Book Fair

Written by: Denise Peters-Kauihou, United Way Blackhawk Region Vice President

Two of my favorite words: Book Fair

I wonder if you remember the rumbling sound of the stainless-steel cases being rolled down the long, fluorescent lit hallways of your elementary school.

At my school, they’d arrive 2 days in advance of the actual book fair which, was basically torture. For one thing, the cases were kept locked until the day of the fair. We knew there were books in there of course but which books and which authors and how many?

We’d run our hands over that cool steel exterior imagining what treasures were held inside. Books have that kind of effect on kids.

I loved Pippi Longstocking for her mischievous nature, her smarts and spirit, Madeline for her unassuming courage and the March girls each and all. I loved Charlie Bucket who understood that value had nothing to do with money and a little girl named Laura Ingalls whose story begins in a zip code just north of here. Helen Keller inspired me to explore sign language at an early age and must be held harmless for me signing poop-head to my little brother. Books inspire us all in different ways.

A United Way Blackhawk Region Scholastic Book Fair bookmark

At United Way Blackhawk Region, we want every child to be inspired

We want every child to experience book fairs. In South Beloit elementary schools where 7 of every 10 children are eligible for free or reduced lunch, only the families of one in four can afford to send their children to school with money for the book fair.

That’s where you step in. In partnership with Scholastic, United Way pays a flat fee per book, and those books are selected by and gifted to the children. Every single child. No one is left out.

You might be thinking, yes but shouldn’t we be investing in making sure they have food and shelter? Let me assure you, we are but I would also say that this is sustenance of another sort. Through books and literature, United Way donors are kindling children’s imaginations and expanding their understanding of the world.

On the day of the fair, children ages Pre-K to grade six take their turn lining up in the hallway. They are squealing, they are jumping, they are holding hands and whispering with their best friends that it’s almost time, only one more minute.

They are children like yours and mine but I want you to really see them. Not all of the children are wearing clean clothes and new shoes. Not all of them look well rested. Not all of them have the prescription glasses they need or socks that match and despite their excitement, they grow timid when they reach the door, not quite trusting their luck that the books are free and that there will be enough to go around.

Let me tell you the hardest part: the hardest part is convincing the children to choose books for themselves. Not for their mom or their sister or their grandpa who yes, loves trains but instead, to choose something just for them. Imagine in our world today where excess is the norm, having to convince a child to choose something as simple as a book, for themself.

On display, is a sampling of thank you cards from the children. In case you don’t get a chance to see them, I wanted to read a couple to you:

Dear United Way, I can’t thank you enough for my real shark teeth and shark book and my brother loves sharks and thanks to you guys, now he can read two shark books and also thanks to you, he can look at puppy breeds and I’m so happy that my brother and sister can read. Love, your friend, Liam.

From a teacher: Dear United Way, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for providing my students with 9 books this year. For some of my kids, these are the only nine books they own. They light up with excitement each time they get to choose new books.

And finally, this one from Garrison that reads simply: It really means a lot. Personally, I love the fact that you noticed us.

Through Scholastic book fairs, you have noticed them by gifting them 7,124 books. Paper, ink, some binding string and a series of words arranged in ways that educate, communicate and celebrate our humanity and our world. Something as humble and powerful as a book from you can open doors and windows wide enough for a child’s imagination, taking them to places where their small, mis-match socked feet are lifted off the ground an inch and then a mile, to soar high above us all.

Thank you for your more than 7,000 gifts of flight.

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United Way works hard to identify every donor and dollar possible to move the needle on tough-to-solve issues, our region’s most daunting social ills including poverty, hunger, homelessness, family violence, and addiction, to name a few.

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