Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sunday Salon: Middle School Book Fair

I have spent the past week surrounded every day by loads of books and generally awkward, hormonal kids displaying varying amounts of enthusiasm for said books. In short, I've been working at the middle school book fair. Actually, I am the chair so I've been at the school all day, every day. When I was in school, I loved the book fair. It was a pass to indulge my nerdy book-aquisition-loving self at school. I pored over the fliers that were sent home, nagged to have the appropriate amount of money (roughly equivalent to half the national debt--and it was only half because I was still young, now my book budget exceeds the full amount), and cheerfully loaded up with any and all books that came into arms' reach.

Let's just say that kids today are not like I was. Of course, I actually chose to dress-up as a bookworm one Halloween (must dig that picture out of mom's photo album and post it sometime) and was one of two kids invited to the elementary school librarian's wedding so maybe parents don't really want their kids to be treading down the same path I did as a kid. It is tough perpetually wearing a "kick me" sign after all. But sheesh, a little more enthusiasm would be okay and would ultimately benefit the school at a time when budgets are being slashed almost into non-existence.

With middle school, it is very easy to tell what grade is arriving to browse the bookfair at any given moment. The sixth graders retain much of the enthusiasm you find at elementary school book fairs. Many of them do choose a book to buy although the big draw for them is the extraneous junk that comes with the books. They do all swarm the summer reading table, anxious to know what they will be required to read for the project that is due back shortly after school starts in the fall.

The seventh graders sometimes manage to muster up a few shreds of enthusiasm and a couple of them also purchase books although their purchases are almost entirely required summer reading books. They are cynical enough that every last class had multiple students who looked over the summer reading choices (only two books to choose between), picked the books up, and commented loudly on the difference in size of the books. Almost every last child chose the shorter book. The joke's on them though as the shorter book (The Alchemist) is one of the most painful and dull reading experiences available and will take them all summer to read. The longer book (the last Harry Potter) would take them much less time to read. But I suppose that everyone needs to learn that shorter isn't always the better choice. My own rising eighth grader wasn't given a choice. He will be reading Harry Potter (again) because I have no desire to live through the pain and suffering, moaning, whining, and complaining that is sure to accompany The Alchemist. No worries though, as a child of mine, he'll be reading many other things during the summer too so re-reading one book instead of reading something new won't matter in the grand scheme of things.

The eighth graders have mastered apathy. They are ready to go off to high school and they are clearly jaded by having been the kings and queens of the school for the year. There were several eighth grade classes that bought not one thing. No books. Not even some of the extraneous junk. They meandered over to the summer reading table, casually dismissing the need to read any of their "recommended" choices, while desultorily flirting with each other. Books are clearly not high on their hormone-fueled lists of priority. It was the eighth grade classes that were the rudest, sassiest, and least likely to pay attention when I was giving them my twenty second run-down about the fair. They left me wondering if I can kill and eat my young before they reach this age.

We didn't have a wonderfully successful fair although my unrestrained book buying did help boost sales fairly significantly. I took it as a personal challenge to amass a mountain of books to run past my own crew (including the elementary-aged kid since he's a top notch reader) in hopes of instilling in them the idea that reading and books are worthwhile no matter what the attitude of their peers. I think I only half succeeded since they did look through the mountain and agree to many of my choices (adding some I hadn't considered) but they weren't willing to do it during their class buying time, only browsing after school as they waited for me to tally our sales at the end of each day.

The few kids who were obviously avid readers were so outnumbered by the uninspired it was almost depressing. Add to that the Language Arts teacher who actually told her class to just buy their reading on amazon instead because they could get it cheaper there, and, well, it makes you wonder. Maybe what's wrong with our schools right now isn't just the plethora of pointless testing but a general lack of enthusiasm for the big important things in life like reading and education for learning and pleasure's sake alone. Here's hoping that what I saw this week was just a seasonal malaise and end of the year burn-out and that the fall book fair will generate more enthusiasm and inspire happiness in far more kids.

Trapped at the bookfair as I was, it is a little ironic that I didn't get more of my own reading accomplished. But I did do some. I watched as an alcoholic professor who killed a mother and daughter sobered up and tried to live a life of atonement. I met alien SPHDZs along with the new boy in school. And I eagerly immersed myself in the mystery of 60 plus year old marginalia discovered in random books by a young woman widowed by the war in Afghanistan after she buys a bookstore and attempts to rebuild her life. No telling where my books will take me this coming week.


  1. Interesting week! There's nothing more enlightening than time spent observing kids in various stages of life...

    Here's my Salon:

  2. It gets worse before it gets better; wait till you run a high school book fair for a few years. What happens to kids' love for reading?

  3. Now I'm thinking of reading "The Alchemist" to see what could possibly be worse than rereading the last Harry Potter. How could anyone sit through the hundreds of pages of useless camping a second time, without the hope that something interesting might happen?

    I'm am not reassured by the literacy at your school if they think HP7 is good summer reading.

    Is the alternative that book by Coelho?

  4. I loved bookfairs as a kid. In fact I still love bookfairs!

  5. Middle school is a scary place -- it's unnatural and dangerous to have that many hormonally charged kids confined in one place. :-P I'm just kidding, of course. Kudos to you for volunteering!


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