Ring Lardner reading store to enter second year

NILES — Amy Gourlay provided two words to describe this year’s reading store at Ring Lardner Middle School’s library this March: “absolutely fantastic.”

“On my Facebook page, I said, ‘I never thought I could be so exhausted and exhilarated all at the same time,’” she said. “Every single student … came through my library and picked a brand new book of their choosing.”

Thanks to a Niles Education Foundation grant, she will be able to host the program again in 2020.

Gourlay, the Niles middle school’s librarian and media specialist, created the event so every sixth to eighth-grade student could take home a book for free. It was one event of many that she helped put on as part of March is Reading Month, a national effort encouraging children, to read.

Along with her reading store, she hosted activities nearly every day of the month. That included book talks at the school’s TV news station and a contest where teachers and students decorated classroom doors like books.

“I’ve had in my brain to do something big for March is Reading Month and had not been able to quite get myself to the point where I felt comfortable doing all the things I was thinking of until this year,” she said.

This year, Gourlay was able to obtain hundreds of books for free through a partnership with the Teacher Store in Elkhart. It is part of national nonprofit Feed the Children, which seeks to end childhood hunger.

This year, though, she will need to buy the books from the store — albeit, at discounted prices. That was where the $1,000 NEF grant she received came in.

“I’m so just crazy grateful to the foundation for doing this and seeing it was important, because I loved every second of it,” Gourlay said. “Our students loved every second of it. It was a fun way to promote reading, other than, ‘Here, read this book,’ or ‘Sit in the library for 20 minutes.”’

She said a movement has been growing in the U.S. that places emphasis on placing books in children’s hands instead of waiting for them to pick up a book on their own.

That was what Gourlay did through the reading store, and she said she saw students expressing excitement and pride because of it. Even students who hardly came to the library were impacted.

“It just gave them ownership, because they owned the book,” she said. “It’s theirs. They took more ownership and pride in it because it’s theirs.”

That, she said, can encourage students to read independently, another movement in reading circles.

She said students have already begun to show unique signs of independent reading.

Book clubs are starting to form in some classrooms, she said, and last year’s March Madness-style book game encouraged some students to read some of the tournament’s top contenders.

Gourlay said she is available to provide book recommendations to students to encourage independent reading at the reading store and beyond.

Working with students has allowed her to learn certain students’ interests, she said, and as an avid middle-grade and young adult book reader, she is familiar with many titles.

“If I don’t read it, I can’t recommend it,” she said.

Gourlay said she and Ring Lardner English teachers spend time getting to know students’ reading habits. She plans to apply that knowledge to the books she buys.

Last school year’s sixth grade students took a liking to graphic novels, she said. Seventh grade students enjoyed adventure books like those of Rick Riordan. Eighth grade students showed an interest in social issues, especially when the book’s characters were near their age.

As Gourlay plans to buy the 2020 reading store’s books, she said she is already thinking of the future. That includes planning March is Reading Month programming for 2020, but it also means searching for funding to make the reading store open up again in 2021.

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