The seven members of Tracy Horner's class at Mount Washington Elementary School were entrusted with the task of collecting, counting, sorting and packing hundreds -- and then thousands -- of books for the Baltimore Reads Books for Kids Day on Saturday.
It was no ordinary task, and this was no ordinary class, said Julie Lenovitz, the North Baltimore school's interim master teacher. The seven children have a variety of learning disabilities.
They took enthusiastically to the challenge of processing the books donated by fellow pupils. The result: a neatly organized haul of 2,560 children's books brought in during four days for the Baltimore-based literacy organization's fifth annual book drive.
For the seven pupils, the effort was an "authentic, real-life" challenge that provided an important sense of accomplishment, Lenovitz said.
The boxes they packed will be delivered to the main Books for Kids collection site in the parking lot of Polytechnic Institute at Cold Spring Lane and Falls Road, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
Mount Washington's contribution -- an average of about eight books per child schoolwide -- amounts to about 10 percent of the organization's regional goal of 25,000 new and gently used children's books to be collected by the end of this month for distribution to low-income families.
Since 1992, the Baltimore Reads Book Bank has given away more than 525,000 books through homeless shelters, Head Start centers, social service agencies and other nonprofit organizations.
This year, 16 Baltimore County branch libraries are accepting donations, as are sites in the city, including The Sun at 501 N. Calvert St., the Rotunda on West 40th Street and the Barnes & Noble in the Power Plant in downtown Baltimore.
Maggi G. Gaines, executive director of the nonprofit Baltimore Reads, noting the resounding success of Mount Washington Elementary's drive, said such a collection provides a "wonderful introduction to philanthropy" for young people. One day, the school's fourth-graders brought in 485 books, a number announced excitedly over the school loudspeaker.
"They learn about giving back to children who may not have books at home on their shelves," Gaines said.
The entire May project might be seen as one giant redistribution of the books on children's shelves because most of the books donated are gently used.
Gaines said research shows that the greatest need is in the area of low-income families without books in the home. Low-income families, she said, are less likely to have access to the "very special experience" of taking a book home for a child.
"Children who are read to have a better chance of educational success," Gaines said. "This is something of a level playing field, or the Robin Hood theory of sharing some [reading] wealth."
The value of a single book in a child's library can be measured on many levels: interactive language skills, bonding and nurturing, she said. This is especially true if the same book is read to a child over and over.
To encourage reading aloud, Baltimore Reads is enclosing a bookmark with each book that gives reading tips advising parents on how best to read to their toddlers and children. The book drive also welcomes books for adolescents and teens, such as Nancy Drew mystery stories.
More information on Baltimore Reads and the annual Books For Kids Day event is available by calling Baltimore Reads at 410-752- 3595.