Young judges pick posters to advertise book drive

Literacy group hopes to collect 50,000 volumes

March 18, 2001|By Joy Green | Joy Green,SUN STAFF

More than 100 colorful posters decorated the walls of a small room on the third floor of a Read Street building in Baltimore. Young people ages 7 to 9 dashed around, inspecting each poster, trying to choose one to publicize the annual "Books for Kids Day" collection drive sponsored by the Baltimore Reads literacy organization.

The children judging the posters on a recent Saturday afternoon were members of the organization's first "Kid's Committee," designed to involve children in planning the book drive, which will be held May 5 at Polytechnic Insti- tute/Western High School in Baltimore.

The young volunteers are determined to spread appreciation of books and reading.

"If you can't read, you can't do a lot of things," said Chaz Walters, a fourth-grader from Rockburn Elementary School in Howard County and one of seven Kid's Committee members. He became involved with the group through his mother, Rita Walters, manager of special events for Baltimore Reads.

Chaz, a fan of classic comic strip characters "Calvin and Hobbes," said he likes encouraging people to read. He told Ruth Heath, the principal of Rockburn, about the book drive, and she announced it at the beginning of a school day.

More than 25,000 new or "gently used" books were collected in last year's drive, and Baltimore Reads hopes to collect 50,000 books for distribution this year. Adults at the organization thought involving children would be an effective way to persuade more people to donate books.

"What we wanted was a chil- dren's perspective on how to inspire people to help organizations, and to help inspire other kids to love books," said Lisa Meagher, a volunteer at Baltimore Reads whose son Declan, 7, is on the Kid's Committee. She said adults often believe that people will be more likely to give books if a financial incentive or other prize is involved, but the children believe that kindness alone would motivate people to give books.

The children also hope that the colorful poster made by Beatrice Phelps, a seventh-grader at Woodhome Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore, will encourage people to donate to the book drive. Phelps' poster depicts a yellow collection bin with information about "Books for Kids Day" written on the front, surrounded by pictures of people reading.

The children also chose Owen Z. Foster, a second-grader at Gilman School, as second-place winner, and Sarah Ciotola, a sixth-grader at Woodhome Elementary/Middle School, as third-place winner.

Since December, committee members have discussed ways to encourage book-giving, and they will be at the "Books for Kids Day" event to sort and count books.

"Adding the kid's component to this is such a natural fit," Rita Walters said.

The recent judging capped months of preparation by the children. They arrived at the Read Street headquarters of Baltimore Reads at 11:00 a.m. March 10 to decorate a ballot box, listen to the rules of voting and begin examining the posters.

The 132 posters were divided randomly into seven groups. Each committee member chose a favorite from his or her group, and the entire committee voted on the seven finalists.

The choice was difficult for some - Chaz labored over the posters in his group, saying that two of them looked especially nice, and he wasn't sure which to nominate.

After judging the posters, the children visited the book bank on North Calvert Street. It contains many volumes for adults, and Susannah Bergmann, community outreach manager at Baltimore Reads, emphasized a need for "quality children's books."

Books are beginning to flow in. The fifth-grade class of St. Mary of the Mills School in Laurel donated 8,441 books the afternoon of the judging - a record donation from a single school, Bergmann said.

James Courtney, a fifth-grader at St. Mary of the Mills school, drew a valuable lesson from the effort. "I learned how something can start as a small project and grow to make a big difference," he said.

Rita Walters said she thinks the children's involvement will foster not only a love for books but a love for their communities. "The sense of giving starts at 6 and 7," she said.

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