Books on wheels draw pupils

Enthusiasm: A teacher's literary `treasure chest' motivates readers at Ilchester Elementary.


October 13, 2004|By Laura Shovan | Laura Shovan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When pupils at Ilchester Elementary hear wheels rolling down the hall, they know they'll soon be digging for treasure.

The wheels are attached to the Ellicott City school's book cart, which is decorated like a large treasure chest. The treasure inside is not gold, but new books on sale for $2 each.

Selling discount books directly to students is a reading motivator that is spreading through the county. Ilchester's reading specialist, Jennifer Roussillon, uses the treasure theme to add enthusiasm about buying books.

"I like the idea of getting kids excited and ... motivated about independent reading," Roussillon said. "I wanted to do something a little more creative."

Roussillon heard about the $2-book-cart idea from Mary Beth Hasson at a county-level reading specialists' meeting last spring. Hasson, the reading specialist at Bellows Spring Elementary, started the program while at Running Brook seven years ago. Waterloo and Hollifield Station elementary schools also have adapted the idea for their pupils, Hasson said.

"If they're coming out and they have their own money in their hand and they choose what they want to read, that's very powerful," Hasson said. "There's something special about picking your own book."

Roussillon and school administrators came up with the treasure theme. The chest is a play on the name Ilchester, but Roussillon also said she liked the idea of "having kids look at books as a treasure."

Teacher Hillary Schwartz decorated a camp-style trunk, spray-painting it gold and adding colorful glass "jewels." Anchors and seashells embellish the sides. The top has a rendering of a pirate. His parrot sports real feathers.

Principal Jackie Conarton, who provided $400 from a school discretionary fund to buy books, said the sale was an immediate success. "The first week, they were gone in two, three days," she said. "We have to order hundreds of books." Parents are also donating new books.

When Roussillon visited the fourth grade Thursday, a line of children waited as two or three of their classmates kneeled in front of the treasure chest and dug through the books inside.

Roussillon visits each grade monthly. The book sale is held between morning arrival and announcements.

"How about this one?" Roussillon asked Mark Ulysse, 9, as she handed him Danger on the Mountain. He said she recommended the book "because it's about mountain climbing" and he likes the outdoors. Buying books is "better [than borrowing]," he said, "because you don't have to bring it back."

His classmate, Elizabeth Martin, 9, also said that she enjoys owning a book because "you get to keep it and you get to read it more and more" -- something she does if she likes a story.

Roussillon said the treasure chest has some benefits over selling books through a newsletter. "This way, the kids can actually look through the books, touch the books, flip through the books," she said.

Jack Friedman, 9, appreciated that the treasure chest was created specifically for his school. "I like the bright colors on it, and I like the designs. They're funny," he said, as he waited in line for a mystery.

"The exciting part for them is that they're without their parents, and they're able to choose for themselves," said Roussillon. "They're able to make a decision based solely on what they want, and kids don't get to do that that often."

Parent Karin Molczyk said the program has motivated kids to read. "I think they're getting more out of it than just the enjoyment of reading," she said.

Students have been encouraged to share books they have enjoyed, lending them to friends the way adults do.

Sales are good. Roussillon collected more than $80 last week from each grade. That money will go to buy more books. The budget for the program should eventually even out, according to Conarton.

"All of us are trying to look for ways to motivate our students," Hasson said. "It's not yet another task or another chore for the children; it's something that's fun."

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