My 11-year-old son Everett actually bounces up and down with excitement. “Are they having one of those free book things?” he asks as we walk up to the Quincy branch of the Plumas County Library.
As a matter of fact, they are. Every few months, all branches of the Plumas County Library — Quincy, Chester, Portola, and Greenville pop-up — host a month-long book giveaway for children and youth age 0 to 18. Kids complete an activity page and exchange it for a free brand-new book. The giveaway is part of Project Read, a program of the library’s literacy department.
Everett prefers the “word finds,” but this time only coloring pages are available, so he selects one and gets to work. Parents are encouraged to assist kids in completing their activities if needed; he instructs me to color a portion of the scarecrow.
Literacy assistant Sharon McKay prepares the activity sheets, which usually follow a seasonal theme. Patrons may complete the sheets in the library, pick them up to complete at home and bring back later, or print at home from https://www.plumascounty.us/593/News-Events-Programs and bring to the library.
My four kids — ages 1 to 11 — usually participate a few times in each book giveaway. But kids can earn one book a day every day their library branch is open, says McKay. In Quincy, she points out, that means a child could visit the library Monday through Saturday, complete an activity sheet each day, and thus earn up to six books a week during each giveaway. The books are “yours to keep and share with your friends,” says McKay.
Linda Hale, library assistant at the Portola branch, said that a lot of people have been coming into the library this month “just to get the (Project Read) books.” Since July of this year, McKay reported that the library has given away almost 1,900 books. In the 2022-2023 fiscal year, the total was more than 3,800 books. McKay says these numbers are fairly consistent from year to year.
McKay purchases books using program funds, and I also volunteer in a private capacity to donate books to the program through a partnership with Grassroots Books in Reno. Every month or so, I travel to the bookstore, which is located on East Grove Street by Costco, and pick out new-condition children’s books from their outside sale area. Many of these books are generously donated by the store. Titles include everything from board books for babies to picture books for children, from simple stories for early readers to chapter books with more mature themes for teens.
McKay said kids are more likely to engage with the giveaway when they get to “earn” their books by completing activity sheets, and when they get to make their own book selection. “They tend to value the book more when they get to choose it — with a certain amount of guidance — and when they’re allowed to choose something totally outside what they might have picked before,” she said. “That might spark a new interest!” I can attest that my own kids’ outside-the-box choices have led to new literary discoveries in our household.
“It is a great way to get books into the hands of kids, some of whom might not otherwise have an opportunity to receive a new book, and to get kids and parents into the library,” said Lori Metcalf, who manages the Chester branch. Completed activity sheets are also used as part of each branch’s seasonal displays, and my kids like to find their own work in the window at the Quincy branch. “Other patrons really enjoy seeing the completed pages on display, too,” said Metcalf.
In addition to the regular month-long giveaways, Project Read provides baskets of free books in various public spaces throughout the county. Locations include offices in the county courthouse; county departments such as behavioral health, public health, and social services; the probation department, sheriff’s office, and jail lobby; community food banks, resource centers, and wellness centers; child care centers; and grocery stores. Organizations that wish to have a basket placed in their public area may contact McKay at SharonMcKay@countyofplumas.com.
Library staffers also take Project Read on the road, attending public events and offering free books and prize drawings. Examples in Quincy include the Groundhog Fever Festival, Children’s Fair, Plumas-Sierra County Fair, and Sparkle. McKay reminds families to stop by the library during Safe Trick-or-Treat for a giveaway Oct. 31. In Chester, Metcalf reported that she set up a booth at the Thursday Night Farmers’ Market at Chester Park on four different evenings during the past summer. “We gave away many books and created great publicity for the program,” she said.
The mission of Project Read is to promote reading for families by encouraging parents and caregivers to read to children and providing free books. Former Plumas County Librarian Lindsay Fuchs, who continues to work for the county remotely as her replacement is sought, said she inherited the program from her predecessor. During her term, Fuchs expanded Project Read by instituting the month-long branch giveaways and adding event participation.
The Plumas County Library’s literacy program also provides a variety of other services to the public free of charge, including tutoring in all subjects, English as a second language help, citizenship coaching, and family STEAM education. Learn more at https://www.plumascounty.us/635/Literacy-Program.
The next Project Read library giveaway is scheduled for December. Meanwhile, Everett reads his new book, “The Under Dogs Catch a Cat Burglar,” all the way home. It’s significantly below his reading level, but it’s irresistibly engrossing because he earned and chose it himself. And that’s a win for literacy in my book.