A book celebration

A Book for All Season’s Stephen Sharpe and many representatives from the Friends of the Library came to enjoy a Diverse Book celebration with Icicle River Middle School librarian Amy Massey, far right, standing, and 16 sixth graders.

Four thousand dollars can buy a lot of books. Over 300 of them, in fact.

That’s the size of the grant Amy Massey, the librarian at Icicle River Middle School (IRMS), earned for her school.

With thoughtful planning, Massey targeted a gap in their collection.

On her application for a Community Foundation of North Central Washington “Stronger Schools” grant, Massey wrote, “Our proposed project is not complicated — to purchase books with diverse characters and themes. However, the grant will allow for meaningful discussion surrounding the complexity and diversity of the world. We argue books to be a powerful platform for growth, inspiration, and self-exploration. Library books are a shared and reusable resource that can last for decades if properly managed.”

Working with teachers, students and staff from A Book For All Seasons, Massey looked for books that could explore, “the various dimensions of representation, such as themes of gender, religion, (dis)ability, culture, race and LBGTQ with authenticity of representation. In addition, we purchased more books in Spanish so that our Spanish-speaking students have equal access to diverse voices during these identity-forming years.”

When the deluge of books, both new and used, started coming in, Friends of the Library volunteers came to IRMS once a week for months to help process the books. “They are the reason that so many books got into the hands of students this year,” said Massey.

Students have already had a lot to say about the improved reading choices. Responding to a survey question about how diverse stories help individuals, one student said, “It shows that everyone is different or the same. It shows that everyone has the same struggles, but it shows how everyone overcomes them.”

Another student said, “It makes me think that I can do anything, but I just got to believe.”

The combined efforts and potential for empowering children deserved a celebration. Massey invited the Friends of the Library and Stephen Sharpe, owner of Book for All Seasons, to come back in June and hear sixth graders champion the books that touched them. A couple of students read “Evangelina Takes Flight” by Diane J. Noble, about an immigrant family fleeing Mexico for Texas during the Mexican Revolution 100 years ago. They recommended this story based upon the life of the author’s grandmother.

Other books dealt with complex issues like discrimination, bullying, loss of a parent and disability. When the students finished their book talks, the visitors spoke of favorite books and the impact reading had on their lives. Over shared treats, students and adults alike shared a common passion, books and the stories that teach us.

Although Massey threw the party, she deserves celebrating too. She earned this year’s Employee of Excellence for Classified Staff for the Cascade School District.

And certainly, Massey treasured this recommendation from her student survey: “I have no suggestions. Mrs. Massey already makes the library the safest place in the world.”

Marlene Farrell is a Leavenworth-based writer. Follow her on Twitter: @marlenekidlit.