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Local News

Drive-up book giveaway keeps Yorkville students reading amid shutdown

'Even just to see their faces with their books – that's our lives'

YORKVILLE – Tyler Long, a third grader at Bristol Grade School, said he's aware of why school buildings have been closed and e-learning went into full effect in place of traditional in-person learning since mid-March. He said he knows it's because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the rules have been put in place to help keep the number of infections more at bay.

But that didn't help cure lulls of boredom that came with staying at home more often than usual, Long said.

"I got so bored before getting the books that I painted my own nails," Long said with a chuckle. "I'm not kidding. I painted them orange."

After Long received two books through the Yorkville School District 115 book giveaway program – which began a couple of weeks after Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker first ordered school buildings to close and for districts to switch to e-learning in March – he said it's been great to more easily get more books to read when most libraries are closed due to the pandemic. He said he eagerly awaits the arrival of a third book from the district-wide program.

Steph McHugh, librarian for Yorkville Grade School and Bristol Grade School, said the program started as an idea of a mobile book delivery that turned into a drive-up operation between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. every Wednesday and Friday for families to pick up requested books for free and to keep. She said kindergarten through eighth grade students can select a book to keep from a menu of grade-level appropriate book titles each week and come pick up their selections on either day from volunteering librarians, teachers and other staff.

McHugh said a total of more than 8,000 books from children's book publisher Scholastic and local bookstore chain Anderson's Bookshop were ordered for distribution district-wide.

"And right now, I think ... over half are gone," McHugh said.

Shannon Stanek, also a third grader at Bristol Grade School, said she has been just as excited as Long to receive those books during the stay-at-home order. She said she has done a lot of reading since e-learning began, which has resulted in a few late nights of being so engrossed in those stories.

"You can't put down those books," Stanek said.

Julie Slocum, an unincorporated Yorkville resident and a book fairs sales manager for Follett School Solutions out of McHenry, said her two sons attend Grande Reserve Elementary School and she first learned about the book giveaway program in an email from school officials. She said both sons received two books through the district-wide program so far and also are eagerly awaiting another coming their way.

"It was awesome," Slocum said. "The kids freaked out when they saw it."

McHugh said those sentiments from Slocum, Long and Stanek have been pretty much in line with what she has been hearing from students and their families since the program began. She said many photos of students smiling with their books in hand have rolled in over the last few weeks.

"It's a happy thing to look at, you know?," McHugh said.

Mary Hamer, librarian at Grande Reserve Elementary School, said the number one goal for librarians like herself and McHugh is to instill the love of reading for children. She said this was a way to still make sure books made their way into kids' hands during a time where school and library buildings are closed due to the pandemic.

"So when the district had this idea, it was like fate," Hamer said. "It was a perfect opportunity to get kids excited about reading and to have something to look forward to every week."

McHugh said this program has started a lot of chats between district library staff and kids, along with students chatting amongst themselves, about what they have been reading. She and Hamer said so many families have said the program has been a bright spot in their weeks and kids have run out of their frames during Zoom calls to bring back and show librarians the books they have gotten through the district program.

Slocum said it's meant the world to have access to a program like this for her sons. Not only was she thrilled to see her kids get excited about reading when there isn't a whole lot of easy access for books, she said, but the experience has been touching for her as she gets to see the smiles shared between her kids and their teachers – especially while knowing how hard e-learning has been for kids, parents and school staff alike.

“I got emotional watching them,” Slocum said.

McHugh said it has been great to have that opportunity to see the kids in person, if only for a moment.

"Because it's a hugely missing part of our lives is being with those kids," McHugh said. "Even just to see their faces with their books – that's our lives."

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