Book fairs can spawn a love of reading and, sometimes, even a math lesson

When Regina Hale was growing up in Tennessee, she did not know any librarians. Now, 50 years later, she is one. She was the youngest of 10, and her pastor father and homemaker mother were busy with home and church duties.

“I do not remember anybody taking me to the library,” she says. But when she married and had a family, she started her reading life at the same time. When she was pregnant with her first child, she read to the unborn baby each day. Somebody told her that was a good thing to do. It must have worked. This adult child has “a whole wall of books” in her house now and is working on a master’s degree in Language Studies in Spain.

After a divorce and single motherhood, Hale started substitute teaching and eventually was hired as a full-time teacher. She began a master’s degree in library science from Trevecca Nazarene University, working during the week and going to class each weekend.

Hale has taught in both Tennessee and Alabama and is now the librarian at a Title I school in Huntsville, Martin Luther King Elementary. It’s obvious that she loves her work. “This job chose me,” she says.

Like schools all over the country, MLK has a book fair twice a year where students can buy new books from Scholastic, the world’s largest publisher and distributor of children’s books.

“Everybody gets excited when the book truck pulls up,” Hale says. “The books are for all reading levels and abilities, and they’s priced so most students can buy them with a little help. If they’re short 25 cents, I tell them to get that out of the change jar. Some of them learn about budgeting, money, and just what happens when they give me a five dollar bill and I ask them how much they should get back. They have to learn a math lesson when they buy a book. ”

Sometimes they donate the change so there will be some for the next student who might be a little short. Clubs and organizations provide books and book money, too, like Pen Women, a national organization of women in the arts. One year the local chapter made sure each first grader got a free book to start a home library.

Some are sensory books that young readers can touch and pat; others are chapter books that older readers can buy, and there are favorites that feature cartoon characters, monster trucks, and dinosaurs. There are biographies, too, so students can learn about how people who came before them lived and endured and made it.

The library is the opposite of drab. It’s a colorful place, one that might cheer a student up if she is having a bad day. Book posters line the walls and the library rules are posted at the check out desk: Read and talk quietly. Be respectful of others. Walk, do not run. Listen to the librarian. Hale says most students do.

They come in with their class and leave with a book, either one they’ve checked out or one they’ve bought. At the end of each day, Hale goes on the intercom, reaches in her raffle jar and reads the names of children who came to the library and won a prize: a package of pencils, a pen with a light on the end of it, something that tells them the library is a good place to go.

Librarian Hale spends her days surrounded by books and may spend her weekends writing some of her own. When she went through hard times in her past, she kept a journal and a log of what helped her cope. A friend suggested she publish it since it may help others going through the same thing. Hale has another book idea after that.

She believes that reading books can change your life. She wants the students who come to her book fair to believe that, too.

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