When Amy Zaslansky heard an anecdote about children in low-income school districts that would go to book fairs at their schools and were only able to afford erasers, it broke her heart.
Believing all students should have equal access to reading material, Zaslansky, 39, of Bellmore, set out to bridge the gap between those who have books they no longer need, and those who don’t have enough.
Last June, she started organizing book drives in the Bellmore School District, which her three kids attend. Within one week, she collected 3,000 gently used books. Since then, thousands of donated books have taken over her garage, kitchen and living room waiting to find homes.
The Book Fairies, which then hosts free book fairs at low-income school districts in order to distribute what it's collected, is slowly beginning to catch on with Long Island school districts. Zaslansky said she’s held four free book drives so far this year, and last year helped schools in the Long Beach and Oceanside school districts replenish their libraries after superstorm Sandy.
“We want to make it possible for students to come in and take as many books as they want for themselves or for their families,” said Zaslansky. “The best part of this is that we’re only asking people to clean out their bookshelves and help low income districts in our area.”
On Tuesday evening at Edmund Miles Middle School in Amityville, dozens of students and their families browsed through rows of free books brought in by The Book Fairies and threw their picks into bags that they would take home.
And that wasn’t all. The middle school’s administration coordinated a visit by therapy dogs from the Bidawee Reading to Dogs program with the book fair for what they called “Literacy Night.” Students also wrote their own poems and, after picking up the donated books, read to the four therapy dogs visiting.
Lynn Cesiro, a librarian at the school who coordinated the events surrounding the book fair, said the books were such a hit that the 100 bags she ordered to hold the books were all claimed.
“We have a lot of underprivileged children at this school and the only way we can get them to read sometimes is by giving them free books,” said Cesiro, 45, of Oceanside. “I’m so happy to see them carrying more books than they can carry.”
Ninth grader Marlyn Rodriguez read a poem called, “A Faithful Dog,” which she found online to read to a therapy dog named Oakley, who is a 4-year-old Golden Retriever.
“I think this is great because kids can get free books to read more at home,” said Rodriguez, 16, of Amityville. “I think this helps half the kids at our school afford to read.”
Sifting through free books spread out on a table, Gaby Moore, 13, an eighth grader at the middle school, chose “The Wimpy Kid Do-it-Yourself Book” -- one of her favorite book series -- and “Arthur’s Family Vacation” by Marc Brown.
“I’m so happy to be able to read some new books,” she said. “I can’t wait until the next one.”