Trick-or-READ: How my tradition became a local legend
By Guest Blogger on November 5th, 2012
Scholastic Book Fairs’ manager of national reading programs and events, Alice Ozma, wants to share with you how her Trick-or-READ tradition has become the stuff of legends. We were originally supposed to run this story last week, but as you know, Hurricane Sandy roared its ugly head. As a result of the storm’s damage to much of the East Coast, New Jersey’s governor declared today, November 5th, a day for trick-or-treating — which feels like the perfect time for Alice to tell you about her program. Take it away, Alice.
As a New Jersey native, I watched my memories break into pieces and float out on the waves last week. But our shores are strong. They’re not fair-weather friends who only exist in the best of times, with sun shining. New Jersey-ians are far heartier, and braver, than that. This post is about starting a new tradition. I know that for most of us who live near the Jersey shore, this year will be a year of many firsts. Halloween in November is the least of our concerns. But as children come knocking on your doors tonight, take it as reminder of exactly what this night represents: a community coming together. A shared experience. A beam of happiness in our still-stormy skies. And a reminder that we are still here. Happy Halloween, New Jersey.
Although I live in Philadelphia now, my father’s neighbors in Millville, NJ all remember me fairly clearly. I am the girl who wrote the book (The Reading Promise, about reading for 3,218 consecutive days with my father), but most importantly, I am the girl who gives out books for Halloween.
I’ve been doing it for years. Trick-or-treat is one of my favorite days of the year – I think of it as a parade that comes right to my doorstep – so I reward the neighborhood kids well. When I suggested to my father that we start giving out books in addition to our usual candy, he was as enthused as any retired librarian would be. We spent months collecting books for our purposes at yard sales, used book stores, and wherever else we could find them. Luckily for us, though, I recently became the National Manager of Reading Programs and Events for Scholastic Book Fairs. And it turns out, they like books just as much as we do.
When I told my boss about my Halloween tradition, she was excited. News spread fast throughout the company, making it all the way to the head of marketing for all of Scholastic, and soon, huge boxes were headed to my dad’s house. Opening it all was quite an adventure.
Scholastic loved the idea and went all-out. They sent me Captain Underpants, Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and all sorts of book-related swag like shirts, bookmarks, stickers, tote bags – I knew immediately that these kids were in for a special treat…and one that wouldn’t give them cavities or stomach aches.
As the first bumblebees, policemen, and vampires started arriving at my door, I was a bit nervous – would sending these goblins home loaded up with reading material make parents love me and kids resent me? But then I asked, “Harry Potter, Hunger Games, or Captain Underpants?” and their eyes lit up. Typically, the only negative reaction was that they couldn’t decide.
But I had other books too. A big part of my job is getting paid to read (please don’t send me hate mail; I know I cannot possibly be deserving of this sort of awesomeness) so I’ve read most of the books we carry on the Book Fair, and I had a lot of them to give out. For each child, I asked about their interests and came back with a personal recommendation. One little boy, however, seemed like a tough nut to crack. He was barely in costume. Didn’t want to talk. Clearly thought it was weird to give out books. So I asked him, “I see you came in a basketball jersey. You like basketball?” He shrugged and nodded. “So you’ve heard of Amar’e Stoudemire?” He looked very surprised and nodded again. I stepped inside and came back out with a book – S.T.A.T.: Home Court. “Did you know he wrote a book?” I asked. He shook his head, acting casual, but did not take his eyes off of the cover. “You can have this, if you’d like to read it.” Without a second’s further pause, he reached for it, smiled, and plopped down on my porch. I waited until he’d read his first chapter to remind him it was his to keep and he might as well finish his trick-or-treating first. He agreed but seemed distracted as he shuffled off. I saw him fish the book out of his bag as soon as he left the driveway. Clearly, the all-important candy was suddenly pushed to the back of his mind.
You may find it hard to believe, but throughout the course of the day, not a single child seemed disappointed with getting books. Surprised. Often a bit confused. But happy. I wasn’t giving out grammar guides and dictionaries, after all – these were books their friends were reading. Books they wanted badly. And their parents couldn’t have been more pleased. When two mothers squealed with excitement at the mere mention of The Hunger Games, I offered them copies too. You can’t imagine the excitement that erupted in my driveway.
As the East Coast prepared for Hurricane Sandy, parents and kids alike were happy to have something to take home before those cabin fever days began. And for the true readers who came to my door, I ran inside to get more and more books. When two teenage girls looked at me like Harry Potter was the equivalent of giving them sold-out concert tickets, I filled their bags with as many titles as they could carry. They left my house high-fiving, shouting, “BEST HOUSE EVER!”
In this age of social media, word of the book house spread. Cars pulled up, filled with kids who were just as excited as their parents, racing up to me yelling, “DO YOU STILL HAVE SOME LEFT?!” One family drove a half hour to get their fix. I got quite a few hugs – especially from parents.
All in all, I gave out hundreds of books and sent entire families home with big reading plans for the storm. Scholastic was helpful, but this is something anyone can do – pick up those ten-for-a-dollar books at used bookstores. Explain what you’re doing and ask at your next library sale if they’ll give you a discount. You might be surprised how many people will jump at the chance to get kids reading.
Especially the kids.