Book Festival enhances kids need to read

Lalea Emmons and her family brouse over books at the Star City Reads Fall Festival held Saturday, Oct. 7 at Goodwill Industries on Melrose Ave. – Photos by S. Hale

by S. Hale

The ability to read is one of many things often taken for granted. However many people cherish it as a privilege and the key necessary to unlock the doors of knowledge and life itself. Furthermore countless studies have shown that children taught to read early in their formative years are far more advanced on many levels than those who are not early readers.

In this age of hi-tech communication (cell-phones, social media etc.) the reality is that reading has become somewhat of a dying skill. In an effort to fight this unfortunate dilemma Roanoke City Public Libraries launched a Book Fair/give-away, Saturday, Oct. 7 held at Goodwill Industries, Inc. in NW Roanoke.

Most encouraging was the attendance level as parents and children stood in a line that snaked around the Melrose Ave. facility that housed huge stacks of books neatly stockpiled as hordes of excited children picked through meticulously.

“We were able to secure a grant from a national non-profit organization “First Book” that gave us 40,000 books to distribute to children throughout the city and to our partners,” said Sheila Umberger, a Bristol, VA native whose been director, Roanoke City Libraries since 2004.

“We distributed 6,000 of the books to each of the city’s schools to support reading programs. As a result we are saturating the community with literacy books.”

Umberger said the biggest thing about the event was “letting the children know that they can pick out their own books” with the 5 tickets each child received. She spoke briefly about the “Star City Reads” (SCR) program that won the 2017 Campaign for the Grade-level Reading’s Pacesetter Award. The program is Roanoke’s Campaign for a Grade-Level Reading coalition with over 24 community partners focusing on ensuring that all Roanoke children read proficiently by 3rd grade.

SCR was one of 38 programs across the country to be named a “Pacesetter.” The award honors communities that have made considerable strides encouraging children to read. The event involved 28 local organizations that provided a host of activities that spread out over a major portion of Goodwill’s east campus.

Mill Mountain Zoo reps dazzle kids with a python snake.

Outside there were hot dogs, chips and drinks provided in addition to many tents with information regarding assorted family services. Also on hand were city police and fire dept. representatives; several bounce houses, kids games, face painting; a petting zoo and representatives from Mill Mountain Zoo who dazzled kids with a parrot and a medium size (and very docile) boa constrictor!

Volunteers in orange t-shirts were everywhere assisting with the many activities that made this event even more special and spoke volumes regarding neighborhood support.

Volunteers fit kids with new shoes from Sketchers at the Star City Reads Book Festival.

A group of 25 of those volunteers assisted representatives from “Sketchers,” a very popular brand of shoes, which gave away 1,000 pairs to kids who seemed to enjoy the moment as if it was Christmas.

The huge warehouse-like area that housed the books is actually the proposed site of the new Melrose Library that will replace the facility presently located off Salem Turnpike and 24th St. (across from Landsdowne Housing Park).

“We are hoping to start construction on the new library January 1, 2018 with a proposed completion around this time next year,” Umberger explained.

“This is going to be a very collaborative facility with a lot of spaces allowed for community access,” she added.

Umberger was extremely pleased at this year’s attendance numbers that she estimated at approximately 3,000–doubling last year’s numbers at a similar event that drew approx. 1,500. Equally impressive, she said, was the number of volunteers (nearly 200) that were an essential part of the event’s success.

“Through it all, a lot of us have had 15-hour days, but it has been worth it for the goal of providing access to both the valuable information from all our participating partners but also the distribution of books and all this event has to offer,” she added.