More books, more hands, more smiles for Books on Break 2024

Imagine walking into a room filled with tables of brand new books and being told you get to pick out and take some home to keep. For book lovers, it’s a dream. For 2,600+ Chatham County Schools’ students, it will be a reality this spring as Chatham Reads—a program of the Chatham Education Foundation—hosts free book fairs at eight elementary and middle schools in low-income communities. 

Called Books on Break, the Chatham Education Foundation held its first free book fairs in 2016 at 2 schools and gave away close to 5,400 books. Each year since, CEF has expanded the program to reach more children. This year, students will take home 14,000+ books! 

Schools are chosen for the program based on the percentage of students who receive free and reduced lunch, as low-income families are less likely to have books in their homes or access, especially over the summer, to school and public libraries. That’s why the program is called Books on Break–so students have reading material over the summer to help prevent summer slide. Research shows that just 15 – 20 minutes of reading a day can make a real difference in counteracting learning loss. 

Kathy Havens, a Briar Chapel resident and program manager for Chatham Reads who oversees Books on Break, emphasizes that it’s important for students to have a say in what they want to read. “We believe in book ownership, student choice, and providing a range of high-interest books,” she said.

A career educator and literary expert, Kathy personally selects quality and engaging titles among picture books, early readers, chapter books, graphic novels, nonfiction books, and middle-grade novels. She’s also partnered with McIntyre’s Books in Fearrington Village to create an online wishlist that lets buyers select and donate books directly to Books on Break. Prices range from $5-$18, and McIntyre’s gives buyers a 20% discount on any book purchased.

Money to purchase the majority of the books comes from many donations and grants, and Kathy works to find the best price for each book to keep within a $30,000 budget at less than $3.50/book.

Grants awarded in 2024 include $1,500 from The Women of Fearrington and $3,000 from the Central Electric Member Care Trust powered by voluntary donations from Central Electric members. 

It also takes many hands to ensure the fairs run smoothly. Volunteers are needed to help with set up at each school the day before and also the day of to assist classes of children as they visit the fair, pick out their books, and then get them bagged up. Those who have helped at past fairs, come back again because it feels good to see kids get so excited about books and then even more excited when they learn they can keep the books forever. As Siler City Elementary’s principal Tonia Poston said, “This day is one of the highlights for us. Seeing the smiles on students’ faces is amazing.”

With eight 8 locations this year, CEF will need lots of volunteers to make Books on Break 2024 a success. If you are interested in helping, please sign up using the links below.

Siler City Elementary April 22 – 23

Virginia Cross Elementary April 22 – 23

Bonlee School April 25 – 26

Pittsboro Elementary April 25 – 26

JS Waters School May 2 – 3

Silk Hope School May 2-3

Volunteers are also needed throughout the year to help sort books for the fairs as well as for stocking books at various sites around Chatham County including preschools, the CORA pantry, Boys & Girls Club, and the YMCA. Email if you want to help ensure literary resources are accessible to all Chatham County residents

Article by: Cate House

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