Yesterday was World Book Night when thousands of volunteers across America distributed free, special edition copies of books to promote reading and literacy (see the full list of books here). I was beyond thrilled to be a book giver for this terrific event. I received The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak to give away which was my first pick. If you have not read this book yet, you should. It is a powerful, beautifully written book and I could not wait to put it into the hands of some young adults.
I went to the small mall in our town looking for teens and twenty-somethings and I was well rewarded. There were a lot of young people out at the mall – many just hanging out with friends, or sitting on the benches texting. I also was glad to see some young people working in the kiosks and food stalls.
I avoided people who looked older than thirty or who were carrying any type of reading material because we were supposed to be finding infrequent readers for the books we were giving away.
When I approached people, I asked if they had a moment so I could talk to them about World Book Night. All but one couple agreed to talk to me, although I could see that most were a little wary! As soon as I explained that I would be giving them a free book, faces lit up and smiles appeared. No one refused a book (except for a young woman whose first language was Spanish and she did not think she could read a whole book in English).
“No one has ever given me a book before,” she explained.
There were a variety of responses to the question “Do you read?”:
“I haven’t read a book yet this year.”
“Yes, but not too often. I don’t have the money to buy books.”
Some people suggested I might want to give the book to someone who reads more – but I told them they were the perfect person to get a book for free!
I admit that some books ended up in the hands of people who liked to read because they were with friends who were light readers…but at least 75% of the books went to people who were infrequent readers or those who hardly ever picked up a novel.
One of the things I wondered about was how readers would react when I told them that Death was the narrator of The Book Thief. A couple of people raised their eyebrows and laughed. But mostly the reaction was “Cool!” or “Wow, that sounds great!” I guess Marcus Zusak knows his audience!
This was such an amazing experience.
I will admit I was a little scared when I started. Walking up to people you don’t know, especially when they are standing in a group, and “pitching” something is not where I am most comfortable. But these teens and young adults were awesome.
They didn’t blow me off.
They listened, asked questions and got excited.
Most even allowed me to snap their photo.
My box of books was emptied in less than an hour. As I got back into my car to head home, I thought of how it did not take the newest digital device, or a movie filled with special effects to get these young people excited. It just took a book – words on a page. I thought about that book being read, about the journey it would take those kids on, and how they might love it so much that they would share it with their friends…and I felt good inside.
What about you? Did you participate in this year’s World Book Night? How was YOUR experience?
Want to read more about other giver experiences and see photos of the event? Visit the World Book Night Facebook Page.
**EDITED TO ADD:
I’ll be celebrating World Book Night all week with a special give away of A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. Go to this post to enter (US mailing addresses only) through April 30th at 5:00 pm PST.