Seven-year-old Sara LaVigna's bag was packed so full with books she had to drag it on the floor as she wove her way through the bustling crowd at the Absecon Schools' eighth annual Book Swap, held at the Absecon Schools Complex off Pitney Road on Feb. 28.
LaVigna could scarcely contain her excitement as she pulled her new books one-by-one from the sack of about a dozen laid at her side.
"I've got 'Snow White' books, I've got 'Beauty and the Beast,' the second-grader said. "I've got 'Snowman's Place at Home,' I've got 'There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Seashell.'
Sara and her 6-year-old sister, Shelby, were among 125 Absecon students who turned out with their families to the popular event to exchange their lightly used books for some new - at least to them - pieces of literature.
All Absecon students were invited to attend the event and were allowed to choose as many books as they wanted from the hundreds spread about tables in the cafeteria. All swapped books are donated by Absecon students, meaning there were books available to suit all ages and ability levels. The swap included books for parents.
Students are not required to donate books in order to take books home with them, making it a valuable resource for some of the school system's more cash-strapped parents, who would otherwise be unable to provide their kids new books to read.
Media specialist Rose Hagar, who has run the program since it started in 2006, said that, in its eight years, it has become one of the highlights of the Absecon academic calendar.
"There are families that tell me they look forward to it every year. It's their favorite event they have all year long," Hagar said. "They started coming in at quarter to six. It's five after six, and we're packed."
The event began as a fundraiser for the adult literacy tutoring program Literary Volunteers Association Cape-Atlantic. At first, the book swap was just one of many parts of a larger event, but the other aspects were phased out as it became clear the book swap was the biggest draw.
The event is entirely volunteer-run, with dozens of teachers and administrators lending their time to set up and staff the event. Fourth-grade teacher Sue Morgan has volunteered each of the program's eight years. She said the swap is an excellent way to get Absecon's kids reading, because rather than forcing certain books on them, it allows them to choose books that suit their interest.
"They're more willing to read something if they can pick it themselves," Morgan said. "Picking is half the battle."
Seven-year-old Dylan Guercioni, a second-grader at Marsh Elementary, attended the book swap with his dad, Keith. He picked out two books on dinosaurs, a book on Pokemon and a book about pirates.
While he admits he's not always the most consistent reader, Dylan said he was excited to read through these newest additions to his bookshelf.
"Sometimes I read a lot," Dylan said. "I like books."
This year, the school asked visitors to the swap to make a monetary donation to its Restoring Our Shores Through Literacy fund, which will be given to an as-yet undetermined school damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
The funds raised will be matched by Usborne Books' Literacy for a Lifetime Grant. The total amount raised has not yet been determined.
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