The truth is that the 2012 edition of the Gift of Reading book drive is a bit dog-eared.

After a near-death experience during the 2011 holiday season, the effort by this newspaper and the Resource Area for Teaching to collect new and like-new books for kids who might not be able to afford them has been slow in bouncing back during this rebuilding year.

"The volume of book donations has been pretty low," RAFT's Rebecca Ronan told me when I called earlier this week to see how things were going. "We've only reached about 2,000 books."

Two thousand. It's a lot of books until you put them up against the tremendous need in the Bay Area. Of course, we still have a week to turn things around -- and this newspaper's readers have been known to do just that in the closing days of the drive, which runs until Dec. 16.

I love the Gift of Reading. I love the spirit behind it. Not the newspaper's spirit. We have very little to do with it. I love the spirit of those who give books; those who recognize how important it is for a little kid to have his or her very own book. A book he or she can curl up with at night or read to a sibling. A book that a parent can pick up and read to a kid drifting off to sleep. (Note to parents: The kid does the drifting. Not the parent.)

At its peak, not long ago, the 24-year-old Gift of Reading would collect 80,000 books for children. But when times turned tough for newspapers and nonprofits alike, the program was whittled down to a more modest effort. Last year, the Gift of Reading was almost canceled. If it weren't for RAFT's generous decision to take the lead, the Gift of Reading wouldn't have happened last year. As it was, the drive was abbreviated and community drop-off spots, such as bookstores and libraries, were eliminated in favor of RAFT's three Bay Area locations.


Advertisement

But this year, again because of RAFT's determination, the bookstores and libraries are back and they are happy to again be among those spreading literacy and joy, says Ronan, who adds that the RAFT locations are also accepting books.

"It was just a weird thing not to have it," says Ann Seaton, a manager at Hicklebee's, the gem of a book shop in Willow Glen, which has participated in the Gift of Reading for years. Hicklebee's barrel for collecting books is back this year. As are the barrels of Linden Tree Children's Books in Los Altos, the Recycle book stores in Campbell and San Jose, Kepler's Books in Menlo Park, BookSmart in Morgan Hill and Leigh's Favorite Books in Sunnyvale. (See www.raftbayarea.org/gor for a complete list of drop-off spots and other Gift of Reading details.)

Seaton was not surprised that overall donations were down this year. She says there was a time when the store would fill its barrel twice in a week. This year, Hicklebee's is filling it closer to once a week, though on Friday the barrel was overflowing with titles such as "In Grandma's Arms," "Hush Little Baby," "Beware of the Bears" and "Mother Goose."

Each one of the books, no doubt, will be loved by a child, either in a school classroom that might have had little, if any, reading library, or at the home of a student who'd been given a book as a gift from a teacher he or she will never forget.

"The important part of all this," Seaton says, "is that one of the ways to get out of poverty, one of the keys, is literacy."

I know the season of giving can be exhausting. Everybody wants something. And, of course, everybody needs to decide whether and who they would like to help out. But few gifts have the bang for the buck of a book. You can find a kid's book for less than $10; a lot less for a paperback. And many of us are lucky enough to know that warm and powerful feeling of being a child holding that special book.

I also know that the most wonderful time of the year is also the busiest, and who needs one more thing to do? But this can be easy. The Gift of Reading accepts cash donations, which can be made through the website and Seaton says Hicklebee's stands ready to help. They'll recommend children's books if you ask. And if you want to call and buy a book over the phone with a credit card, they'll get your gift to RAFT, saving you a trip to the store.

And, of course, you're welcome to drop off any child's book in good shape at any of the participating book stores. No purchase required, as they say.

After all, the book stores aren't in this to make money. They're in it because it makes the world a little better.

Want to help?

Contact Mike Cassidy at mcassidy@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5536. Follow him at Twitter.com/mikecassidy.

null

How to donate
Go to www.raftbayarea.org/gor for ways to donate books or money to the Gift of Reading.