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UES Loves Books
‘A celebration of books, learning, literacy, and storytelling’

Fourth-graders Obi Barrington and Isla Lyall Garces with children’s book author Kekla Magoon. Photo by Mary Cole Mello.
If you took a walk through the halls of Montpelier’s Union Elementary School during the week of April 17, you might have noticed almost every door in the building, even Principal Katie Berea’s, decorated to showcase a different children’s book. One celebrated “Pete the Cat” and another, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” There was a display for “Wonder” and one for “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.” It was all part of UES Loves Books Week, a celebration of books, learning, literacy, and storytelling organized by the UES Caregivers Alliance. The week’s activities also included a Book Fair and a visit from the award-winning children’s author, Kekla Magoon. 

Cassie Wilner, speaking on behalf of the alliance, shared the story behind UES Loves Books, “For many years, the Book Fair at UES was presented by Scholastic Books … We wanted to explore an alternative … a partnership with a local bookstore to show our support for a local business and local authors.

In January 2021, the group established the first UES Loves Books event. Jane Knight of Bear Pond Books was with them from the start. She helped set up virtual authors’ visits and online book fairs for families (including a discount for those who wished to buy books for their child’s teacher). In 2023, the school was able to celebrate in person and, thanks to a grant from Vermont Humanities, every child at UES could choose a brand new book and take it home. Absolutely free.

Adam French and his class browsing at the Book Fair. Photo by Edisa G.R. Muller.
During Kekla Magoon’s visit, she signed books, shook hands with some of her fans, and gave two presentations, one to kindergarten through second grade and the second to the older children. Magoon, who is biracial, shared stories from her own life and talked about the hero of one of her books, Thurgood Marshall. She urged her young audiences to try, as Marshall did, “to make things better.” 

One first-grader notes, “He (Marshall), was the first black justice on the Supreme Court. He changed the law so that black and white people could be in the same schools and …,” she waves her hand with a dramatic flourish, “It worked!”

Magoon’s books can be enjoyed by all ages and are designed to be read independently by middle schoolers, which is a difficult time for many children, perhaps, especially for children of color. The author notes, “Middle school means thinking about your appearance. This was a time when I began to feel out of place, to question my identity. It was then that it became clear to me there were some things I might not be able to do. There would (for example) be few roles in a school play open to me because of the color of my skin.” 

Books helped. Magoon can still recall the moment when she was browsing through a rickety bookstand in her seventh grade classroom and discovered the classic, “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.” On the cover was an illustration of a young black girl, the heroine of the story. This first moment of recognizing someone like herself in a book became a powerful and inspiring memory.

In an age dominated by flickering screens, how can families make sure children keep reading? 

Magoon has advice to offer. First of all, children should grow up “surrounded by books” and they should be out where they can be seen. (The author’s mother took her to the library every week, and Magoon was allowed to take home all the books she could carry). Let your children choose their books.

Adults should model reading, she says. “Children will not be drawn to something they’ve never seen you doing. Make sure they see you reading … Read to them and talk about the books you read. Take turns reading to each other. Read with them.” 

Enthusiasm can be contagious.