As Farallone View Elementary School first, second and third graders scurried in and out of the door during their lunch period, PTO secretary Tracy Hilvert busily checked their stamped hands and helped guide them toward age appropriate books, as the school enjoyed its third monthly book exchange yesterday.
A new program spearheaded by Hilvert this year, the book swap enables students to bring in books they have already read to exchange them for books brought in by classmates during an informal and optional lunchtime session on the first Wednesday of every month.
Hilvert said that participating students turned in their previously read books in the morning to receive hand stamps for each book they brought, with a limit of three. At lunchtime, they then entered the book swap room to pick as many new books as they turned in.
With the first through third grade lunch period nearing its end, Hilvert estimated that at least 60 students had already picked up new books for the month, with fourth and fifth graders still to come.
According to Hilvert, the idea for the book swap sprouted from an initial donation of a number of books from one of the school’s teacher’s aides. She said that the aide hoped to create a sort of forum where the students could access different books more easily, and that eventually they decided to make an open exchange – open to everyone and free of cost.
“It’s great because it’s all free,” said Farallone View parent and PTO member Lynn Martuscelli, who was one of three PTO volunteers helping coordinate the event. “It’s recycling: you bring in a book you’re done with and you can get the next level up.”
Along with other parent volunteers, Hilvert also helps coordinate Farallone View’s Scholastic Book Fairs, which happen twice a school year. She explained that many students purchase books during the fair which they can later swap out for titles they have not read yet at the book exchange.
While not everyone can afford to buy new books during these fairs, Hilvert said that the beauty of the book exchange is that it makes reading accessible to every child.
“We make sure everyone has books,” she explained, saying that they let students pick new books even if they did not have a book to exchange, helping to eliminate financial limitations.
To help provide for children who could not bring in old books to swap out, Hilvert said she shops for books to “fluff up” the selection. She said that, along with books donated by parents and teachers, these extra books help round out the selection for students and help ensure that everyone who wants to pick a new title can take one home.
Martuscelli said that she enjoys the idea of the book exchange because of the accessibility it gives students to new reading material, regardless of their family’s ability to spend money on books. She gave credit to Hilvert for getting the now regular event off the ground.
“Tracy is one of the most active mothers in the school,” she said.
Many students came and went throughout the lunch periods, picking their new selections calmly and carefully before going out to enjoy their lunch recess. Two third grade girls, however, spent almost the entire lunch period perusing the selection before making their final picks. After picking three titles apiece, they walked out saying they were looking forward to reading their new books right away.
One of them said that when she finished reading one book, she would pass it on, continuing the recycling process. “Sometimes I give books to my cousin when I’m done,” she said.
Hilvert said that she hopes to make the final swap of the school year in June a slightly bigger event, where students can take two books for each one they bring, enabling them to keep reading over the summer.
Interested in taking part in a book swap for adults? holds Book Swap parties, where one swap becomes an event involving food, wine, and participants sharing with each other what each book meant to them before a white elephant-style swap takes place before evening's end.