Tony Pisacane runs the Books to Schools program for the Sonoma Valley Friends of the Library and has helped get 30,000 books into local school libraries and classrooms over the past five years. Pisacane takes the time to speak with librarians and teachers individually to see what they need, and aims to help students get ahold of the books they most want to read.
Pisacane was helping with the Friends of the Library book donation program when it occurred to him that many of the great children’s books they received might be beneficial at local schools. He was right.
When he first began, school libraries were under-funded and struggling to maintain collections of books that were in good shape, appealing and relevant for young readers. Classroom libraries shared the same challenges.
Pisacane got to work, and the Friends of the Library Books to Schools program was born. Not only does the program put thousands of relevant books into school libraries and classrooms, it also helps purchase books when they’re needed quickly. One school was about to celebrate Cesar Chavez Day and then realized that they had no books on the important historical figure to share with students, so Books to Schools bought the needed texts.
Pisacane sometimes found little response from school administrators, so he did the footwork needed to query the librararians and teachers himself. That has made his job a bit more challenging, but it also has helped him to keep his finger on the pulse of the needs of local students.
Pisacane found that many students are reading below their grade level, so when speaking with teachers, he makes sure he is supplying books that work for their classroom.
“What I need to know is: what topics and what grade levels do you want me to provide books for?” he said. “It’s not just a third-grade book goes to a third-grade classroom. It’s very customized.”
There weren’t enough books in Spanish in some classrooms where students were still learning English. “I know in the pre-kindergarten classes we were sending books home with the kids that were in English,” he said. “We found out that maybe the parents didn’t speak English so they couldn’t read to them, so we started purchasing more Spanish-language books, so the parents of the children could share that with them.”
Teachers often spend their own money on supplies for their classrooms and the books program takes some of the burden off their shoulders. “It’s a classic problem, teachers having to buy a lot of the materials needed for their classroom,” Pisacane said.
Emily Brown is a fourth-grade teacher at Prestwood Elementary. When she first entered the classroom there were no books at all in the class library. She knew about Pisacane and the Books to Schools program and she contacted him for help. “I have spent a ton of money on supplies, but Tony has provided me with all of the books in my classroom,” she said.
Brown said her students brainstorm about the types of books they’re enjoying and they send Pisacane lists of requests. “The great thing is the variety of novels he’s brought me,” Brown said. “He’s brought Spanish novels for my Spanish readers, he’s brought me historical novels for kids who love history. The range of books that he’s provided is amazing.”
“It’s a wonderful program that he’s offering,” Brown said. “I have beautiful hardback copies of like, Harry Potter and other books that the kids absolutely love.”
Pisacane and the Books to Schools Program is helping with literacy in the local schools. “What I’ve found is that when a student requests a specific type of book and then the book arrives, they’re more engaged in that book because it’s something they chose,” Brown said.
“Frequently students will read books that are much harder than they’re capable of understanding, but when it’s something that they’ve chosen, they really strive to grow so that they can understand it,” Brown said. “When it’s a choice and it’s treated like a gift, they just value it so much more.”
Brown said she also loves that Pisacane has kept in touch with some of her former students as they progressed on to high school and he’s still supplying them with books and communicating with their families. “It’s just so great because kids need books,” she said.
Interacting with children is Pisacane’s favorite part of the work. “It’s a personal transaction,” he said. “It’s them picking up from me my love of books, my love of reading. It’s me showing some interest in what they’re interested in and finding the right book for them to spark that joy in them,” he said.