That’s how many children’s books have been donated to schools and libraries throughout local communities over the last 15 years through The Missourian’s award-winning Book Buzz youth literacy program.
At an average cost of $18 per book, that is nearly $300,000 in value.
In the first weekend issue of each month, The Missourian recommends three books for young, middle and older children, and then encourages those who read them to write reviews to submit to the paper. One review for each book is selected to appear in print, and the rest are posted on The Missourian’s website, emissourian.com.
The Missourian provides the space in the newspaper for the monthly column, and Missourian staff do the work to keep the program running smoothly, but the program would not be the overwhelming success that it is today without the support of the service clubs, individuals and businesses that provide the funds necessary to buy the three Book Buzz Picks each month for placement in the 39 school libraries and public libraries across the local communities served by The Missourian.
“These service clubs are raising readers with their unselfish contributions,” remarked Chris Stuckenschneider, book editor for The Missourian and co-creator of the Book Buzz program.
“These sponsors donate thousands of dollars each year to make sure Book Buzz Picks are available to all area schoolchildren, “and they work really hard to raise that money — at fairs and festivals, selling food like corn on the cob and holding golf tournaments,” said Stuckenschneider.
Book Buzz started as just an idea to create a book club in the newspaper to encourage kids to read,” said Dawn Kitchell, who with Stuckenschneider dreamed up the new project 15 years ago.
The Washington Rotary Club was the first to step forward as a partner in early 2003, just a few months after the first Book Buzz column appeared in the Sept. 7-8, 2002, issue of The Missourian.
Stuckenschneider and Kitchell had gone to a Rotary meeting to give a presentation to members about the new reading project they were initiating. Afterward, Kitchell received a call from Dr. Greg Wilson, who was superintendent of Washington School District at the time and a Rotarian.
Rotary wanted to support the new literacy program financially, Wilson told Kitchell. Could it use some funding?
“That was the answer to what we saw as our greatest challenge,” Kitchell said. “We wanted to recommend new books, and we knew those books would not yet be in our school libraries.”
Up to that point, The Missourian had been donating a set of three books each month to the Washington Public Library and Scenic Regional Library, and three local businesses (Elm Street Company, The Teacher Store and Gary Lucy Gallery) stocked the books each month for sale.
“We knew with the Rotary Club’s funding, we could put the books into the schools. And, we realized that we could make their donation go further if we ordered the books ourselves at a discount from the publishers,” Kitchell recalled. “We called it the Rotary snowball – they threw us a beauty and Book Buzz just started rolling, picking up steam!”
Every year since, the Washington Rotary Club has continued to sponsor the Book Buzz program. And dozens of others have followed its lead.
“In the last 15 years, more than 25 service organizations, businesses and individuals have reached deep to provide books for area children,” said Stuckenschneider, noting that although some sponsors have gone, others have proudly stepped up to take their places.
“Many of the original donors, who have been providing funds for 10-plus years, remain faithful in their sponsorships, giving year after year, with nothing more than a thank-you and a photo in The Missourian to show our appreciation for their gift of literacy,” said Stuckenschneider. “The longevity of their giving is so impressive.”
“Great projects come and go, and not too many literacy efforts can say that 15 years later their community is still so wonderfully supportive,” Kitchell added.
Stuckenschneider, who contacts the service clubs, businesses and individuals each year to ask if they will continue their financial support of Book Buzz, said their generosity and kind comments on the benefits of the program never cease to warm her heart.
“I see it happening all of the time with Book Buzz. People are just so benevolent,” Stuckenschneider remarked. “They are so good about providing books for kids.”
Good Books Are as Vital as Clothes and Shoes
The Masonic Fraternal Lodge 363 in Robertsville has been providing funds to place Book Buzz Picks in the Robertsville School library since 2006. Members pledge $240 each year, which is matched by the Masonic Home for a total donation of $480 annually.
Gary Bay, incoming Lodge Master, said supporting Book Buzz is just another way Fraternal Lodge 363, which also sponsors the Backpacks for Kids program providing clothes and food to students in need, supports children.
Reading is just as critical to a child’s future success, and having access to good books is as vital as having clothes on their backs and shoes on their feet,” said Bay.
“And it’s rewarding to see the benefits Book Buzz has for the kids and how it helps them with their writing and reading,” he remarked.
Stuckenschneider knows that is a feelling shared by other sponsors as well. She recalled a sponsor once telling her she never learned to read, and she supported Book Buzz because she wanted her granddaughternot to suffer the same experience. Having access to engaging books would help all the children in the community, the sponsor said.
Other sponsors shared similar reasons for why they support the literacy program.
“Book Buzz is a way to get books into the hands of our youth. Reading helps open their minds and increases their imagination, helping them to realize that anything is possible in their life,” said Chris Marquart, vice president of the Washington Optimist Club, which has been a sponsor since 2004. “Books in the hands of youth help mold the adults of our tomorrows.”
Tracy Straatmann, a second-grade teacher at Clearview Elementary, said her first experience with Book Buzz was when Kitchell’s son, Tate, was a student in her classroom when she taught first grade at Washington West and Newsbee and Chris Stuckenshneider came in one day for a visit.
“The class was very enthusiastic. From then on, I have been having my class write reviews for Newsbee,” said Straatmann.
As a first-grade teacher, she would read the book to students during class and have them write a class review to submit to the newspaper. When she moved to teaching second grade, Straatmann had the students start writing individual reviews, which “aligns with our curriculum and helps the students reflect on their writing and reading.”
Some of her students have had their reviews selected to appear in the newspaper over the years, which means they receive a free Book Buzz Pick the following month, a donation from the Washington Optimist Club.
“Winning books for their own personal library is a very big incentive . . . I have even had students reading and writing reviews in the summer,” said Straatmann.
“The students love these books,” she added. “Chris and Dawn have done a wonderful job of selecting very interesting books.”
Patti Nantz, who teaches a combined third- and fourth-grade class at Crosspoint Christian School in Villa Ridge, describes the Book Buzz program as “vital.” Not only does she use the program to boost reading and writing, she uses it as a way to bring children together.
“Last year I ordered two bee costumes from Amazon. My students, the Mini-Bees, ‘buzz in’ to the younger classes and treat them to a story and honey crackers. It promotes reading fluency and engages the different grade levels,” said Nantz. “I encourage my students to practice the story ahead of time and think of one question related to the story to ask their ‘hive.’
“Writing reviews is an excellent way to apply our grammar rules outside of the textbook,” she added. “It shows the relationship between reading and writing, and it is, oh, so fun when one of our reviews gets selected for print!”
Amy Reed, a librarian at both Zitzman Elementary and Truman Elementary schools in Pacific, said she appreciates how the Book Buzz program helps build the libraries.
“It is a great way for the library to add even more new books to our collection,” said Reed. “It is always exciting to see what the new Book Buzz books will be each month.”
Sitting at a table inside Neighborhood Reads bookstore in Downtown Washington, another outgrowth from the Book Buzz project, Kitchell and Stuckenschneider laughed together and smiled as they flipped through old newspaper clippings and photos showing the evolution of Book Buzz these last 15 years — from its humble beginnings as a simple monthly news story recommending three children’s books to an eye-catching four-color graphic layout with a honeycomb pattern background and tiny bees buzzing between the copy.
As the memories come back to them of all the people from across the community who’ve stood up with them to celebrate reading and promote children’s literacy, they are quick to give credit to all of Book Buzz’s sponsors.
“It may sound corny, but that’s what really gave Newsbee his wings,” said Kitchell. “If it wasn’t for the sponsors, Book Buzz wouldn’t be the success it is today.”
And without them, it couldn’t continue.
What Is Book Buzz?
Book Buzz is a column published in the People section of the first weekend issue of The Missourian every month.
The Missourian delivers the donated Book Buzz Picks to schools along with classroom newspapers the week before the column appears in the newspaper. Book Buzz books also can be found in Washington and Scenic Regional libraries.
Young readers have six weeks to read the books and submit reviews on the Book Buzz Picks to Newsbee@emissourian.com.
One student review on each Book Buzz Pick is published in the last weekend issue of The Missourian each month. Additional reviews are posted on emisssourian.com.
A guide for writing book reviews can be found at emissourian.com. Book reviews can be submitted by classrooms, students at school and young readers at home.
Past Picks and other book recommendations can be found on emissourian.com.