A Bradshaw Mountain Middle School teacher answered more than 10 essay questions on a multiple-page application with Book Love Foundation, and won 500 free books for her classroom.
Diane Hamilton, a third-year Language Arts teacher - second with the Humboldt Unified School District - is one of 136 middle and high school teachers across the country that applied for the grant. Ten of those teachers received 400 books with vouchers to select 100 more of their choice for use in the classroom.
Hamilton has about 250 books of her own and figures she will need more shelves in her classroom to hold all the extra books that will be arriving soon. She will store any duplicates and replace old, well-used copies with the newer ones as needed.
"The more books we get into the hands of students, the better," she said.
Hamilton first heard of Penny Kittle, president and founder of the Book Love Foundation, at a workshop Kittle gave in Michigan. She learned that many students don't have the means to purchase books or they may not come from a culture of reading.
Hamilton agrees with what Kittle states on the Book Love Foundation website: "Students should have access to all the current award winners in literature and to the wide range of genres they will read in the future. Every classroom should have hundreds of books to inspire curiosity, hope, and vision for the future."
This past year the Foundation awarded five grants of $500 each to five finalists. Increased donations this year allowed it to give 10 classrooms 500 books (with a $3,800 limit); BMMS is the only Arizona school.
Hamilton challenges her students to read 40 books during the school year.
"All students are at different levels. For some, if they read 20-40 books I'll be happy," she said. "I just want to see them improving from where they are."
In order to better recommend books to her students, the eighth-grade teacher reads most of the books herself. A huge draw to middle school students is the popular dystopian novels, such as Divergent by Veronica Roth and The Giver by Jean Lowry, she said; both books have movies either out or soon to be released.
She requires her students to read two novels about the Holocaust as part of the eighth-grade curriculum, and one shelf is filled with such books.
Another shelf is labeled Tough Teen Issues. Hamilton said she allows her students to pick what they want to read, and she welcomes parents' input on "tough" subject matter. If parents don't want their child to read certain books, they only need to let her know, she said.
Like many teachers, Hamilton frequents thrift stores and libraries' used books to supplement reading materials. She accepts donations as well, and shares with her colleagues.
The shipment of new books should arrive by September.