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Kids get it, donate books to other kids

Thirteen-year-old Derreck Doan said his parents were alarmed when they noticed him emptying the family bookshelf this month and filling two large bags with books he'd read throughout his childhood.

The childhood, at least, from kindergarten to third grade.

They yelled at me two or three times,' the San Jose boy said. After I explained the reason, they calmed down.'

Derreck was making a gift to other children, he told his parents. The Gift of Reading.

I decided to donate the books because the kids we're donating to are very poor. I had a lot of books I didn't need to read anymore.

For the past six years, students at Chaboya Middle School have been gathering books and donations for the Gift of Reading, a Mercury News project that takes new and gently used books and puts them in the hands of children throughout Santa Clara, San Mateo and Alameda counties who don't have a bookshelf like Derreck's to call their own.

Reading is important here. Each day, the entire school stops for 20 minutes after lunch for mandatory reading. Even the office staff members put down their work and pick up a book.

Some kids re-read books, such as Louis Sachar's ``Holes,'' said Vivian Hsu, 12, because they get to go back to the world created by the authors.

Scrounging for books

Young people are not only generous but creative in helping other children have the opportunity to also have books at home.

Daniella Alvarez, another eighth-grader, scoured her house for money -- you know, the kind you find beneath sofa cushions -- so that she could buy lots of used books at the Capitol Flea Market.

Some titles she remembered reading when she was younger, such as one of the popular ``Goosebumps'' series by R.L. Stine.

``They could laugh if they have a really funny book'' said Gurdeep Pabla, 12, when he explained why he donated to the program. He was thinking of books such as ``Al Capone Does My Shirts,'' by Gennifer Choldenko.

Last year, the Mercury News, with its partner, Kids in Common, distributed more than 70,000 books to about 50,000 young readers.

Each language arts classroom at Chaboya has a big jar labeled ``Pennies for Literacy.'' Assistant Principal Leslye Lawler has visited the coin counting machine in her local supermarket twice already. They also get checks and paper money, too. Just before Thanksgiving, Chaboya kids had topped $1,000 in donations. This Thursday, Lawler said, the coin-counter will get its last workout.

When blessed, share

Certainly the kids at this school, set against the hillsides in the Evergreen district, know they are blessed with plenty. Growth is the operative word in this part of San Jose. The massive houses with tile roofs and stone facades seem to have all sprung from the same fancy stucco factory.

Jeremy Marques donated $25 of his birthday money. ``They don't have much,'' he said. ``I have a lot.''

Jake Schafer, a seventh-grader who loves basketball and lacrosse, donated $50. He's not a great reader himself, he said. When eighth-grader Nick Sohm said he'd taken a month to re-read the first Harry Potter book, Jake drew his breath. That would take me two years!''

See, there was a reason for that donation, Jake's mother said. They talked about it. Contributing to the Gift of Reading, she hopes, will underscore her son's need to focus on reading a little more, too.

By L.A. Chung
Mercury News Columnist

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