I'm thinking there's a great bedtime story in the amazing power behind brand new books and the way they have of igniting giddy joy in children.

Maybe a book with a title like "Ms. Marsh's Absolutely, Magical, Wonderful Reading Place Where Learning Seems More Like Fun Than Work." It could be set right in San Jose's Evergreen district, in the Dove Hill Elementary School's library, where the actual Missy Marsh presides over low but long shelves of books that students can barely wait to get their hands on. Marsh is an experienced librarian (they call them library media assistants now) who relies on programs like the annual Gift of Reading to keep her eager and demanding (demanding, but polite) customers happy.

"The kids get all excited when a new book comes in," Marsh says. "I have a new books rack. It gets them excited about reading. It really helps."

Excited about reading. That's the idea behind the Gift of Reading, a 24-year-old holiday book drive that this newspaper is sponsoring this year with Resource Area for Teaching, a nonprofit that provides year-round support and supplies to Bay Area teachers.


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This is a big year for the program, which features Professor Otto Shellworthy, the reading otter, as mascot. After scaling back last year because of budget and logistical constraints, RAFT is stepping up to support a longer drive that will run from Saturday through Dec. 16. The organization will be picking up books from more drop-off points, including many bookstores and libraries; and RAFT has designed a way to accept cash donations as well as new and gently-used books aimed at preschool and school-age readers. Books in Spanish and Vietnamese are especially appreciated because they are generally not donated in great number. (See www.raftbayarea.org/gor for more information on how and where to donate.)

So, let's go for it. In 2010, the Gift of Reading distributed 45,000 books. They ended up in classrooms and school libraries, in reading rooms at social service agencies and in the homes of kids whose parents can't afford a new book for their children. Bottom line: The books ended up in kids' hands.

Why not shoot for that this year and put the 2011 drive, which collected far fewer books, in the rearview mirror?

"We really wanted to continue participating in such a valuable event for the community," Rebecca Ronan, RAFT's Gift of Reading coordinator, says of the reinvigorated effort. "Our value is that as a nonprofit we really support educators trying to improve conditions in the classroom as far as resources that teachers can provide their students."

Students like Dove Hill second-grader Jenny Nguyen, who was making her daily visit to the school library earlier this week, with her mother and younger sister in tow.

"I feel good in this room," Nguyen says. "I can get books in this room."

Boy, can she. Her mother was helping Jenny check out five and five more for sister Karney, who is in kindergarten.

"I can read it," Karney Nguyen says of the value of a good book. "And I like the pictures."

Contagious joy, remember?

The Dove Hill library is a studious, but social, hub. Parents are free to visit early in the morning to select books for their children or to select books to read to their children. Parent volunteers help check out books. And during one lunch hour this week, student after student came in to ask Marsh if they could help sort or shelve books that had been returned.

The mass excitement that seems to accompany the arrival of new books is especially satisfying for Marsh. She remembers well last year when she was working at Montgomery Elementary School school and was able to stock the library there with Gift of Reading books donated by readers of this newspaper.

"When the kids saw what I was bringing into the library, they also brought books in," Marsh says. "It encouraged students to donate in their own way."

You've got to admit that that's a pretty compelling story. And better yet, it's a story that, with your help, is guaranteed to have a happy ending.

Contact Mike Cassidy at mcassidy@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5536. Follow him at Twitter.com/mikecassidy.

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how to donate
You can drop off books you'd like to donate at the following locations:
  • Recycle Bookstore, Campbell
  • Linden Tree Children's Books, Los Altos
  • Los Altos Library, Los Altos
  • Los Gatos Public Library, Los Gatos
  • Santa Clara County library administration, Los Gatos
  • Kepler's Books, Menlo Park
  • Milpitas Library, Milpitas
  • BookSmart, Morgan Hill
  • Morgan Hill Library, Morgan Hill
  • Resource Area for Teaching, Redwood City
  • Resource Area for Teaching, San Jose
  • Resource Area for Teaching, Sunnyvale
  • Mercury News, San Jose
  • Biblioteca Latinoamericana, San Jose
  • Recycle Bookstore, San Jose
  • Hicklebee's Bookstore, San Jose
  • Leigh's Favorite Books, Sunnyvale

    For more on book drop-off sites and how to donate to the Gift of Reading, see www.raftbayarea.org/gor.