We were more walk-in clinic than war zone MASH unit. The injuries we saw were nothing an eraser and a few labels couldn't cure; no serious wounds for us.
In fact, these books — given that they were in need of some attention — were in remarkably good shape.
AmeriCorps volunteer Heather Seagle, of Costa Mesa, repairs a book that will be donated to young children. The books are given away free to early childhood programs and children in need. The THINK Together Early Literacy program promotes reading to children.
H. LORREN AU JR., THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
We 58 volunteers spent the morning as Book Doctors. Together we treated 2,632 cast-off books donated to the nonprofit THINK Together Early Literacy Program. We rehabilitated scribbled or torn pages. We disinfected front and back covers. We made sure all pages in the board books were ready to read.
Seeing these books was a reunion with long-lost with friends. I was reminded of why I used to enjoy them so much.
The fact that most weren't battered and destroyed was a good sign: It meant they likely came from a place where they were treasured and loved.
While doctoring the books I couldn't help but wonder:
Why would anyone give them away?
Opening carton after carton of books was like playing inside your mother's closet. So many treasures, it was difficult to keep my mind on business.
Sure, some books were forgettable. They were a bland diet, the Lean Cuisine of literature that fills you for a minute but never earns a place in your heart. Others, well, others nourish your memories.
Turns out books are my personal way-back machine.
Beautiful, jewel-toned illustrations of Miss Spider remind us why picture books have pictures.
Bold circus colors depict trucks and fire engines and massive machines that capture a little boy's attention. They remind me of when my sons were riveted by dump trucks – back in the day when we waited outside for the arrival of the garbage truck.
It wasn't so much the stories in these books, but the memories they evoked: The years when no child went to bed without brushing and a book. There were no finer moments than slouching with my three children burrowing into me as I read to them.
As the books spilled out of their cartons, I saw Mercer Mayer's beloved Little Critters series and Robert Munsch's "Love You Forever," that grabs at the guts of any parent with a pulse.
I remembered the law of unintended consequences that follows if you give a mouse a cookie. I remembered the sly humor in Jack Prelutsky's poems.
Beverly Cleary's Ramona flashed by and then came Junie B. Jones. My daughter, who adored that sassy kindergartener, is 26 today. Junie was not yet a first-grader when we left her.
Somebody donated "Good Night Moon," a melodic classic with no plot except to guarantee my husband would fall asleep cuddled on the bed with our kids.
I was oohing and aahing – and I was not alone. We doctors all became fans, lining the red carpet of kid books.
Heather Seagle was there as a volunteer with the AmeriCorps/VISTA program. Her daughter, Lucy, is not yet 2, but Seagle began reading to her months ago.
"It's a big part of our lives...I teach around the books... We count things. I ask her what she sees."
A group called PIMCO Partners, volunteers from the investment firm, included 16 book doctors. Steve Snow and his wife brought their sons.
"I love reading," explains Josh Snow, 9. "You can imagine what's going to happen."
Giving away his own books is hard, Josh admits, because he likes to read them over and over.
Stephanie Sachs was volunteering with her daughter, Hailey, from the Orange/Villa Park National Charity League.
"There's a lot of memories from these books," Sachs says. "I used to read to my daughter. We don't get that time any more."
Hailey, 16, keeps a shelf of special books in her room.
Mary Kuli, also volunteering with her daughter from charity league, couldn't help but re-read a few favorites.
"It totally takes me back to when they were little. We always read at bedtime."
The Early Literacy Program is aimed at families where parents don't always read at bedtime. The program, focused on children to age 5, helps parents learn to use books as teaching tools.
As an AmeriCorps volunteer in the literacy program, Anahi Cazales reads to children while they wait to see the doctor. She models for parents how to do it.
"Even if a child doesn't read yet, they can create a story with pictures. They have the potential to look at a book," she explains. "Many parents are not aware of what a book can do for a child...We change lives with these books."
What seals the deal for me, though, is that the program gives children books of their very own. Ownership is empowerment. Last year EPL distributed 87,837 free books.
Donated books include discards from libraries and schools as well as former family books. Employees at one Santa Ana Target store have collected nearly 800 books for the literacy program. The Anaheim Hills Rotary Club collected 4,600 books this past year.
"This program just sparked something in me," explains George Gillespie, who chairs the Rotary project and reads to his six grandchildren. "It would be a tragedy to see some books thrown away. I want to see them end up in children's hands."
Before we begin doctoring, Julio Robles from THINK Together makes this promise: "Within two weeks, the books you clean today will be out there in somebody's hands."
That's the point.
Through the Early Literacy Program, these books will delight another child. They might be used, but they aren't used up. Their power to teach and transform a child's life is just as potent as ever.
That's when I realized: We give books away not so much because we no longer want them, but because we want to share them.