30,000 books for Sonoma schools

Tony Pisacane leads the Books to Schools program for Sonoma Valley Library Friends and has helped bring 30,000 books into local school libraries and classrooms over the past five years. Pisacane takes the time to speak with librarians and teachers individually to see what they need, and aims to help students get the books they most want to read.

Pisacane was participating in the Friends of the Library book donation program when he realized that many of the excellent children’s books they were receiving could be useful to local schools. He was right.

In its early days, school libraries were underfunded and struggled to maintain book collections that were in good condition, attractive, and relevant to young readers. The classroom libraries shared the same challenges.

Pisacane got to work and the Friends of the Library Books to Schools program was born. Not only does the program place thousands of relevant books in school libraries and classrooms, but it also helps purchase books when they are needed quickly. A school was about to celebrate Cesar Chavez Day and then realized they had no books on the important historical figure to share with students, so Books to Schools purchased the necessary texts.

Pisacane sometimes found little response from school administrators, so he did the necessary work to interview librarians and teachers himself. This made his job a bit more difficult, but it also helped him keep his finger on the pulse of local student needs.

Pisacane has found that many students read below grade level, so when he speaks with teachers, he makes sure he is providing books that work for their class.

“What I need to know is: for which subjects and for which levels do you want me to provide books?” he said. “It’s not just a third-grade book that goes into a third-grade classroom. It’s very personalized.

There were not enough books in Spanish in some classes where students were still learning English. “I know in pre-kindergarten classes we sent books home with the kids that were in English,” he said. “We found out that maybe the parents didn’t speak English, so they couldn’t read to them, so we started buying more Spanish books, so the kids’ parents could share that with them.”

Teachers often spend their own money on supplies for their classrooms, and the book program takes some of the burden off them. “It’s a classic problem, with teachers having to buy a lot of the materials needed for their class,” Pisacane said.

Emily Brown is a fourth grade teacher at Prestwood Elementary. When she entered the classroom, there were no books in the classroom library. She knew about Pisacane and the Books to Schools program and contacted him for help. “I spent a ton of money on supplies, but Tony provided me with all the books for my class,” she said.

Brown said her students think about the types of books they enjoy and send lists of requests to Pisacane. “What’s great is the variety of novels he’s brought to me,” Brown said. “He brought Spanish novels for my Spanish readers, he brought me historical novels for children who love history. The range of books he has provided is amazing.

“It’s a wonderful program he offers,” Brown said. “I have beautiful hardback copies of Harry Potter and other books that kids love.”

Pisacane and the Books to Schools program contribute to literacy in local schools. “What I’ve found is that when a student asks for a specific type of book and the book arrives, they’re more engaged with that book because it’s something they’ve chosen,” said Brown said.

“Frequently, students read books that are much more difficult than they are able to understand, but when it’s something they’ve chosen, they really strive to grow so they can understand it,” said Brown. “When it’s a choice and it’s treated as a gift, they appreciate it so much more.”

Brown said she also loved that Pisacane stayed in touch with some of his former students as they progressed through high school and that he still provided them with books and communicated with their families. “It’s so great because kids need books,” she says.

Interacting with children is Pisacane’s favorite part of her job. “It’s a personal transaction,” he said. “They are the ones who transmit to me my love of books, my love of reading. It is me who is interested in what interests them and who finds them the right book to spark that joy in them,” he said.

Colin L. Johnson