Why Book Harvest? Reflections from a Retired Durham Public Schools Media Coordinator

September 22, 2022 | Benay Hicks

At the end of July, my Book Harvest colleague, Amy Franks, received an email from Valerie Souchek. The email was so moving that Amy shared it with the rest of the team:

July 29, 2022

I am writing to you today to THANK YOU and BOOK HARVEST for the wonderful service you provide not only for myself and my students, but for all the kids of Durham. Out of all my partnerships over the years within our community the one I have shared with Book Harvest is the one that pulls at my heart. As of Monday I will be officially retired and this was the last email on my heart to write after 34 yrs as an educator — 30 of those spent right here at Southwest Elementary.

Namaste Amy and once again to you and your team, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Valerie Souchek
Media Coordinator, Southwest Elementary

Upon reading Valerie’s beautiful words, I was inspired to ask her a few questions about her role as a media coordinator and her partnership with Book Harvest. During Valerie’s last ten years at Southwest Elementary in Durham, the school hosted several “free book fairs” as part of Book Harvest’s Books on Break program, which partners with schools to provide free, culturally inclusive books to every elementary school student in Durham Public Schools (and beyond!).

As the media coordinator, Valerie was the school lead of the program at Southwest. Read Valerie’s powerful testimony below.


Free Book Fairs: A Game Changer for Equitable Access

Our school offers a book fair through public vendors twice a year. The events are wonderful, but for many of my students the books were very expensive. There was a time before my partnership with Book Harvest, that Book Fairs were not very equitable. Book Harvest has allowed for me to hold two additional FREE Book Fairs twice a year. Book Harvest, which provides the main source of books, with minor back up from other grants, ensures that every child leaves the Book Fair with at least two new books.

Often the boxes are delivered months before the Free Book Fair, but when those boxes come through the door and the kids see them stacked in the library, there is pretty much non- stop pleading to go through them by 6 classes a day, 5 days a week. If I had a penny for every time I was asked, “Can’t we just open one?” I could have retired years ago.

When Books Become Treasure

Every year kids come to the Free Book Fair with the hope of finding that one treasure that they really want. I watch them diligently go through box after box touching every book, as I listen to squeals of delight as they find “THE ONE”, they were looking for. For them it is truly the Treasure Hunt of all Treasure Hunts”. For this reason, I try not to go through the boxes ahead of time so I can honestly say that I have no idea whether a certain title or author is somewhere in boxes. I literally go through every box sent with my kids, because I am just as silly over them as they are😊.

The books are great, they especially love the graphic novels and current titles. The books that are usually left behind are the ones that look like leveled readers or very old titles. A great addition would be a larger quantity of books in Spanish. My school currently has 6 or more classrooms that are bilingual.

Why Book Harvest Matters

I seriously can’t imagine anything more beneficial to this district that Book Harvest. This is the one organization that truly does more than just TALK about impacting the lives of children. It actually DOES IMPACT the lives of children directly, immediately, positively. There is no waiting for a vote, or a budget to pass, or all of those other scenarios that put the needs of kids on hold. BOOK HARVEST delivers every time, I have felt and seen the impact in the eyes of my kids. For many of my families’ books were a luxury, and while they are still a treasure for the kids, BOOK HARVEST ensures they are within reach!

I will be forever grateful for how BOOK HARVEST has enriched the lives of my students and my own life as well. Many of my children came from other countries. Reading is a fundamental part of their mastery of the English language. My students had access to multiple books of their own choosing, that allowed them to practice their new language whenever and where ever they wanted.


Thank you to Valerie for sharing her experience, for serving her community, and for loving books as much as we do! To learn more about Books on Break, visit https://bookharvest.org/books-on-break/.

Family Space Now Open!