Catherine Merrick was frustrated when the Idaho Legislature cut school funding in 2009 and even more so when Boise School District zeroed library budgets in 2010. No money for libraries meant no new children's books would make their way onto library shelves.
"I loved it when our school library got new books in," said Merrick. "I remembered wanting to be the first to read them and even wrote book reviews for our school newsletter. So, of course, hearing about the funding being drastically cut two years ago really resonated with me. That's when I started thinking about how to help."
Merrick said she thought a lot about fundraisers, how they're run and who they're aimed at.
"I didn't want a black-tie-gala-formal-$100-dinner-champagne thing," she said.
Instead, Merrick, who plays in local rock band AKA Belle and slings vinyl at The Record Exchange, wanted to target younger parents, especially those with an ear for music.
Merrick's solution was Rock to Read, a benefit concert hosted by local musicians, the first incarnation of which was held last year. The event's goal was to raise enough money to buy every school library in the Treasure Valley a set of children's books that had received children's literature awards from the American Library Association that year, something that would cost approximately $50-75 per school. With a who's who of local musicians crooning and a special performance from Exene Cervenka of legendary Los Angeles punk pioneers X, Rock to Read was more than a success--it was a smash.
"We hand-delivered the books to the schools," said Merrick. "The gratitude that we met was kind of overwhelming."
So she's doing it again. But Merrick and her co-organizers are switching a few things up for the second incarnation. This year, libraries will receive gift cards so they can select the books they need.
This year the lineup will be all local--with performances from Jumping Sharks, Storie Grubb and the Holy Wars, The Dirty Moogs (who have written a song based on a Dr. Seuss book), Standing Stupid (which took its name from Shel Silverstein's A Light in the Attic) and Boise Rock School. Songwriters Joey Corsentino--formerly of Sleepy Seeds--and Thomas Paul will both perform songs they wrote especially for this event that are based on children's books.
South Junior High librarian Mary Karol Taylor was so impressed with last year's event that she volunteered to help this year.
"The artists introduced themselves and spoke about why they were participating and about how their school library was an important place for them as children and how the written word played a big role for them in their development," said Taylor. "It was really cool and validating to hear that as a librarian."
While supportive of the event, Boise Democrat Nicole LeFavour has a slightly darker outlook.
"I wish an event like this were not necessary," said LeFavour. "This is an attempt to make up for the horrible harm the Legislature has done to Idaho schools and libraries and kids. We shouldn't be having to do events to make sure kids have enough books to read. It's pretty embarrassing as a state."
Like last year, LeFavour will be performing an original piece of slam poetry at Rock to Read called "Fruit of the Words," which she pointed out, she wrote ahead of time for a change.
"Usually I scribble it on the way there," LeFavour said.
Before becoming the first openly gay member of the Idaho Legislature, LeFavour was also part of Idaho's first delegation to the national poetry slam competition.
"We did terribly," she laughed. "But I had a lot of fun."
LeFavour said that by cutting more than $300 million in taxes over the last 10 years, Idaho has put parents in the position of having to hold fundraisers like Rock to Read.
"While this event is amazing it would never be able to make up for the loss in state funding," said LeFavour.
Laura Delaney, owner of Rediscovered Bookshop and an organizer of Rock to Read, is more hopeful.
"I have to have this belief, that our Legislature is there to represent the needs and desires of the people who reside in our state," she said. "This kind of event, I see as bringing more attention to the needs of what our students want and providing a way for the Legislature to see what it is our community desires for our children's learning."
Though Delaney will get a few bucks from sales as the bookseller for Rock to Read, she's not participating for the profit. This event is a natural extension of Rediscovered's mission to aid libraries. Her shop even has a large bookshelf in the back room that any school library can take from for free. Some are books the shop won't be carrying any more, others are donated by customers, and others come from overstocked libraries. Both Rediscovered and Rock to Read have similar goals: to help interest kids in reading.
"The most common request I have right now is, 'I need books for teen boys that aren't about sports,'" Delaney said.
Even something like Harry Potter, she explained, is very obviously set in a specific time and place and may not be relevant to kids in 40 years.
"If you're trying to get a child turned on to reading, it has to start from their own experiences," Delaney said. "If you don't have a context for a historical setting and you're not interested in reading, it's one more barrier to discovering that love of reading."
Delaney said that if you keep the selection current and make sure kids have access to the books their friends are excited about, then they will spend more time browsing the shelves and, ultimately, reading. And the school library is the best place for that to happen.
"We want parents to come to the event," said Merrick. "We want them to bring their children. We want them to understand that making an impact is feasible."