When 5-year-old Eli saw the books piled high on two tables, it didn’t take him more than a few seconds to pick his.
His face lit up after seeing “5-Minute Star Wars Stories.” He hugged it tightly against his chest as he paraded across the room chanting “Star Wars, Star Wars, Star Wars.”
Eli was one of about 60 students who received a free book to take home at Emma E. Booker Elementary in Sarasota on Thursday. As part of National Summer Learning Day, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County donated about 1,400 books to the elementary school to give out to students, siblings and their parents.
By distributing books, the Community Foundation is trying to offset summer learning loss, which disproportionately affects students from low-income households.
The students, all about 5 years old, were part of Booker’s first Summer Learning Academy. During the 7-week program, they’ve gotten a jump start on learning their ABC’s and other reading skills before they start kindergarten at the school.
Between 1 and 1:30 p.m., the five classes of students came in to pick a book from the roughly 200 books available. On one table sat books about Disney princesses, Winnie-the-Pooh and Disney junior. On the other table were books about Star Wars and superheroes.
After Eli took his book, he walked over to his classmate Elijah who was looking at a Disney Junior storybook. He showed him where he got his Star Wars book and the two were soon reading on the floor as Kirsten Russell with the Community Foundation asked them questions about the stories inside.
When asked who their favorite character was, both pointed to a picture of Finn from Star Wars: Episode Seven.
Outside the school, Jackie Bowens got out of her car to pick up a Disney princess book for her 4-year-old granddaughter.
She was waiting for her other grandchild to get out for the day. While the 71-year-old said she has a lot of books at home, she liked being able to get something new to read with her granddaughters.
Dawn Clayton, Booker’s principal, said she plans to save the books left over to help students outside of the Summer Learning Academy add to their home libraries. By giving the kids books they’re interested in, she hopes they become passionate about reading.
“We want kids to be as excited about picking up a new book as they are about picking up a new app like Pokémon Go,” Clayton said.