PITTSFIELD — This holiday season, the gift of literacy has been spreading through the city's public elementary schools through the Rotary Club of Pittsfield, and one of those schools, thanks to a famous author, has gotten an additional gift for its library.

This month marks the twelfth year the Pittsfield club, through Rotary International's worldwide literacy campaign, has been able to donate high-quality dictionaries to every third-grade student in Pittsfield and Richmond.

Members of the club this year distributed nearly 500 books to youngsters in their classrooms.

As Rotarians arrived with boxes of books on Friday, the children in Kalei Sullivan's classroom at Conte Community School chanted "It's Dictionary Day! It's Dictionary Day! It's Dictionary Day!"

Sullivan explained, "We talked about the dictionaries this morning and several of the children know about them because they had older siblings who've received them."

The dictionary selected for distribution is the 848-page Macmillan Dictionary for Children, which features more than 3,000 images and 35,000 entries.

"It's a really good dictionary for this age," said Conte third-grade teacher Elizabeth Contenta. "They use it for homework and like to look at the pictures."


Project chairman Ron Latham said such comments "make us so pleased and proud that Rotary Club has been able to have such a meaningful impact on literacy in our community."

Once delivery is complete, the club will have, over the 12-year-period, distributed 5,955 hardcover dictionaries, plus two "talking dictionaries" for visually impaired students, an investment of more than $55,000. Prior to distribution, volunteers from RSVP attach a bookplate and cover letter with each book, explaining to parents and guardians the donation.

James Patterson grants

In addition to the dictionaries, Conte, along with Monument Valley Regional Middle School in Great Barrington, will be receiving library funds, thanks to best-selling author James Patterson's $1.75 million Pledge to Libraries program, coordinated in partnership with Scholastic Reading Club and the American Booksellers Association. The schools are among 467 award recipients chosen out of tens of thousands of applicants.

Conte Librarian Britt Buckenroth applied for and received a $6,000 grant, while Great Barrington Libraries' Children's Librarian Laurie Harrison applied for a grant on behalf of Monument Valley, which will receive $2,000.

Conte third-graders flip through their new dictionaries, a Pittsfield Rotary gift.
Conte third-graders flip through their new dictionaries, a Pittsfield Rotary gift. (Jenn Smith — The Berkshire Eagle)

Both Buckenroth and Monument Valley Librarian and Media Specialist Nancy Kane said they plan to procure new materials for so-called reluctant readers, including graphic novels and other illustrated reference texts proven as engaging learning tools. Both will be consulting with teachers to pick the most relevant materials to expand and update their collections.

"I have no money to buy books," said Buckenroth who said she's "still in shock" about the grant. She annually requests $12,000 from various outside agencies to update materials, some of which are 10 to 20 years old.

Both Conte Principal Kerry Light and Monument Valley Principal Ben Doren lauded Patterson for devising such a program, and praised their librarians for pursuing such opportunities.

In a statement about the program, Patterson said the school grants and bookseller bonuses he's awarded are his "humble acknowledgment of some of the terrific work taking place in libraries and bookstores."