Standing L-R: Belinda Cruz, Academic Officer for ELA/SS; Authors Rene Saldana, Steven Weinberg, and James Luna; Katherine Wright, Texas Book Festival Board Member; Supt. Fernando Castillo; (Standing Middle) Celia Martinez, Caceres Elem. Principal; (sitting) Cynthia Balderas, Librarian

Students at Caceres Elementary in Donna had an opportunity to meet a real author and receive a free autographed book, thanks to a grant awarded to the school.

James Luna, Steven Weinberg and Rene Saldana appeared at Caceres recently as part of the Texas Book Festival’s Reading Rock Stars program. According to the program’s website, the hands-on literacy initiative sends nationally recognized authors to Title I schools in Texas to inspire young readers with dynamic presentations and send them home with the most empowering experience of all – a book for each student. The Texas Book Festival funds and coordinates the author visits and donates the books to the children.

School Librarian Cynthia Balderas submitted an application and was elated to find out that Caceres was selected as a Reading Rock Stars campus for the 2016-17 school year.

“I applied for the grant three years ago on behalf of the school and unfortunately we didn’t get it,” Balderas said. “This time around I received a call letting us know that we were selected so we were very excited. I was told that our children were going to be receiving free books and the authors were going to be visiting us. I got even more excited when I was told these visits and book giveaways were going to happen for the next three years.”

32481699944_097d062e4e_oBalderas believes student responses in the application were key in convincing the Texas Book Festival to award the school the Reading Rock Stars grant. “I asked some third and fourth graders what getting an author on campus would mean to them,” Balderas said. “I was amazed by their responses. They related an author’s visit to better reading, creativity and a desire to be a writer in the future. Fifth graders said this experience will be one they will remember, especially if they get an autographed book. They don’t get a book when a regular author visits because they can’t afford to buy it.”

James Luna talked to PreK-first grade students about his book entitled “The Place Where You Live” which included the Spanish version “El Lugar Donde Vives”. Weinberg presented his book “You Must Be this Tall” to second and third grade students and Saldana discussed his book “A Mystery Bigger Than Big” and the Spanish version “Un Misterio Mas Grande Que Grandisimo” to fourth and fifth grade students.

32481704074_ceb30e77ed_oThe students were engaged and especially excited when the authors personally handed each student a free book. “I really like reading these books because they’re funny and I like reading,” Miranda Borrego said. Jolynn Ortiz was just as excited, “The book is really cool. I’m very happy that the author is giving us his book.”

A member of the board of the Texas Book Festival, Katherine Wright came from Austin to see for herself the importance of the Reading Rock Star’s program in Valley schools. “I think the program is imperative because it puts books in the hands of children,” Wright said. “So many of these kids in this room don’t own their own books. They’ll be able to take an autographed book and put it in their home library and share this experience with their parents. Our hope is that it will inspire a love of reading and a love of literacy as well as teach the children that anyone can grow up and write and be an author.”

“Research shows that if the children have books at home, they’re more successful,” Balderas said. “They build their love of reading, vocabulary and fluency. That’s our goal at Caceres and in our library.”

As part of the event, the students dedicated a hallway for each of the three books using creative artwork, drawings and other materials to express their love of reading.