It’s my pleasure to introduce Penny Smith Eifrig, the founder of Eifrig Publishing and the co-founder of RoAR, Random Acts of Reading, along with Laura Schaeffer.
Penny, a true innovator whose efforts have consistently focused on encouraging literacy, diversity, inclusiveness, ecology, and community, has introduced an exciting way to promote reading in schools. Instead of students getting candy or chips from the vending machine, they can get books. How cool is that!
Below is my interview with Penny. Within it, she discusses RoAR, the book vending machines, and her initiatives to encourage literacy for all.
Q&A with Penny Smith Eifrig:
1. Penny, what sparked the idea for RoAR?
I founded RoAR almost a decade ago with one of my authors at Eifrig Publishing, Laura Schaeffer because we wanted to help facilitate more author events and access to books in underserved schools—but we never really were able to find a way to set it in motion. A few years ago, I was thinking about ways to support indie authors and publishers who were creating important content from the bottom up—meaning diverse books that originated from a sense of urgency in stories the authors needed to share with their own children, rather than filling a quota mandated from the top down in the big publishing houses. Then I woke up suddenly early in the morning on April 3, 2022, when my quiet mind must have been putting all the pieces together, and spilled out the concept for the Golden Ticket to Literacy and book vending machines into my cell phone. The next day I started the new website with a concept that provided a vessel for all of the ideas that had been swirling in my mind over the years of the pandemic, that combined an exciting literacy program for kids with diverse and inclusive books by indie authors.
2. How has your idea for RoAR develop into a reality?
It has been a full-time endeavor (next to my “real” work as a publisher and translator) as I collect titles from amazing indie authors and publishers from around the world. While I sometimes feel like I am not making much headway, on other days I see how developed the concept now is, and how functional it is as well, with our first pilot school having an amazing experience with their vending machine.
3. How did you come up with the concept of a book vending machine?
I had supplied books for a book vending machine for a school in 2022, so I had seen the concept. When I woke up with the Golden Ticket idea, I immediately reached out to Global Vending Group, the company that created the book vending machines. They were excited to hear of my plans, as many schools who had initially purchased the machines were having a hard time keeping them stocked with good books, as it was so time-consuming and expensive to find the right titles.
4. What types of genres will be housed within the book vending machines?
Our indie-published books include representation in diversity, neuro-diversity, inclusive families, multi-lingual families, world cultures, STEAM and environmental books.
5. I understand that instead of coins, the vending machines operate through tokens that the students place into the machine. How do students earn those tokens?
That is up to each school. Many schools already have incentives for positive learning and social behaviors, so this works great with that. At our pilot school in Centre Hall, PA, when kids earn 75 of their “Ram Stars” or earn the title of “student of the month” in their classrooms, they receive a token.
6. Once the student places the token in the machine, besides getting the literacy snack they want, what can or what might happen?
In our pilot school, in addition to the much sought-after Golden Ticket, there are coupons for lots of other fun prizes, like Stinky Feet Day for the whole class (shoes optional), getting to wear a hat all day, getting the principal’s chair to sit in for the day, or getting to have lunch at a special table with 3 friends up on the cafeteria stage. But the big prize is the Golden Ticket, which wins an author event for the whole school and a book for every child.
7. How does a student find a golden ticket?
It is a surprise to be found taped to the inside cover of a book in the machine.
8. Describe to us what happens, once a student finds the golden ticket?
The school sets up either an in-person or virtual visit with the author of the book containing the golden ticket. (The ticket includes a QR code that announces the prize). Before the visit, EVERY child in the age-appropriate grades for the book receives a free book (not just the kids who can afford to buy a book, like at most author events). This is an important part of the equity aspect of the whole program.
A free book for every child, not only the golden ticket winner! That’s fantastic!
9. How can schools or organizations get involved? What are the steps?
Check out the website at www.randomactsofreading.org to find out more and then reach out to get started. firstname.lastname@example.org
10. If people are interested in supporting RoAR, how can they go about doing that?
We recently started a gofundme page to help us get launched. So if folks want to support us in getting books that provide representation for all kids, please consider making a donation!
11. I understand you want to engage children to create and write their own stories through RoAR. How do you plan to do that?
We are hoping that schools will encourage kids to submit their poetry created during special units, as well as picture books and stories they create. We are still in the developmental stages of a writing workshop that kids can apply to join and then write a picture book together as a group.
12. What are your future hopes for RoAR?
I am hoping we double the number of machines going into schools every two months (we need to start slowly so we can grow at a sustainable pace), but I hope that by 2025 we have the numbers to really make the program fly (large quantity print runs will make the entire project be sustainable while providing books at a great discount to schools).
For those who are interested here are the social media links for RoAR as well as its website:
Penny, thanks so much for stopping by to let us know about your fabulous efforts to promote diversity, inclusion and literacy through ROAR, the golden ticket, book vending machines!