MANCHESTER — Next year's sixth graders at McLaughlin Middle School will be able to read “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” thanks to the efforts of one member of this year's class.
Twelve-year-old Maria Bibbo felt strongly enough about the book, a 1977 Newbery Medal winner that explores the effects of racism on the life of an African American family in Depression-era Mississippi, that she was determined to make sure others could read it.
“It's a really good book,” she said. “It teaches people how bad racism is.”
So after her language arts teacher said she might not be able to use it again because of the worn quality of the class copies, Bibbo decided to replace them.
Without telling her teacher, Christine Titus, about her plan, Bibbo set out to raise enough money to purchase 33 new copies of the book. “That was my goal,” she said.
To determine how much money she would need, Titus said: “Me and my Dad, we started at Barnes and Noble.” But the book was too expensive there, she said, so they turned to Scholastic.
Then it was time to devise a fund-raising plan. “At first, I was thinking of having yard sales,” she said, but past experience with them ruled that out. It was also mid-March when she began the project.
She finally decided on door-to-door sales of a variety of items, including beaded or woven bracelets and necklaces, surprise bags, and her specialty, baked goods. “I do bake a lot,” she said.
Bibbo printed up a page explaining the goal: “More Money, More Books,” with an explanation about the need to replace the books, and a list of possible purchases and their prices. She even offered an incentive: “If you spend more than 20 dollars you will get a free surprise bag.”
She started selling in her neighborhood in the middle of March. “I went around with my list,” she said. “I avoided all my classmates' houses because I knew word would get around.”
Among the offerings were homemade cookie and brownie mixes, but buyers' favorites were the baked cookies and brownies. Bibbo said it took about two and a half months to complete the fund-raising campaign. “I put a lot of effort into what I did,” she said.
In order to maintain the surprise, Bibbo contacted the sixth grade guidance counselor, Dan Marshall. She said she asked, “if I could ship them to the guidance office.”
Marshall agreed to help keep the secret and when they arrived, Bibbo had another way to maintain the surprise.
“She asked if she could see Mr. Marshall,” said Titus, never suspecting the reason.
When Bibbo returned with the books, Titus said she teared up. “It's one of the kindest things,” she said.
Titus said Bibbo's classmates were also impressed. “They thought it was an amazing thing ... They thought it was awesome.”
Titus said she intends to make sure future students know what Bibbo did, so she will put a notice in the books: “Donated by Maria Bibbo.”