When is Free, Really Free?

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The New West Fest was this last weekend in Fort Collins, Colorado. It featured day-to-night non-stop stage bands on several different venues, lots of food choices, virtually NONE of which were good for me, and an entire section for children, away from the music noise and hubbub.

Unite for Literacy had a small shade-tent set up (though we were under a lovely canopy of trees) where we gave away from copies of our books to families with small children. Our books are aimed at Birth through 8, with the hope that they offer a fun cuddle experience for parent and child for the smallest of children through perhaps age 4. For those 5-6 year olds who are just learning to read of course we’re looking for joy of reading books perfectly suited for their skill levels. For those up to 8 who are perhaps struggling a bit in grasping reading, we are interested that the content of our books offer them simple text and still offer enjoyable information and ideas.

Three boys with books

Three boys with Free Books

Playing Santa Claus with books is always fun. Most folks greeted us with generous smiles and welcomed our little spiel about the online library website of picture books. (Books are of course a wonderful “wind-down” after a day of visual and aural stimulation at such a fest.) Their wide-eyed children studied us carefully and accepted the books with caution overlaying a delight at such a gift from “that old man!”

I was rebuffed only a few times by parents who evidently could not imagine getting anything worth having free at a fair. It was as if I were there to stick my foot in their door and scam them in some way. As often as not, they left me with the sad impression that their children might need our free books more than most.

My reflection was that “free” (even when unstated) sounds too much like “bait” to many of us. Outside of the Internet, “free” is not a description to take seriously. Online it is totally common… but there I was extending a printed book in their direction and talking digital picture books…a cross-platform confusion, at best!

We passed out thousands of books this weekend and we hope inspired young families to enjoy our 100 picture book English library with narrations in up to 15 languages. Here’s hoping that the “rebuffers” will eventually get the message from their neighbors who now have access to 100 children’s books that, until the New West Fest, they never knew they could have for their children…and all for FREE!

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