Vending machines are usually sources of snacks and soft drinks; empty calories, nothing substantial.

There’s one at Hillis Elementary that’s quite an exception to that general rule.

It’s stocked with books!

Principal Renee Gelfond knows someone in the vending business and she thought a book machine might stimulate student engagement in the school’s yearlong Reading Challenge.

The Hillis PTO bought the unit, which was customized to dispense its atypical inventory upon insertion of the book bucks “customers” earn by meeting their classroom reading quotas each month.

Librarian Jordan Milligan says the machine has caused a spurt in student reading since it was installed last month.

“Our kids are super excited about earning free books,” he said. “Books are even available in Spanish. I used money from the PTO library fund to stock the machine with titles for different grade levels.”

When we dropped by to “check out” the cool book locker, 5th graders Viviann Jacobs, Maddox White and Ian Williams were cashing in.

“I chose Beauty & the Beast,” said Viviann. “It’s my (4th grade) sister’s favorite movie.” Hmm, that volume might become a hand-me-down at her house.

Besides the motivation of earning “money” with regular reading, Hillis also has traveling trophies for each grade level that make the rounds between classrooms depending on which ones log the most minutes with their noses in books each month. Ian’s class won the award for 5th grade in November.

“Altogether we had over 9,000 minutes,” he said proudly, adding that he personally has already knocked off 31 of the 40 titles on this year’s interscholastic Battle of the Books reading list.

Maddox vowed that his class will wrest the trophy away in December as the friendly reading rivalry heats up.

The hope at Hillis was just to stimulate extra reading. The result, in effect, is a branch library in the hallway; a vending machine that satisfies the cravings of kids who down pages like potato chips.

Photos of the Hillis Elementary Book Vending Machine
Hillis Students Snack on Food for Thought

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