"I want to buy this book for my niece," the young man told me proudly as he handed over a pink Barbie chapter book. "And I want these mushroom erasers for myself."

My 8-year-old daughter started to scan the purchases- she loves to run the scanner.

"Here is my money," he said as he handed over one dollar bill.

I sighed. The book was $9.99. The cute little mushroom erasers were $2.99 each. "OK," I started, knowing that this conversation would be easiest if it were the most direct. "The book costs $10 and the erasers are $3 each - and you have five of them. You don't have the money to buy these."

He quickly agreed. "I'll just get the one mushroom then, this brown one." He looked up at me expectantly.

"That's still $13," I pointed out. "You have only given me $1."

"But I have more," he said. Hopeful, I watched as he picked through his wallet. "Here!" he announced triumphantly - and he handed me four quarters from his wallet. I repeated that he needed more, much more, and suggested that he try finding something else that didn't cost as much. "Wait. Wait. I have more. Here!"

The extra digging through his pockets now brought the total up to $3. "Now I can get them."

I walked him through the math. "If the book costs $10 and the mushroom costs $3 - plus tax - how much money do you need?"

I spied his teacher in the hallway, checked how long the line was getting behind him, and made a quick decision. "Tell you what. Your teacher will be free to help in about 10 minutes.


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Come back and see me then."

My daughter and I moved on to the next person in line. She scanned the book, I pushed some of the buttons on the machine, and she took the money from the first grader. Then we came to the trickier part for an 8-year-old: making change.

The machine provided how much to give. I watched to see that it was correct; she likes to use dimes and nickels more than my personal preference for quarters. We counted it out together, in front of the customer.

The next child came up 54 cents short. This happened often: most parents don't know that while the Scholastic book orders into the classrooms never charge tax, the book fair must. Very often the parent and child have carefully gone over the flyer together, chosen specific books, calculated the exact amounts, and sent in exactly that amount with their child.

As a parent myself, I would be very upset if I had gone through all that, and my kid came home with only one book, especially if it were for lack of 54 cents. I smiled at the child, and told him that someone else in line was giving him a gift that day of 54 cents. "Say a random thank you to someone in the hallway," I suggested. "It will make them happy. Next!"

We tallied up the next order, and asked for his total of $10.23. "Keep the change," he said, after having watched the previous order come up short.

The next customer came up-with a baggie full of change. "I think I have enough in here," she said. We started counting, sorting quarters from dimes, nickels from pennies, stacking them in neat columns. Even as we worked as fast as we could, the bell rang.

"OK, first bell," I announced. "Get to class if you are not in line!" I sent my daughter off to her room, and worked on the rest of the line.

One of the paras came in. "Did you sell this book this morning?" she asked me, showing me one with a special locket and jewel on it. Luckily, that particular book was distinctive enough that I remembered it, and no, I had not. "I thought so ... I will be back. The same child told me just this morning that he only had 73 cents, so I didn't think that he would have the money to buy this book."

The young man who wanted the mushroom came back and explained that he wanted to buy the Barbie book for his niece. "It's her Christmas present," he said. I told him that he still needed more money, present or not - and that the bell had run. He crossed the hall and entered into his classroom.

A brother and sister were standing together, and carefully, the older brother helped his sister put the book up and count out their money. Then he bagged both of them and took charge of their new books as they left for their separate classrooms.

The next student explained that she was buying the book for her preschool age cousin. "She loves this guy!" she said, delighted with her ability to find the perfect gift.

A few minutes later, I had finished the line, and the para returned with her young charge in tow. "What do you want to say?" she prompted.

After he mumbled an apology, I weighed how much to chastise, and how much to acknowledge the small right of owning up in comparison to the large wrong of taking a book - especially after having clearly acknowledged his lack of money, just that morning, and his young age. I went for a reminder on how wrong it was, and a thank you for fessing up.

On her way out the door, the aide asked if I had seen the brother. I knew nothing, but she suspected ... and went in search. She came back with the brother - and his book, which he, too, had not paid for. Given the age of the sibling, I decided to be a bit clearer with this one. I pointed out that, if this were not his school, and this were a store, the police could indeed be called in. He meekly agreed. I assisted him in putting the book back, and sent him back to class with a final statement about how it is just plain wrong to steal.

The teacher from across the hall slipped back into the library. He bought two books, one for his classroom and another for his own child ... and a mushroom eraser. "Oh," I said, smiling. "You decided to get it for him in the end?"

"Nope," he corrected me. "He'll earn it. It will be a great motivator for him for today."

The librarian and I tallied up how much she could spend on books. I reminded her that the highest seller of the winter sports fundraiser had $25 to spend, and she promised to help him choose just-the- right books with him. She also commented on how she was checking with some of the staff on which kids could really use some books-but who would not have the funds to buy any. She had a small pile already going. "It's all about getting those books into those little darlings' hands," she commented.

I updated the front desk about the final hours as I was leaving. "It's so good that the book fairs bring in enough to cover the welcome back night, and the end-ofyear night," she said.

For the fifth time that week, I left for my office a full two and a half hours later than I would normally start. Every year that I've helped with the book fair, I've asked myself if it is worth it. By about Wednesday - every time - I am frustrated with the demands on my time and start questioning my decision to do this.

But, by Friday's close, I have seen so much good in this sale that is "so much more." I am greeted in the halls by all the kids that got to know me a bit all week long, with many of them yelling over their shoulders at me, "How can the book fair close? It's so much fun!"

Jill Stahl Tyler is a parent to three children involved in the local schools-now at the high school, middle school and elementary school levels. She firmly believes in all education, and currently sits on the board for the Brattleboro School Endowment, the Brattleboro Town School Board and the Early Education Services policy council.