Maryville High School is launching a new book-gifting program aimed at older readers.

Spoofhound Bookshelf will offer free reading books to interested high school students throughout the school year. The project was a result of collaboration between MHS Librarian Kimberly Offutt and student parent Kelley Baldwin.

Inspired by similar book-gifting programs for younger readers, Baldwin began researching similar projects available to older students but found very little information.

“Studies show us that book distribution programs that foster book ownership lead to so many wonderful results such as improved reading, writing and academic performance,” Baldwin said. “I was surprised that I couldn’t find an established program that benefits older students.”

So Offutt and Baldwin, who had never met previously, sat down and started talking. United by a love of reading and the understanding of how it feels to own your own books, they sketched out a plan that would provide free reading books to any student who was interested in having them – regardless of their household income. Having that caveat provides the school with two perks. First, it makes the program easier to implement since staff doesn’t have to take the time to qualify students through income questionnaires, and second, it’s more inclusive for all.

“Even if a family can afford to purchase books, they don’t always do so,” Baldwin said. “I grew up in a family where there was a bookshelf in practically every room of our house. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized that wasn’t the same for everyone. Some families value the joy and benefits of reading more than others. If we can provide free books to students who want their own, that’s a terrific gift to share.”

The project’s focus right now is fundraising. How many books the school can distribute at the beginning will depend on student interest and how many books are available.

“So we’ll have some leeway on how we handle this at first,” Baldwin said. “However, our target distribution is one book for each interested student every month. It’s a lofty goal but a laudable one.”

Baldwin hopes that helping students build or add to their home libraries will cause a ripple effect in the community.

“Students take those books home and now they can also be used by siblings, parents and anyone else interested in reading,” Baldwin. “It’s a gift they can share with their own family and friends.”

Donations for book purchases can be sent to Maryville High School in care of Spoofhound Bookshelf. Checks should be made payable to Maryville High School with Spoofhound Bookshelf in the memo line. If someone has gently used books to donate, he or she can contact Mrs. Offutt at the high school to see if they can be used for the program.

“This is also a great opportunity to donate in the memory of a loved one who enjoyed reading or shared the love of reading with you,” Baldwin said. “It certainly is a legacy that passes down generation to generation.”