Lay’la Billingslea was so excited when her essay won that she jumped up and down. And up and down. And up and down a little more.
Her teacher, Michelle Pizzo, was a bit more controlled last year at the Bookstock B.E.S.T. Awards. But she was leaping on the inside, because she knows what any victory means to the children in the Detroit Public Schools Community District.
“You have to get yourself out there,” she tells her students at Davison Elementary-Middle School. They are as bright and driven as any kids anywhere, she says, but they are frequently told that they aren’t, so “you have to let people know how smart you are.”
That’s precisely what Lay’la did — with an assist from Michigan’s largest used book and media sale.
As honorary co-chair, along with my friend Rochelle Riley of the Detroit Free Press, it’s my cheerful duty to remind everyone that Bookstock is the perfect place to find an absurd assortment of books, movies, CDs, vinyl albums and sometimes the occasional 8-track, with paperbacks starting at a mere $1.
On Tuesday night, it will also be the perfect place to see a giddy fourth-grader win something.
The B.E.S.T. awards are in their fifth year at Bookstock. The acronym stands, if a bit awkwardly, for Bookstock Extraordinary Student/School/Teacher, and it describes an essay contest for Detroit fourth-graders that offers prizes for one winner, a few runners-up, and the teachers and schools of all the finalists.
Lay’la, 11, who is now an adorable fifth-grader, wrote her adorable treatise on the subject of “My favorite book character ... and why.” She chose a mouse named Benjamin from “Cat and Mouse in a Haunted House,” credited to the pseudonymous Geronimo Stilton.
In his capacity as a mouse, she noted, Benjamin is small. As for her, she’s the smallest member of her classroom. “But like Benjamin,” she wrote, “I have a huge personality.”
Mice and muses
Furthermore, she wrote, “I cheer my friends up and make them laugh when they’re sad like Benjamin does.” She and her mouse muse are both sensitive and astute, she said, even if she didn’t use those exact words. And they are bold: “I am known in my class for being brave and not backing down.”
“Benjamin and I would be really good friends if his character was real,” she said, and maybe he’d have been with her when she used her $100 prize to buy some jaunty new clothes.
Among the more lasting benefits of victory are a renewed focus on writing away from school, and a sense that the world will have a place for her.
Ultimately, Lay’la says, she wants to be an illustrator and an author and an actor and a news reporter: “That’s it so far.”
Go for it, says Pizzo.
“DPS students are as good as or better than everyone else,” she says after 20 years in the district, “but they don’t believe that” — until a success story from a used book sale reminds them.
Sales and specials
As for the sale, it gets underway at 8:15 a.m. Sunday with a welcoming flourish by the Livonia Churchill High School drumline and a presale that looks a bit like the Oklahoma Land Rush without the dust.
For $20, early birds get to alight before everyone else on an array of books that stretches the length of the mall, conveniently located on Six Mile east of I-275.
The volume of volumes easily tops 100,000 and might be twice that, but we figured out years ago that we were better off sorting them than counting them.
That’s a key bit of information: The books are divided into sections like mystery, biography, food, business and even history, in case you want to learn more about that land rush. Also, there are more materials than can be displayed at once, so new books — or rather, new used books — are set out every day.
Along with $3 and $4 hardbacks, you’ll find sales and special events; see BookstockMI.org for details. And at 5 p.m. Tuesday, you’ll see the latest giddy fourth-grader, scoring a victory that lots of others can take pride in.
Where: Laurel Park Place mall in Livonia, Six Mile east of I-275.
Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sun., 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Sat. Free except for $20 pre-sale, 8:15 -11 a.m. Sun.
Prices: Paperbacks start at $1; most hardbounds $3; trade paperbacks, newer hardbacks and specialties priced higher.