Castlebar. In an otherwise familiar store I discovered a group of students who made Castle Bookstore memorable.  They were talking, not texting. They weren’t asking adults to do something for them. They were doing it for themselves – in person, not online.

While Castle Bookstore may be unique in many ways, the first thing I noticed was the familiar pattern of new books in front, school supplies in back, and a decent discount table near the door. I never really got the chance to explore beyond this surface similarity to other shops because I was intrigued by the conversation between three young women and the woman behind the counter.

The students were asking for a gift donation for their school’s local charity fundraiser. I appreciated the experienced – or at least well-rehearsed – sales pitch from the tallest of the three. The staffer listened attentively, asking some questions that gave the others an opportunity to talk. I had the feeling she knew their pitch better than they did, but was helping them to hone their presentation. She caught me looking on and gave me a quick nod and half-smile. Returning her full attention to the kids, she told them it’d be no problem at all, but they’d need to sort out the details with the store’s owner, telling them to call back later in the day or in the next morning. At first the students began explaining how they were working their soliciting around class schedules, until one interrupted to say they could probably get out of class if they had a specific appointment, which was then made. I remembered my own days of using community events and responsibilities to avoid classes – sometimes an entire afternoon of them.

I don’t know a thing about their school but I’m glad to see this method of teaching children responsibility. Experiences like this are as least as important – if not more important – than whatever’s in their textbooks. In my own youth I remember selling raffle tickets. I would stand in front of the local market harassing shoppers. The tickets were 25 cents each – or five for a single. We could keep the quarter for each book we sold – but there were also classroom contests with prizes for those selling the most books. Decisions. Decisions. Should I push single tickets and take my money now? Or should I push books of 5 tickets [“Buy four, get another chance free.”] and hope to win the bigger prize. When you’re a 10-11 year old kid these are major decisions.

I’m glad the students are learning about life. And recall my disgust when I see parents bringing assorted fundraising projects – raffle tickets, cookies, Christmas candy, etc – to their workplace. While it may raise funds for the particular organization or school, it teaches their kids that others will do things for them. It keeps their kids from learning important life lessons – the thrill of success that hopefully compensates for the feeling of rejection.

And after enjoying this wonderful student presentation I bought Joseph O’Connor’s Shadowplay. Who knows, maybe one of these students will use the skills they develop pitching charity projects to put themselves on stage.

This piece is just one of a number I’ve written about my long-term love affair with books. If you’d like to see more simply click on the “Books” category below. You can also subscribe, so that you’ll see these blogs as they’re written, as opposed to social media’s algorithms. As the saying goes, if you like my writing, tell your friends. If you don’t, tell your enemies.