Bookstore owner shares the wealth; Donations: Woman gives books to city public schools to build kids' love of reading, ease teachers' loads.


FOR 21 YEARS -- THE blackjack number -- JoAnn Fruchtman's Children's Bookstore has defied the odds.

Fruchtman never gave her store a cutesy name, never stocked it with videos, stuffed bears and music boxes. Selling primarily quality children's literature, Fruchtman survived the onslaught of superstores and online booksellers.

But something was nagging, something over which she says she "fretted": those city public school teachers regularly dipping into their pockets to buy books for their kids.

"I enjoy what I'm doing," says Fruchtman, 56, "but I started to think about ways to help children who literally couldn't set foot in my store and teachers who use their own money to expose children to fine literature."

Fruchtman is gambling again. She's established a charity, the Children's Bookstore Educational Foundation. If you're part of a foundation interested in literacy, watch out. Fruchtman will be by for a donation, and she's hard to deny.

Fruchtman isn't going to give books away willy-nilly. "That approach never works," she says. Her foundation will buy and donate multiple copies of books assigned in city school classrooms -- but only where the books are appropriate.

Teachers apply for the books.Fruchtman uses her knowledge of children's literature to advise applicants on the best literature for the age and subject matter.

Teachers pick them up at the Deepdene Road store, and when they're done with them in school, the final owners are the children.

"This way," says Fruchtman, "the books will have some meaning as children take them home and build real libraries."

The foundation will deal only in "trade" books, which have grown popular in the past 10 years as schools switch from "basal readers" and other textbooks to genuine literature -- classic tales, adventure books, illustrated picture books. Reading isn't the only subject employing trade books, says Fruchtman. So, too, are math, science and social studies. The program has no age limit, says Fruchtman, and the only other stipulation is that the applying teachers work in city schools.

"Some have asked me why not the county, too," says Fruchtman. "But I'm in the city, and the city has the greatest need. People don't realize that these children, many of them, have nothing by way of good literature in school, and good teaching and learning involve good literature."

Fruchtman intends to be as choosy regarding applications as she is in stocking the shelves of her shop. Would Harry Potter qualify? "It would be a stretch. Perhaps if a teacher were doing a unit on magic and wizardry "

The foundation and the Baltimore Office of Promotion will inaugurate the program at an invitational affair Friday at the World Trade Center. Guests are Adrienne Yorinks, quilt maker and illustrator, and her husband, Arthur Yorinks, children's book author and playwright.

Professor weighs in on test items' accuracy

Last week's publication of test items from the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) and Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) elicited responses from Donald B. Hofler, professor emeritus in the education department of Loyola College, and Douglas E. McNeil, a South Baltimore computer engineer.

Using the same test the federal government employs to check the reading level of materials published by the Internal Revenue Service, Hofler performed a "readability" test on both states' reading examples.

His conclusion: While Texas' passage was appropriate for third-graders, Maryland's third-grade test item read at the fifth-grade level. It was too dense and had too many foreign words for 8-year-olds, Hofler reported.

McNeil said the MSPAP item was inaccurate in one respect: The correct abbreviation for "kilometers" is "km," not "kms."

"The Sun did an expose on textbook errors some months ago," McNeil wrote, "and learned that many, perhaps most, textbooks (even from reputable publishers) are riddled with errors. I just hope MSPAP isn't the same way."

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