They only last for a couple days, but they could have a lifelong impact.

Temporary book fairs sprang up this week at Will Rogers and Franklin elementary schools, where hundreds of students in summer learning programs were invited to pick out new books to read.

Organizers hope the books — which are offered for free thanks to donations from the Santa Monica Palisades Masonic Lodge — encourage the students to develop their language skills as they make progress on their paths in education.

“It’s been really well-received,” lodge member Scott Gilbert said of the program. “The kids look forward to it. It’s exciting to see it affect so many so kids.”

The local Masons have supported childhood literacy efforts for several years and regularly contribute to Raising A Reader, a nonprofit organization that partners with agencies across the country.

“We’ve raised a lot of money towards (Raising A Reader), but that program wasn’t making its way into Santa Monica, and we wanted to find something that was local to us, where we could make a difference,” Gilbert said. “We still support Raising A Reader, but we wanted to do something locally.”

That impulse led lodge members to conversations with Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation officials about ways to help SMMUSD students. And the resulting book fair program, now in its fourth year, has grown substantially.

The inaugural book fair in 2012 was held at the Masonic lodge, Gilbert said, but it didn’t garner much of a response.

With the help of then-literacy coach Elizabeth Cochran, who now serves as principal at Will Rogers, organizers were able to bring the books to their target audience by setting up the free expos at district sites.

Two summers ago, McKinley Elementary School hosted a book fair. Last year, events were held at Grant and Roosevelt elementary schools.

And this year some 450 students received free books at Will Rogers and Franklin, although organizers are aiming to expand the program further next year so it’s available to even more students.

The local lodge, which has about 225 members, covers the costs.

Partnering with Scholastic Corp., the Masons invite students to select free, level-appropriate books with guidance from their teachers early in the summer learning program. According to Gilbert, the arrangement also allows the schools to use Scholastic credits to buy additional books.

On Monday, Gilbert saw 19 classes of kids pass through the book fair in 15-minute increments to scoop up free picture books and chapter books.

“It’s a great way to encourage summer learning,” Gilbert said. “These are kids who have been identified as needing extra help, and we want to support that and encourage kids to read.”

Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, jeff@www.smdp.com or on Twitter.

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