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The M&Ms have nothing on Ping.

The KitKats and Snickers, the Skittles and Reese’s and all that other venerable Halloween sweetness has new competition this year on the beautiful tree-lined streets of Sheridan Boulevard.

As the sun turned the Halloween sky orange Wednesday evening, Jackie Ostrowicki had a question for the Elsas and Power Rangers, the Incredible Hulks and witches and Vamperinas and Black Panthers wandering up to her front steps.

Do you like to read?

The answer was yes more often than not (except for the gory — and exceedingly honest — little monster whose googly eyes shook back forth with his head when he answered) and so the costumed masses left with their M&Ms — and a book.

Ostrowicki was as pleased as three little pigs, who left with one book and a promise that the older pig would read it to the younger ones.

The University of Nebraska assistant vice president and chairperson of the Foundation for Lincoln Public Schools began offering an alternative to candy a few years ago: poems tied up in a small scroll.

Ostrowicki has long been a lover of poetry, and decided poems would make a nice accompaniment to the candy.

“All of our holidays are so commercial anymore. It’s really all about candy. I thought, what else can I do that’s important to me ... poetry is really important to me,” she said. “What can I do that’s my little kindness that makes it bigger than the candy.”

She asked a former classmate and Nebraska native — now a poet and publisher living in Oregon — if she could use one of his poems. He gladly consented — and kids began grabbing the scrolls instead of the candy.

Then she had a party.

There, at the gathering for her fellow foundation board members in September, her Halloween poem treats came up in a conversation with Linda Joel.

Joel, the wife of LPS Superintendent Steve Joel and a member of a Random Act of Kindness group, thought it would be great if Ostrowicki could distribute not just poems, but books.

That thought turned into a $300 donation from the Random Act of Kindness group, which led to more donations from other foundation board members who loved the idea.

“The idea came to life and then one person after another starting building on it to make it what it is,” she said.

Ostrowicki took the $600 in donations to Indigo Bridge Books, which sold her 125 books at greatly discounted prices, and on Halloween, she, three other board members and foundation president Wendy Van handed out books in addition to candy.

Ostrowicki figures she’d touch a fairly broad cross-section of Lincoln from her front porch, because Sheridan Boulevard and the grand old homes there have long been a trick-or-treat destination for Lincoln kids.

“So many kids come through,” she said.

And the residents along Sheridan Boulevard have responded in kind. National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore makes a “tunnel of doom” leading to his door. Becky Scott, a pediatric dentist, hands out dental kits.

And now, from the house decorated with bats and skeletons and pumpkins, the printed word: “Room on the Broom” and “Time for a Hug” and “John Henry” and “Ping” and more.

Van said she’d love to make it an annual event for the board, one that spans the city, promotes literacy and inspires similar kindnesses.

Each book included a bookmark with Zachary Schomburg’s poem and a note about the random act of kindness that inspired it.

“Be sure to read it,” Van said to a young rock star who’d made her way to Ostrowicki’s porch and left with a chapter book.

“And do something nice for someone else.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist.

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Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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