For the last decade, students at Walnut Ridge Elementary in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas have bolstered their curriculum by celebrating an annual One School, One Book event. The school-wide program is considered the highlight of the year.
“OSOB has impacted our students by cultivating a love of reading that extends beyond elementary school,” shares Jessica Light, the Dyslexia Therapist and English Language Learner (ELL) teacher at Walnut Ridge. “Last year, our middle school librarian wanted to include her students in the month of reading and those students really loved it. The middle school students had always been a part of OSOB in elementary [school] and missed the reading and activities that go along with the book.”
A love for reading and reading aloud has truly spread to the community around Walnut Ridge. According to Light, parents ask what the upcoming title will be months before the book is revealed to students. “They loved being able to share the time with their kids,” says Light. The county library provides reading times and a craft with each book and the high school’s Key Club students to read with students who may not have been read to at home.
During Walnut Ridge’s ten years of participating in One School, One Book, the school has read a wide-variety of books, including: The BFG, Charlotte’s Web, The Cricket in Times Square, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Pie, The One and Only Ivan, The Wild Robot, Kenny and the Dragon, and the Chocolate Touch.
“The year we read The BFG,” says Light. “Students were drawing pictures with sidewalk chalk at recess of the book. [We] decorated our stage with scenes from the book throughout the month of reading. As a prize, students may select to eat their lunch on the stage in the scene – and they love this prize.”
Ensuring that students get an unforgettable reading experience is a labor of love for Light and the staff at Walnut Ridge. Light explains that planning early is essential – the road to selecting a book for their school begins in October.
“It’s so important to find a group of faculty or staff that love reading and books,” advises Light. “This group of people are invaluable when planning and prepping for the weeks of reading to come. If [the staff] love it, they will project it to the students and they, in turn, get excited for the book.”
The committee of staff at Walnut Ridge usually begins the selection process by choosing 3 to 5 titles, and encourages the committee to read at least two of the suggested books. In November, the committee votes on a book so that the selected title can be ordered in a timely manner and decorations can be planned to their fullest extent.
“The first year we decorated one spot in our school. It wasn’t very centrally located,” shares Light, reflecting on one of the most notable evolutions from their first read to the most recent. “We have now started decorating every hallway and our cafeteria stage. To pique the students’ interest in the title of the book, before it is revealed, we play clues on the morning announcements. The kids love it and talk about it throughout the day. Our end of book celebrations have turned into an all-day event with games, movies, snacks, and many other activities.”
T-shirts are also a staple for OSOB at Walnut Ridge. The district purchases shirts for the faculty and staff, giving students and parents the option to purchase them as well. Profits from these shirts provide the funds for prizes for trivia winners. Light shares that, in the last few years, the t-shirts have also featured an inspirational quote from the book.
While the pandemic has brought so many other events to a halt, Light found a way to both suit her student’s needs and ensure OSOB remained a staple at her school.
“We had a time set up for our students who were virtual to come by and pick up a book and reading schedules,” explains Light. “We [even] made a schedule for our end-of-book celebration that allowed for social distancing.”
As she looks ahead, Light is hopeful that they can adapt OSOB for the high school students in their community. These are students that have “been through our elementary school participating yearly” and before their graduation, Light says that she “would love to see them come back” for another reading program catered to their reading levels. She is hopeful that the high school administration and librarian will be brought on board, and be as eager as she is to launch yet another reading adventure for the students in her community.