Booth Tarkington Elementary in Wheeling, Illinois has been actively participating in One School, One Book for four years. As Ryann Rivers, the librarian at Booth Tarkington, looks back on their previous reading events, the growth between their first and most recent event is like an acorn to a tree.
“The first year, I gave families too much time to read the book,” Rivers says. Booth Tarkington’s first OSOB title was The Lemonade War. “I wasn’t sure everyone was reading the book. We were able to have the author Jacqueline Davies at our school for an author visit so that was a great incentive for reading. I also had family engagement nights, but I still didn’t have the formative data on whether families were reading the book or how they felt about it.”
During their latest OSOB, however, Rivers and her school took advantage of the technological advances brought forth by COVID-19. Google Meet became instrumental in hosting bi-weekly lives for students and their families to engage with Wishtree by Katherine Applegate. Rivers even created her own self-paced Kahoots that families played in conjunction with the chapter readings.
Rivers first heard about OSOB at AISLE (Association of Illinois School Library Educators), a state library conference which features presentations for tech, STEM, and library teachers.
“I hoped OSOB would create a community of readers,” Rivers shares. “A presenter from a neighboring school district was talking about how they used OSOB in their school. I liked the idea that everyone could have a common language (the book) we are all reading to connect them.”
Rivers always puts a great deal of thought behind selecting her school’s OSOB title. Given that Booth Tarkington has bilingual programs, she starts with books that are available in Spanish before working on a presentation for her principal.
“I tell him all the reasons we should use this book,” Rivers explains. “And my plan with how I would engage families and students. [My principal] usually asks me to select a couple of classroom teachers to read the book from the perspective of their students, typically K – 2, and get feedback.”
As the school librarian, Rivers is also able to get feedback from families. She shares a survey at the end of each OSOB about family’s interest in potential titles for the next program, something that’s been increasingly valuable in narrowing down her book list.
“For me, library programming is at the heart of the school,” Rivers says. “It brings the fun. It brings the party. OSOB is exactly that– an opportunity to bring the love of reading in a fun and engaging way.”
Though Rivers admits it’s hard to get 100% participation from families, she believes that if she can get one new family to participate in OSOB when they hadn’t previously, the program was a success.
“Students look forward to participating in OSOB each year,” Rivers claims. “OSOB has definitely created a reading culture at my school.”
One of the fondest OSOB memories came from a library hamster Rivers obtained during her school’s reading of The World According to Humphrey by Betty G. Birney. The students (naturally) named the hamster Humphrey. Kids brought carrots from their lunches to drop off at Humphrey’s cage, and one family even built a huge hamster maze. Like Birney’s Humphrey, the Humphrey at Booth Tarkington couldn’t be contained to one room.
“I have so many fond memories of her in her ball rolling around the school,” Rivers says. “She was even able to drive her hamster car in the Halloween Parade! She was easily the most popular thing at school.”
When asked to advise first year OSOB participants, Rivers claims that crafting a plan and sticking to it is essential. Communication is essential in connecting with families and keeping them involved for the duration of the program.
“I used Parentsquare which our district uses to communicate with families,” Rivers says. “It was the most effective way to get information to families as reminders of upcoming events related to the book and ways to participate.”
However, biggest of all, Rivers says that it’s important – and encouraged– to ask for help from teachers and staff in launching the program.
“I am really bad at this,” Rivers admits. “I usually enlist the help of other staff members and my own family members. Also, teachers will see me working on something (like stuffing envelopes with the books and other papers for 450 families) and will volunteer to help. I have even had custodians offer assistance!”
She feels very fortunate to have the support of her school administration and staff. With so many elements that go into planning a successful OSOB, and if you feel as though your ideas may be turned down at every turn, it can be defeating.
“Did my principal love the hamster?” Rivers says. “No. [But] was he able to see that having her was an integral part of the book’s excitement? Yes.”
Looking ahead, though, Rivers likes the seemingly endless possibilities of what she might do to engage families with different books in Read to Them’s catalog. She has a tendency to “brainstorm all the possible events and ways to hook readers” and proceed with the title best fit for her school community.
“There are so many other books that I have ideas for,” Rivers shares. “And that will keep me – and OSOB– going for years to come.”