Four Years of OSOB With Booth Tarkington Elementary

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.” 

Booth Tarkington students created their own wish tree during their school-wide read.

Booth Tarkington students created their own wish trees.

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 family at Booth Tarkington created a massive hamster maze for Humphrey. A student watches Humphrey the hamster navigate the maze.

“…one family even built a huge hamster maze!”

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.” 

Several boxes filled with family resources are shown.

“Just a fraction of family packets Rivers put together for her school.”

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.” 


Explore Our Six New Winter Titles

Read to Them is proud to share six new winter titles that have been added to our catalog. Each of these titles is also supported by our regular resource materials and online supplements that can be found on the Digital Resource Hub. We invite you to take a look at the blurbs for each book below, and hope that one – or more! – of these titles will be a fantastic future read for your school community.

 

The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin (Sweet Spot)  

“Finding yourself means deciding what your values are, what you want to do – that kind of thing.” 

In Grace Lin’s own words,“​​The book is fiction, but almost everything had a real life inspiration.” Spend the Year of the Dog with ten year old Pacy as she endeavors to find herself, only to discover: a new best friend, a skill that blooms into a life-long talent, and the ups and downs of being one of two Taiwanese-American girls in an elementary school.

This book is perfect for introducing students to a culture that may be pretty different from their own. With The Year of the Dog, readers dive into Chinese traditions and customs made accessible for all grade levels, creating curiosity and developing empathy as each facet of Pacy’s culture unspools on the page. And if any kids are budding writers and illustrators, Pacy’s story of self-discovery is sure to keep their dreams alive.

 

Cody Harmon, King of Pets by Claudia Mills (Intro and Sweet Spot)

“What kind of pet show would it be if Cody Harmon, king of pets, couldn’t enter any pets at all?”

Cody Harmon really struggles with writing essays, math quizzes, and really anything related to school. When Principal Boone announces that the school will be hosting a pet show, though, Cody knows his time to shine has arrived. There’s only one problem: the entry fee to the pet show. With a huge heart and a menagerie of animals to choose from, Cody offers up his pets to classmates who don’t have their own, which somehow brings more challenges Cody’s way. 

Cody Harmon will appeal to students who face academic difficulties, who may need encouragement to shine a light on their strengths that lay beyond the classroom. The complicated situation – and its resolution – between Cody and his best friend, Tobit, present a very real moral dilemma not to be missed.  And the hijinks at the Pet Show Celebration offer a hilarious celebration of animals – including a pet pig!

 

Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech (Intro and Sweet Spot)

“Okay,” Louie said. “I accept the mission.”

“What mission?”

“To save this pitiful motherless donkey.”

When Louie’s father brings home Winslow, Louie endeavors to take care of this sickly little donkey until it manages to recover. He doesn’t have the best luck when it comes to nurturing small creatures, but that doesn’t stop Louie from trying. His older brother, Gus, is far away in the army, and caring for Winslow makes Louie feel closer to Gus for the first time in ages. With the help of his new friend, Nora, Louie helps Winslow grow… and even faces a challenge he never could’ve anticipated: letting go. 

In true Sharon Creech form, Saving Winslow grants readers the opportunity to grapple with big feelings in an accessible way. Loss is always hovering in the book, but Creech provides a fine balance with the light-hearted. Older students will find plenty to discuss while younger students will enjoy Saving Winslow as a quick read aloud with loads of substance. If you’re looking for a title that’ll touch your heart and guide your school community on a journey of finding one’s purpose, this is the book for you.

 

Wish by Barbara O’Connor (Intermediate and Middle School)

“You can’t judge people for the mistakes they make. You judge them for how they fix those mistakes.”

Due to circumstances out of her control, Charlie Reese is sent to live with relatives she barely knows in Colby, North Carolina. She’s made the same wish every day since the fourth grade, and this move makes it seem unlikely that her wish will ever come true. However, to Charlie’s surprise, her aunt and uncle are the first folks in an unexpected line of love and support; there’s a set of heartfelt neighbors, a delightfully eccentric boy, and a skinny stray dog called Wishbone. In time, Charlie’s wish does come true – just not in the way that she anticipates.

This novel offers a way for kids to work through big feelings (namely anger) in a way that’s constructive and can be used outside the classroom. (Charlie’s friend, Howard, gives her a code word to help cool her temper.) Stories about foster care – even in children’s literature! – can be dark and sad, but this is a feel-good story filled with hope, and appreciation, and no small amount of love. And even a happy ending!

 

The Terrible Two by Jory John and Mac Barnett (Intermediate)

“On your first day at a new school in a new town, you got to decide what kind of kid you were going to be.” 

Miles is not happy to be moving to a town that’s known for one thing – cows. In his old school, Miles was considered the best prankster, but a rival, Niles, is already the reigning prank master in Yawnea, so trying to reclaim that title in Yawnee Valley seems to be impossible. Still, Miles has so much knowledge in the art of pranking, it seems wasteful not to try… and once these two stop pulling pranks on each other, Miles and Niles team up to pull off the Biggest Prank (Possibly) Ever. 

Even the most reluctant readers are sure to find themselves captivated by the clever, off-the-wall pranks Miles and Niles think up. The tone of Terrible Two is consistently up-beat and its humor will appeal across age groups with everything from the cow-centric fun facts to dead-pan zingers from Miles. It also turns out there’s even a code to pranking with honor. The illustrations throughout the novel capture the characters’ personalities and the narrative’s high energy, something that is sure to aid younger readers in a school read aloud.

 

The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez (Intermediate and Middle School – available in Spanish!)

“Turning an insult into something you embrace is a good way of empowering yourself.”

On her first day at a new school, Malú dresses as her most authentic self: winged eyeliner, dark lipstick, a Blondie t-shirt, and silver Chuck Taylors. It upsets her when she’s pulled from class for being a distraction. But it’s not so bad, not when it sets Malú on a path to assembling a punk band of like-minded misfits to audition for the school talent show. When they’re barred from entering for being “too loud”, Malú and her pals are determined to launch their own Alterna-Fiesta, instead.

The First Rule of Punk is a brilliant way to encourage students to let their voices be heard, to embrace the non-traditional, and soothe those who feel like being different is a bad thing. Given that Malú is half-Mexican, the novel highlights Mexican traditions, foods, and a brief history of Mexican-American immigrants that is often glossed over. Punk is also punctuated with great food, great music, and zines, a homemade and surefire way to encourage students to express themselves through mixed media.


OSOB Bridges Pre-K – 8th Grades in North Carolina Schools

One of the biggest challenges schools face in launching a One School, One Book program is making the event engaging for students of all ages. The staff at Smyrna Elementary and Down East Middle School in Smyrna, North Carolina have spent years getting this feat down to a science. 

“Some staff and students have been on a selection committee which helps decide which book is right for us,” says Dawn Simpson, the school librarian at both Smyrna Elementary (pre-K-5) and Down East Middle School (6-8). “Having a united mission and buzz about a book is just a wonderful motivator.”

Families loved reading The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane together!

OSOB was first launched separately in the two schools with The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane at Smyrna Elementary and Love that Dog at Down East Middle in 2019. Both schools read Summer of the Monkeys in 2020, and in 2021, Simpson boasts the schools held a “true community read aloud” with Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. 

Each read is prefaced by visuals that count down to the title reveal, culminating in a large assembly. Read to Them posters are hung around the schools, and staff’s excitement in and out of the classroom aids in building a wave of anticipation among students. 

“Winter has been a successful time of year [for our reading events] because the daylight is shorter and families are indoors for longer in the evenings,” Simpson shares. “Staff answer trivia and win prizes or get shout outs just like the kids. Summer of the Monkeys had all of my male staff competing even my self proclaimed non-reader P.E. Coach!” 

A commemorative poster with families reading together for the 2021 OSOB

For one read, Simpson had a grant for creating custom t-shirts. She was able to showcase these shirts in local businesses, getting managers, doctors, and restaurant workers to read along with their school. It was incredibly touching for Simpson to hear stories of students seeing their program shirts showcased in a variety of local businesses. 

Most vitally, Simpson has a passion for promoting literacy for all of her students, not just younger grades. 

“One of the stigmas I work to get rid of for [middle school students] is just because you may not like to read long novels, does not mean you can’t read or don’t like to read,” Simpson says. “It’s easy to get the young readers excited because everything is new as they open the pages and discover a new favorite character or subject. As they enter middle school, life is busier with after school activities so it is important to meet them where their interests are. Magazines, ebooks, podcasts, short stories, and books that go deeper into their favorite series become the pathway to build lifelong readers.”

Knowing and understanding the interests of reluctant readers is vital to purchasing books that will get checked out of the library rather than collect dust on the shelves. Simpson even keeps a running list of student requests to guide her when ordering new books. 

Simpson also has the notable distinction of being an educator who implements OSOB in her schools as well as a member of Read to Them’s Book Selection Committee. Her time on the committee has caused her to read with varied purposes, with her top priority being to always read the entire book. 

“Just being in a school setting daily keeps a pulse on what content students might find engaging,” Simpson says, referring to the unique perspective she offers the Book Selection Committee. “Actually working through the whole process of school selection, the TItle I  purpose of family engagement and not just being satisfied with middle school students reading it on their own, makes me look for titles that evoke emotion where they will discuss with their family.” 

Simpson’s passion for literacy is clear in the way she reads aloud. In her experience, changing inflection and tone helps a student comprehend what is happening as dialogue changes. Her position across two schools grants her the opportunity to pair middle school students for read-alouds with younger students. Though they aren’t yet back in a position to continue these pairings in-person, Simpson keeps a love for books alive by connecting students with authors as often as possible. 

“That was one of the bright spots of the virtual time of the pandemic that authors were so generous with their time,” Simpson shares. “Zooming for free at what I titled “Eat & Meet” where students came in during their lunch time to meet an author. Literacy comes alive as the author shares their writing process!”

Simpson claims that the love for OSOB has never wavered, even amid school closures and the shift to and from virtual learning. Families remain connected throughout the read by sharing photos of them reading together to social media, and these photos are collected to become a framed collage in the school’s entry. It’s as if a ripple goes through the community, something Simpson attributes to getting other schools jumping on board with OSOB

“Last year as the kids picked up their Chromebooks to work from home, a father and daughter walked past the OSOB collage,” Simpson recalls. “My library door was open and I heard a father ask his daughter, “Do you think we are going to read our school book this year?” Luckily they peeked their head in and found out that in-person or virtual… YES, we will always do an OSOB!” 


10 Years of OSOB at Walnut Ridge Elementary

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.” 

Students eagerly watch an assembly on-stage

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 stunning stage decorations for Cricket in Time Square (2014-15)

“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. 

A staff member generates hype for the 2020 OSOB event – The One and Only Ivan

“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. 

Staff donned special shirts to commemorate the inaugural OSOB read of Charlotte’s Web (2013-14)

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.


7 Read Aloud Tips to Engage Your Listener

Some parents are reluctant to read aloud because they lack the confidence, find it intimidating, or just struggle to find the time. To help out – and in tandem with Read Aloud to a Child Week – Read to Them is sharing seven strategies to build confidence and help keep young listeners engaged. 

 

Finding the time to read aloud from a picture book is a much different task than sitting down to read a novel. For one, a picture book can be read in one sitting while a novel – even a Sweet Spot title – will require multiple sessions. Deciding on a daily reading time with your family is one way to slowly, but surely make reading a priority. Whether it’s first thing in the morning or just before bed, by committing to reading aloud each day, you’ll soon find everyone is eager to hear what comes next in the story. 

 

When approaching a read aloud, it’s so important to understand the tone of a book. What kind of themes does the story explore? What kind of language does it use? Is the protagonist bubbly and goofy or more reserved, inclined to a lot of internal dialogue? For The Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, you might adopt a slower or even pensive reading style but for Eyes that Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho, you could slip into a warm, celebratory voice. Being flexible and adapting to each book can bring a read aloud to just the right level. 

 

When reading aloud, have fun with the language in your book. During suspenseful sections… slow… down. Let the suspense… build. When there is a meaningful moment, pause to let the scene’s impact truly settle between you and your listener. (Pay attention to every mark of punctuation.) In Elana K. Arnold’s A Boy Called Bat, you wouldn’t want to rush through the scene where Bat is first able to meet his mother’s gaze and studies the color of her eyes. But you wouldn’t want to meander during a scene that’s bubbling over with joy and laughter, either. Think of reading aloud as a performance – and let the show begin! 

 

Another wonderful thing about books? They offer a window into the lives of cultures, histories, and experiences that you and your listener may not be familiar with. Diving into Where the Mountain Meets the Moon will allow you to engage with Chinese folktales at the heart of Grace Lin’s novel. Stepping onto the pages of Joseph Bruchac’s Rez Dogs plants readers onto a Native American reservation and the unforgettable dynamics the people in this community share with one another. Having access to stories from a broad array of voices is so vital in nourishing your child’s sense of empathy and understanding. It also allows opportunities to explore moral or ethical questions as a family that might otherwise go unanswered without direct engagement.

 

Books – especially children’s literature – are vital in that they are safe places for young scholars to engage with a wide-range of emotions. Anger. Sadness. Joy. Frustration. A lot of young readers have their first brush with grief when Charlotte passes away and Wilbur reels in the wake of her absence in Charlotte’s Web. You don’t want those sort of opportunities to be lost, so understanding a scene and letting your voice reflect the emotion the scene demands will help create a more meaningful reading experience. 

 

 

Reading aloud is a great opportunity to let loose and be silly. You’re engaging with the text – not reciting a monologue! Take the UK audiobook for the Harry Potter books for example. Stephen Fry gives the characters very distinct voices: Hagrid sounds gruff and low-toned, Dumbledore is airy but clear, and Hermione’s lines are spoken smartly, clipped to make her words sound exact and wise. With books that have sprawling casts, establishing these distinctions makes it easier for the reader to keep up. You can use mannerisms and dramatic pauses to keep readers immersed in the dialogue. It might be a challenge, but it’s worth the effort to make your story truly come alive. 

 

It can be so easy to lose yourself in a book, so it’s worth taking a pause from time to time to ensure your listener is still with you. It won’t necessarily derail the story. Perhaps several new characters were introduced – use this moment to distinguish those characters from one another. It could be that the protagonist has arrived at a moment of internal conflict. Try having a brief dialogue about what your child might do in this situation or encourage your child to make a prediction about what choice the protagonist might make. Interact with your listener and enrich the reading experience for the both of you.

 

The important thing to keep in mind is this: reading aloud is not meant to be a chore. It’s about sharing stories, and embracing the togetherness that comes from diving into a book with someone you love. Have fun, be silly, and enjoy yourselves. 

Happy reading! 


Capitalizing on the Pandemic for Positive Learning

This is a guest post by Mary Curcio, NYS Regional Coordinator. 

We all know children have suffered losses in student learning during the pandemic.  However, research suggests that by using the right parent support tools, it is possible to mitigate or offset these losses by compensating and enriching student learning. Read to Them’s family literacy programs provide some of these necessary, dynamic tools to help parents and schools create actual new learning opportunities while the pandemic persists.

Students returning in the fall of 2021 may be up to a year behind in age-appropriate reading levels, as confirmed by a recent study by the McKinsey firm.  Based on their assessment, students have lost at least 3 months of learning in reading during spring 2020. Students could lose five to nine months of learning by the end of June 2021: for students of color, it could be up to twelve months. Some of our most vulnerable children will enter first grade without ever attending kindergarten-a crucial, primary year in preparing children for school.

Reading regression and the summer slide have always been an issue for students, and both have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Even more troubling, students at risk – students of color and poorer students – have suffered even larger gaps in their reading skills. Addressing the loss of those skills will require more than interventions from school districts. 

You know that old expression, “It takes a village…”

The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is focused on improving student success in reading. They know parents want opportunities, access to information, support, and tools to succeed in their new roles as teachers at home. “Left unattended, learning loss especially in the early grades could further compromise the prospects for a generation of vulnerable children whose future is already at risk.”

When schools closed, it was up to parents to navigate digital tools like Zoom and other learning resources provided by school districts. This was a challenge for families, but they committed to helping their children learn.  However, as the pandemic limps on, school leaders have seen family engagement waning.

Recent research from the Columbia Law School for Public Research and Leadership (CPRL) found student learning and engagement during the pandemic benefitted students when school districts partnered with parents. They completed over three-hundred interviews and discovered that with proper family support and quality instructional materials, students learned the same amount as in a normal school year.

Read to Them supports the premise of the CPRL Report by offering schools and families the literacy materials and tools they need to make reading enjoyable. Our programs give parents an opportunity to read with their children outside of school walls, to gather and share a story together in the warmth of the home. 

Families were heavily involved with their children’s learning last year; their involvement is still needed to resolve setbacks in children’s learning. Research shows that children perform better academically with family support.  With continued parent and community engagement with schools, it is entirely possible that children can reach their projected reading level.


Theme Announcement for Read Aloud to a Child Week

Every year during the last week of October, Read to Them sponsors Read Aloud to a Child Week, a national event to showcase the importance of reading aloud to children and to encourage families to read together. For over 20 years, Read Aloud to a Child Week has been a stress-free way to engage with the literacy community. It truly is as simple as selecting books of your choice and reading aloud as a family. 

The 2021 event will run from October 24 – 30th, which is right around the corner. Be sure to mark your calendar— you won’t want to miss it! 

This past May, you had the opportunity to vote for the Read Aloud to a Child Week theme yourself. Read to Them is pleased to announce that the 2021 theme is GRATITUDE!

Now is the time to recognize and thank the people in our lives who’ve helped us through this trying year. Identify the moments and people who bring you joy. Reflect on the positive parts of your everyday life, any part that brings you joy. Be it the big, small, and in-between things, you’ll have the opportunity to ask your children: Who are you grateful for? Where do you find the light when the world feels dark? Who do you want to thank? 

Below are five picture books and five chapter books that embody gratitude in one way or another. For a more extensive list, be sure to check out the Read Aloud to a Child Week program page

Picture Books Chapter Books
Eyes that Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon  Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina
We are Grateful: Ostaliheliga by Traci Sorell Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson
The Ramble Shamble Children by Christina Soontornvat Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins

For the latest Read Aloud to a Child Week updates, be sure to follow Read to Them on Facebook for more information as the event draws nearer. We hope you’re eager to read with us! 


A Parting Thanks to the Incomparable Chris Dudley

Chris working hard at Read to Them’s old office

Chris Dudley came to work for Read to Them in December of 2014. He was Read to Them’s sixth employee.  Like many who work for Read to Them, especially in the early days, he came to do one thing only to turn into a human swiss army knife.  He was an invaluable part of Read to Them’s startling growth over that period.  Chris elected to step away from Read to Them this summer, and so we must say goodbye and pay tribute to his myriad contributions over these seven years.

Chris came to assist our Executive Director at the end of 2014,  but we quickly learned that the guy who once had A READER as his license plate had more to contribute than helping with accounts.  Chris brought a deep-seated love of children’s literature with him, something he displayed every day he worked and contributed at Read to Them.

Chris helped read and especially recommend books.  He continues to make it a personal project to read every Newbery Medal AND Honor winning books. All of them. As well as Pulitzers, National Book Awards, Scott O’Dells, Corretta Scott Kings, and the Pura Belprés…  The man is dedicated – and Read to Them was fortunate to reap the benefits. For an organization that likes to recommend books, what will we do without our #1 book recommender?!

Chris is a tenacious problem solver.  With no special training in graphics or software or web design or office system interfaces, Chris was tireless and dedicated, dogged and creative, in helping us solve and manage a plethora of technical challenges.  He was the go to guy, and such people are rarely properly appreciated: Chris, we appreciate you!  And thank you!  Again and again.

Chris keeping the shipping area in tip-top shape

As Read to Them continued to grow, Chris took on the responsibility of our burgeoning shipping tasks.  Ordering bookmarks and posters (for over 150 books on our list!) and stickers, organizing and keeping track of them (are those bookmarks banded in bundles of 100?) – and shipping them out to each client school.  He also trained and supervised an evolving array of volunteers and high school and college interns with good cheer and reliability.

Chris is also a master proofreader – no mean task at an organization with an array of writers, a bevy of books, and an atmosphere of bookishness all around.  Just when we thought the newsletter was ready to go, Chris might come in for a ‘final check’ and catch a bunch of inconsistent em dashes and irregularly aligned columns.  Chris was always the real final check and the standard of those who aspired to proofreader pride measured themselves against.

Chris is a natural librarian and while pursuing a degree in Library Science, he served as a part-time Librarian in nearby Henrico County until fatherhood – and the demands of Read to Them – pulled him away.

One of Chris’s favorite place to grab a bite from – Mrs. Yoder’s Kitchen

Chris is a foodie.  He doesn’t love to cook it, but he does love to read about it and talk about it and eat it. Whenever Read to Them staff convened convivially, Chris was there to suggest a puzzle, or a game of Scrabble, or a round of Trivia HQ.  He functioned as a vital morale officer for all of us.

Chris working with staff to pack an order for a state read

In his last year with Read to Them, Chris helped create our Book Selection Committee, reading about dozens of new (and old) children’s books. Their merits are debated, their strengths and weaknesses for reading aloud assessed; the potential for sharing at home and reading across a broad population taken into consideration over an intense reading period.  As is natural to the Book Selection Committee, Chris was always passionate – and always a reliable resource for publisher information, paperback status, and Spanish translations.  While we cry, “What will we do without him?”, in fact we are blessed that Chris has agreed to stay on  as a volunteer  and continue to serve on our Book Selection Committee.

It’s fitting that he is leaving us to take more personal care of his young daughters, who he affectionately refers to as Thing One and Thing Two, to be a family man to his wife and mother, and to explore some entrepreneurial ideas simmering in his creative mind.

Thank you, Chris, for seven unforgettable and vital years. And good fortune to you as you tread a new path through the world. Holy bagumba!


Take a Look at Our New Fall Titles

Read to Them is always looking to add new, exciting titles to our library – as you might recall from the book selection overview piece. We invite you to explore these seven titles, from both debut authors and creators established on the KidLit scene, with your school communities. You can find blurbs for each book below and further explore Read to Them’s catalog by visiting our featured book lists

Crenshaw

by Katherine Applegate

“If you ever have to live in your car, you are going to have some problems with feet.” 

In the past, Jackson and his family lived in the family van before moving into an apartment. Now they are facing homelessness again. And though both his parents are loving and supportive, Jackson is worried.

Which is where Crenshaw comes in. Crenshaw is a large, imaginary, talking cat who likes purple jelly beans. Can Crenshaw magically solve all the problems in Jack’s complicated life? No. But, he can offer support, and ask sassy, challenging questions that help Jackson think differently about his childhood.

 

The 14th Goldfish

by Jennifer Holm

“A PhD lasts a lot longer than love.”

What would you do if you discovered your grandfather had turned into a 13-year-old wise-cracking kid?

Grandpa Melvin is a scientist and he’s discovered a cure for aging. (It involves jellyfish.) He appears on his daughter’s doorstep looking for help breaking into his lab to recover his research. He ends up enrolled in middle school with his 11-year-old granddaughter, Ellie!

 

Because of the Rabbit

by Cynthia Lord

“It happened once…”

That’s how Emma’s grandfather – Pépère – always began his enchanting, lesson-filled stories about the trickster rabbit, Monsieur Lapin. Emma also receives sensitive and winning support from her older brother, Owen.

Emma’s biggest concern is the fate of her rescued rabbit, Lapi. Not only does she have to care for Lapi, but she must also determine if Lapi has a former owner. This turns out to be a dicey ethical question as Emma wants to find a way to keep him.

 

From the Desk of Zoe Washington

by Janae Marks

“To my Little Tomato…”

Marcus writes to his daughter, Zoe, from prison. But if Zoe’s mother has anything to say about, Zoe won’t receive these letters, and she certainly won’t be allowed to respond. Zoe’s desire to build a relationship with her father lies at the heart of this novel, but there is so much more.

Zoe’s relationship with Marcus grows through letters, recipes, and playlists. The novel takes a sharp turn when Zoe decides to take on the mission of proving his innocence. With the help of her good friend Trevor, she sets off to find an alibi witness and engage the Innocence Project. The story deals with serious themes of friendship, family, and justice, along with cupcakes, basketball, and Stevie Wonder. 

 

Malamander

by Thomas Taylor

“But in a place like Eerie-on-Sea, legends can sometimes have a little more… bite.” 

This is a lesson that Herbert “Herbie” Lemon, Lost-and-Founder of the Grand Nautilus Hotel, quickly discovers when he learns about the fearsome Malamander, a half-fish, half-man, that’s kept the town of Eerie-on-Sea wary of misty evenings for generations. 

Get ready to embark on a larger-than-life adventure, especially if you are one who enjoys an appreciation for things that are just a little bit strange. 

 

Ways to Make Sunshine

by Renée Watson

“Be who we named you to be.”

Ryan Hart is full of spit and fire, and a drive to do right by everyone. Yet somehow in moving to a new neighborhood, and worrying about her father’s new job, and fretting about the fourth-grade talent show, well, little things can go awry.

We invite you to share Ryan Hart with your school and families. Every child should experience authentic characters like Ryan, and all the things that make them so relatable – their attitude, warmth and generosity, mistakes, ups and downs, lessons, and their resolutions.

 

Harbor Me

by Jacqueline Woodson

“Always remember, when you are with your people, you are home.”

Welcome to the ARRT Room – A Room To Talk. Here, six Brooklyn middle school students are afforded one hour each Friday to talk amongst themselves – no adults present.

It’s a racially and economically diverse group of students, dealing with their own challenges. They use the time and freedom to get to know each other – to find out where each of them is coming from and what each of them is dealing with.


Celebrate Chloe Grant & Oliver Perry!

In 2020, Read to Them adapted to needs of the moment by creating innovative new programming featuring up-to-date digital resources.  We are proud of our ability to refine and improve our programs – and we couldn’t do it without vital, creative personnel like Chloe Grant and Oliver Perry.  Most recently, Chloe spearheaded the creation of our Digital Resource Hub and Oliver was instrumental in supplying fresh, vibrant content across the range of Read to Them programming.  Both are now set to pursue Masters in Teaching degrees and while Read to Them is sad to lose them, we also want to thank and appreciate them for their dynamic contributions.  We have no doubt that, once Chloe and Oliver are in their respective classrooms, the world will be better for their creativity, their light, and their drive to nurture the up-and-coming generation of young scholars.

 

Chloe Grant 

Upon reflection, Chloe Grant found that her role at Read to Them changed completely in the last year.

“When I first started, I was a Program Assistant for One Richmond, One Book,” Grant says. She took the helm in creating a number of materials to support the Richmond-based program, including bulletin boards, assemblies, and implementing classroom read alouds and activities in participating schools. When COVID sent students into a virtual learning environment, Grant explains, “As our organization tried to figure out how to best support kiddos and families at home, I helped develop our digital program, #OneBookConnects. Through that process I began creating digital components to bolster our programs.”

Grant directed a skit at G.H. Reid Elementary – with a bunch of young talent, too!

As Program Developer, she has had the opportunity to create and manage the development of the Digital Resource Hub, a set of supplemental resources that includes daily reading quizzes, access to Flipgrid communities dedicated to your read, and blog posts. Grant has also supported numerous state reading programs and interviewed #OneBookConnects authors. This role, Grant says, “changes all the time” and allows the freedom for growth and the ability to support her team in new ways.

Grant’s live interview with author, Lesa Cline-Ransome

“In my original role the highlight was every single smile, laugh, and hug I got to experience working in the schools,” Grant reflects. “Right before COVID, I got to write and direct a skit with some students at a local elementary school. Watching them take on their roles and be so invested in filming this scene was the best thing on this planet.” Grant, in conducting author interviews, adds, “I was star-struck on Instagram live-chatting with Lesa Cline-Ransome. I cried after that interview because I was so honored! I am grateful for the moments like that I experienced in this position.”

In fall of 2021, Grant will be heading back to the classroom as she begins her full-year residency teaching 9th and 11th grade English alongside a coach. During this time, Grant will be finishing her Masters in Teaching at Virginia Commonwealth University. She is on track to graduate in spring of 2022.

“I have learned so much during my time at Read to Them,Grant says. “I have been mentored by wonderful individuals who have invested their time in me. I hope to share that investment with my future students, and bring some of the joy I’ve felt while working at Read to Them into their lives.”

Read to Them, Grant claims, “will always hold a special place in my heart, and I will hold onto the lessons I’ve learned here for the remainder of my career.” As she steps into this new phase of her professional life, Grant says, “I hope that I have left even a fraction of the impact that Read to Them has left on me.”

 

Oliver Perry

When he first started at Read to Them, Oliver Perry was one of the on-site Program Assistants for the One Richmond, One Book program. Through reading books aloud to participating students and leading activities in a variety of classrooms, Perry claims, “I kind of fell in love with the idea of teaching.” Like Grant, Perry will be starting his residency at Armstrong High School as an 11th and 12th grade English co-teacher as he completes his Masters in Teaching at VCU.

Perry was drawn to Read to Them due to a love for the organization’s mission.

“I believe very strongly that creating a culture of literacy in our homes and in our schools plays a huge role in the future success and happiness of us and our kids,” Perry says.

In his two years at Read to Them, he has bolstered Read to Them’s mission by lending his talent to Read to Them’s resource-laden book packets. Perry has crafted discussion questions, activities, and assemblies as well as contributed greatly to launching the Digital Resource Hub earlier in the year.

Perry frequently read chapters live for #OneBookConnects

As Perry looks ahead, he’s eager to enter his own classroom with tools he’s accumulated while at Read to Them. His confidence has grown and Perry feels that he has improved his so-called “stage presence” through leading activities and assemblies in schools. 

“I’ve also become a self-proclaimed master at pulling the ‘good bits’ out of a story,” he says. “Whether it’s [in the form of] discussion questions or activities, I can only see that serving me well as an English teacher.”

When asked to consider the highlight of his time at Read to Them, Perry says the answer is easy: “It’s got to be the amazing people I’ve met and [getting to see] the awesome work they do. Namely, my wonderful Programs team comrades, Kayla and Chloe.” Perry adds that he has learned a great deal from his team. “I wouldn’t trade these people and experiences for the world.”