As long time Read to Them participants know, there are three keys to a successful reading event. A great book, school-wide enthusiasm, and an inspiring, constructive set of resources. Read to Them’s distinct book packets provide opportunities to explore the rich material in each book and the inspiration that gets schools and families wanting to read even more.
Read to Them’s standard resources, tailored for each book, include kick-off assemblies, trivia and discussion questions, and even vocabulary. Every time we add a book to Read to Them’s catalog, the resource creation process begins anew. As we look ahead to the new titles that are set to be announced in August, we reached out to one of our long-time packet makers and Midwest Regional Representative, Mary Jo Warwick, who shared her wisdom and delved into the intricacies of her creative process.
One thing that’s essential about creating resources is keeping each packet book-specific, allowing the materials to properly highlight each individual title’s themes and to examine those themes from a variety of perspectives.
“It’s important that I let the book tell me what needs to happen,” Warwick claims. “I have to listen to the plot, the characters, and the author’s voice. More than once, I have thought of an activity that would be a good fit for a book, and after reading the book, realized that it didn’t fit.”
When the language in a book is noteworthy, Warwick always aims to highlight the phrasing either through trivia questions, writing activities, games, or discussion questions. Digging beyond the surface is essential, especially when showcasing secondary characters alongside the novel’s primary protagonist.
“Often students may identify more with the protagonist’s friend than with the protagonist,” Warwick says. “I need to give that character a platform as well. It’s always fun when I can have a secondary character introduce a main character in a kick-off assembly monologue. It immediately gives the reader a glimpse into the secondary character so they aren’t overlooked.”
To Warwick, it’s always important to include activities for each school subject across the curriculum, including Art and Music and P.E., though she admits that some books lend themselves more to one subject than others.
“…I try to honor the tone and emotion of the book,” Warwick claims. “I want to provide something for everyone. While some students will really look forward to the discussions and trivia, others will be geeked about competitions and creating something with their hands.”
Still, Warwick endeavors to make her packets appeal to a wide-range of experiences. This is best done by connecting the packet content not only to school life, but also families, hobbies, extra-curricular activities, culture, and current events.
“I realize that some elements may be foreign to some students,” Warwick concedes, “but very familiar to others, so I like to provide ways to tweak the activities to match the experiences of the students [as best I can.]”
When crafting packet resources for Read to Them, however, Warwick says that, “Foremost is a positive shared reading experience. I want [schools] to realize that a book can be a powerful vehicle for building community.”
The hope is that the resources will prompt interactions between students and staff that they might not otherwise have. To be both serious and silly together. Instances of this include discussion questions with the verbiage to dip into awkward discussions (such as when a character encounters a moral dilemma) or when families read about characters and themes that may not be part of their lives. Or – on the lighter side of things – to have their jaws drop when students see a talent in one of their peers that no one else knew about: be it writing poetry, playing an instrument, or “killing it on the dance floor.” Warwick wants to prompt a “jaw-dropping moment” if possible.
Warwick, ideally, would like for families to use the resources as an opportunity to build strong-at-home literacy habits, too.
“Their OSOB event shouldn’t be a one-and-done event,” Warwick says. “But a starting point to continue reading together. I hope they take advantage of scheduling non-screen time to read together.”