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.”
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!”
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!”