Join Read to Them for Children’s Book Week!

Since 1919, Children’s Book Week has endeavored to celebrate and bolster books for younger audiences. It’s the longest-running literacy initiative in the United States, and you can participate on an individual, small group, or even community-wide level. Be sure to check your local libraries and bookstores to see if there are any in-person events in your area.

The event takes place May 2nd – 8th. You won’t want to miss it!

This year, Read to Them has asked staff to share the children’s books that impacted their lives. Dive into the list below – and be sure to share your favorite children’s books with us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

 

Kayla Aldrich – Programs Specialist

Go, Dog, Go! by P.D. Eastman

I grew up with a house full of dogs, and any kind of book or media that featured a sweet-faced, furry friend could’ve been labeled Kayla Bait. Eastman’s illustrations were so bright, colorful, and distinct (just like the other Eastman classic, Are You My Mother?) that I can still picture the red and the yellow dogs riding off toward a setting, marigold sun at the book’s close.

All that fun stuff aside, this was the first book that I can recall reading aloud with my parents. The silly, borderline nonsensical narrative was something that all of us got a kick out of. It became a bedtime routine staple, and the copy that’s on my childhood bookshelf has the well-worn spine to show for it. Even now, my dad and I still quote the book’s running joke of “Do you like my hat?” “I do not!”

Whether we realize it at the time or not, the books we encounter as children shape us into the readers we become as adults. I wouldn’t trade my time with Go, Dog, Go! for anything.

 

Bruce Coffey – Director of Programs

The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

The first “hard” book I read and didn’t put down.  Somehow realized/recognized there was something here there, even if it was not presented as easy or normal as I was used to.  I soldiered through and ended up growing in the process.  Charmed and blessed.  And grew as a reader.  Became a more sophisticated reader.

 

 

The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White

I like to say that Read to Them (the office anyway) is the house that Humphrey built.  This may be true, but it wouldn’t have happened w/out The Trumpet of the Swan.  This is the first book we read as a school at Fox Elementary – an All School Read, we called it Fox Reads One Book – the first book I prepared a supporting resource suite of materials for (including the vaunted Principal’s Talking Points).  Read to Them founder, Gary Anderson, and I ordered 5000 copies and stored them in my garage, and when a school wanted to try One School, One Book, I went to my garage and took 6 boxes of books to the post office.  RTT’s early garage days.

 

Anne Curry – Regional Outreach Manager

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes

My best friend gave my newborn daughter Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes this book 24 years ago.

On the inside, she wrote, “May you always have the thrill of a purple plastic purse in your heart.”

I love my friend’s inscription, but this book holds even more treasured blessings like the values of patience, personal responsibility, courage, and forgiveness.

Lilly impatiently wants to show off her purple plastic purse, but her classmates and teacher, Mr. Slinger, are not excited. It’s not the right time! They are in the middle of a lesson! Lilly is hurt, and she becomes angry. The magic of this book is watching Lilly process disappointment and anger, ultimately realizing she made mistakes. And graciously, Mr. Slinger accepts the apology. Our world could learn some lessons from Lilly and Mr. Slinger.

 

Emily Gerber – Marketing Manager

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Growing up, one of my favorite children’s books was The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. My kindergarten class did a whole art unit where we made pictures inspired by Carle’s illustrations. We drew animals and then glued small, square scraps of tissue paper to paper onto them to bring their fur and scales to life. I remember being so excited about the art project because I adored the story – and now I realize, as an adult, that it was my first experience where a book transcended the boundary of its pages and inspired new creativity, imagination, and connection.

 

Sara Hudson – Programs Manager

The Question of Miracles by Elana K. Arnold

Iris and Sarah are best friends – the kind of friends everyone wants to have – until Sarah is tragically killed in a freak accident, leaving Iris with unanswerable questions. Iris and her family move from Southern California to Corvallis, Oregon because her mom gets a dream job (and maybe because the family thinks a fresh start will be helpful for Iris). In rainy Oregon, Iris is befriended by Boris, a boy in her class who is a medical miracle. He wasn’t supposed to survive more than a few hours after birth, but he did, perhaps because of the fervent prayers of some nuns to a long-dead Pope. Now, the Vatican is looking to certify Boris as a real miracle to help that Pope to sainthood. Iris thinks that if there was a miracle for Boris, maybe there can be a miracle for Sarah and she can still be alive, or at least still contact Iris.

Why it impacted me: This is a quiet book. The big upheaval happens before the book starts, and we meet Iris after Sarah’s death. The details of the accident are revealed later in the book, but the story is really about Iris’s journey with grief. Elana has successfully written a children’s book with no villains – no awful bullies; no terrible teachers; no absent, negligent, or abusive parents. The villain is grief – unfair, unexpected, and unpredictable grief. It is such an honest book filled with people doing their best in a terrible situation. On a personal note, I am friends with a family facing a similar set of circumstances having lost their daughter to an act of violence with a friend of hers looking on. This little book went straight to that place in my heart trying to make sense of that terrible tragedy. While Elana doesn’t spoon feed the reader any answers, she does what she is supposed to do. She offers hope without dismissing the pain.

For more information on Children’s Book Week, visit Every Child a Reader.


8 Years of OSOB at North Shore Elementary

One School, One Book has been a staple at North Shore Elementary in St. Petersburg, Florida since 2015. The program has even remained strong during the pandemic thanks to the combined efforts of Tracy Leskanic, co-chair Gifted Program Teacher, and Tamara Gramlich, co-chair Library Media Technology Specialist.

North Shore hosted a reading night under the stars.

The dynamic duo build excitement with the support of North Shore’s PTA, as well as the dedicated teachers who help with the “surprise” elements of the event. The selected title is always announced during an awards ceremony attended by all students, staff, and parents.

Looking back at their inaugural OSOB, Leskanic shares that the biggest difference in how they launch their program is a simple yet vital shift:

“We have learned that if we keep [the book title] a mystery for the students, they become more and more excited!”

Gramlich adds, “We had started out using the ‘classics.’ You know – the books that were written way before any of our kids were born. Now, we try to pick books that have a newer copyright. There have been some colorful discussions in [our school’s book] committee when we are choosing a book because we are all so passionate about our pick for the upcoming year. We love the process, and wouldn’t change it for anything.”

North Shore Elementary’s read aloud titles include Kenny and the Dragon, The World According to Humphrey, The Chocolate Touch, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Fenway and Hattie, Appleblossom the Possum, and The Toothpaste Millionaire. Most recently, students at North Shore dove into the magical world of Dragons in a Bag.

“This was the first time in history that we had a Knight on our campus…”

To Leskanic, one of the most unforgettable OSOB experiences was having a real knight in shining armor (Mr. Casey Maker) visit North Shore during Kenny and the Dragon.

“Our school has always been the North Shore Knights,” Gramlich shares. “This was the first time in history that we had a Knight on our campus and to see the kids react to him was amazing. Even though they knew him, it was like they were seeing him for the first time.”

As they look ahead to future OSOB reading events, both Gramlich and Leskanic are eager to move beyond pandemic limitations to make their OSOB “more of an event again.” In the meantime, the steady excitement of their students even after eight years drives them onward.

 “Each year our students will ask when is OSOB? What book is it?” Leskanic says. “They are [always] eager to find out. That, to us, is exciting.”

 


Celebrate National Poetry Month with Read to Them!

Each April, National Poetry Month gives folks the opportunity to celebrate the importance of poetry and the poets whose works actively enrich our lives. Like any creative genre, poetry includes a plethora of themes and terminology to introduce to students. Poetry also presents a wondrous opportunity: the chance to build a bridge between reluctant readers and a love of books.

How can that bridge be poetry?

If you peer back through the door of childhood, it’s likely you memorized a nursery rhyme or six. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star? The Itzy Bitzy Spider? How about Hey Diddle Diddle? (Just remembering these titles, you probably have more than one of them stuck in your head.) They’re short and their simple rhyme scheme makes them easy to recite and recall even years later.

For many of us, nursery rhymes naturally gave way to the witty, nonsensical tales of Dr. Seuss. From Green Eggs and Ham to The Cat in the Hat, to One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish and even Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, each is widely accessible in and out of the classroom. Children continue to love these books for their blend of sensibility and silliness, and may not even realize that Seuss’s playful rhyming and repetition helps develop speech and language skills. Seuss’s works also allow children to let loose with their vocabulary acquisition through creating new words like “yuzz-a-ma-tuzz” and “zizzer-zazzer-zuzz” in a delightful sort of nonsense that’s sure to twist the tongue.

The first real foray into poetry that kids are likely to have is with Shel Silverstein, known for The Giving Tree, Where the Sidewalk Ends, and Falling Up. Like Dr. Seuss, Silverstein’s poems welcome kids into a world of quirky characters and outlandish tales. The prose is simple and straightforward, with ample joy and heart, too. There’s also a sense of respect woven through Silverstein’s work, an understanding that children need silliness and to have their unique view of the world honored. Take his poem, “Thumbs” for example:

Oh the thumb-sucker’s thumb

May look wrinkled and wet

And withered, and white as snow,

But the taste of a thumb

Is the sweetest taste yet

(As only we thumb-suckers know).

There’s undeniable childlike humor, yes, but it doesn’t insult a reader’s intelligence in the slightest. What all of these examples do best, though, are pique interest. Bigger than that – these forms are short, making them easily digestible to even the most bristling of readers.

You can throw even the most compelling of chapter books at a reluctant reader, but the amount of words on the page are still going to spook some of them. But  kids who may shy away from a seemingly dense novel may be able to gravitate towards the ample white space around poetry stanzas.

Jason Reynolds – whose novels Ghost and Look Both Ways are available in Read to Them’s catalog– recognized this in a 2017 interview with PBS.

“For some kids,” Reynolds says. “Those words – the amount of words – is equivalent to a snarling dog. So, why not start with the less threatening, palm-sized pup in the [pet store] window? In this case, poetry.”

But the power of poetry – and poets! – is that in spite of this white space, thanks to deft, careful word choice, a single poem can hold the punch of a full-length story.

Books written in verse, for instance, still contain vital literary elements – characters, plot, structure – while delving further into things like imagery, symbolism, and metaphors. Each serves as foundational bricks to a child’s developing reading comprehension and literacy skills.

“With the incredible selection of poetry and novels and verse from past to present,” Reynolds claims. “This is an opportune time to use them to chip away at bibliophobia… And once young people experience turning those pages, once the rush of comprehension and completion laps at their psyches for the first time, perhaps they will know they need not fear a thing created to love them, and for them to love.”

Read to Them has a number of novels in-verse as well as novels where poetry plays a major role within the text*. We invite you to use them as your building blocks for exploring poetry with readers of all ages. Check out the list below:

Love that Dog by Sharon Creech – Jack (the protagonist) doesn’t think he can write poetry – because that’s what girls do, not boys. This initial objection, however, is written in the form of a poem, as is every entry that follows. But as Jack’s poetry unit goes on, he finds himself inspired by the work of Walter Dean Myers and decides to write a poem of his own about his dog. Sharon Creech’s short, stunning stanzas beg readers to slow down and appreciate the beauties of poetry beyond the month of April.

 

 

Finding Langston by Lisa Cline-Ransome – While this isn’t a novel in-verse, the role of poetry is essential. Young Langston, who has just moved from Alabama to Chicago in the wake of his mother’s death, discovers the poems of his namesake – Langston Hughes. Readers will find themselves just as touched by Hughes’ poetry as young Langston is, and may just find a narrative window into their own lives, too.

 

 

 

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander – This Newbery Award-winning novel-in-verse brings readers to the basketball court, and into the lives of twin brothers, Josh and Jordan. When the bond between the brothers begins to unravel when Jordan meets a new girl in school, readers will find that the playbooks of basketball and life have more overlap than they might have thought possible, while Alexander’s poetry dazzles on the court and off.

 

 

 

Booked by Kwame Alexander – Nick is just like any other young teen: he loves soccer, he’s got a crush, and he’s trying to figure out what his future holds. However, when the dependable stability of Nick’s world starts to flounder, he finds himself struggling to stay afloat. Alexander’s poems briskly propel readers through the highs and lows of Nick’s life as he finds solace and solutions, even (unexpectedly) from the books recommended by a teacher who visits him in the hospital!

 

 

 

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson – This memoir-in-verse paints a rich picture of the Ohio, South Carolina, and Brooklyn of Jacqueline Woodson’s youth. Woodson steadily finds storytelling to be an essential part of herself, one that she is eager to share with the world. It’s a fully-realized dream, one that Woodson relays in gorgeous, varied, and layered poems that are sure to inspire readers to delve into their own sense of self-expression.

 

 

 

Harbor Me* by Jacqueline Woodson – Step into the ARTT Room – A Room to Talk. Though there are six middle school students featured in Harbor Me, the heart of the novel lies with Esteban. His father, who has been deported, shares poetry with Esteban that he translates into English to share with his friends. Using these poems as stepping stones, this unforgettable group of six is able to elevate their own feelings, stories, and secrets.

 

 

 

Flying Lessons, and Other Stories* by Ellen Oh – Among the small wonders of this collaborative work, you’ll find Kwame Alexander’s novella-in-verse, “Seventy-Six Dollars and Forty-Nine Cents.” This series of 31 poems introduces readers to Monk, a twelve year old boy who, in the wake of a car accident, develops the ability to read people’s minds. Dive into Alexander’s beautiful free verse (and one haiku) and get a taste of rhyme and anaphora, too!

 

 

 

Look Both Ways* by Jason Reynolds – Jason Reynolds masterfully guides readers through the lives of ten neighborhood kids as they leave school. Everyone has a different story to tell, and each is more complicated than it first appears. During Satchmo’s story, Reynolds employs a free-verse poem that brilliantly captures Satch’s anxiety about walking past a house with a ferocious dog. Readers will find each empathetic, humorous, and profound thread is woven into a lush quilt of interconnectedness.

 

 

If you read any of these titles to celebrate Poetry Month, be sure to share your photos with Read to Them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Happy reading!


Tips from the Field

One of the classic, bread-and-butter elements of Read to Them’s printed newsletter was the “Tips from the Field” section. It allowed seasoned One School, One Book program coordinators to share advice with educators who may be looking for ways to innovate or even find their footing in launching their reading event. We are happy to be able to share the wisdom of three OSOB veterans and hope that their guidance inspires you as much as it does us!

 Kelly Wintemute– Reading Specialist Title 1

Corry Area Intermediate School in Corry, Pennsylvania 

Our school chose The One and Only Ivan for our first OSOB title. The book is award-winning, loved by our staff, and lent to many extension activities. Next year, the survey results from students, parents, and team will determine our book choice. Our school incorporated many things to keep the students engaged with The One and Only Ivan. Our staff was vital in creating the culture for One School, One Book. It was essential to making this fun, and our faculty’s enthusiasm was contagious. Ivan-related decorations and bulletin boards covered the hallways.  Our staff recorded the readings and posted them on our Seesaw pages. Our school encouraged at-home participation for the reading of the book.

We integrated The One and Only Ivan in our Family Involvement Night by having a staff dressed as a gorilla to entertain the participants, provided suggestions on how to read with their families, and had other literary-themed activities. The educators also engaged the students by having an optional weekly trivia challenge on the pages read each week. The students also had optional activities such as gorilla drawing and a cooking activity, Gorilla Wraps. The students could access these activities on Seesaw, and every activity earned them a chance to win The One and Only Bob, The One and Only Ivan sequel. Teachers also posted the students’ work on a grade-level blog.

The highlight of our One School, One Book experience was our community involvement activity. One of the themes of The One and Only Ivan is compassion for animals. Our school tied this theme to the Erie Zoo’s campaign, Wild Open Spaces. The goal is that the zoo will offer “more WILD OPEN SPACES for their animals and help them better meet the needs of the animals and plants in their care – creating a unique environment that will be enjoyed for generations to come.” Our students connected to the animals in the story and wanted to help other animals through a voluntary penny drive. In addition, our students created and donated enrichment activities for the animals at the zoo. For example, they made paper chains and colorful paper bags for the animal’s entertainment during the winter months with fewer visitors. As a result, Corry Area Intermediate School students raised $2,338.07 for the Erie Zoo to help with their campaign. This activity allowed the students to make a difference in their community. Our first year doing One School, One Book was a tremendous success!

 

Lisa Korbas– Student, School & Family Support Services Coach (Title 1)

McCormick Elementary in Farmington, New Mexico

I have been participating in OSOB since 2018, since I was hired as the Title 1 teacher. But my school has been involved since 2015. Each school year we fit in two books for our students, one in fall and one in spring. We are fortunate to have our local ROTARY club help supplementing with the funds. Each year they also participate by handing out the books and celebrating during our final chapters.

We choose our books based on our diverse population, which includes Spanish speakers and Navajo speakers. We always choose a book that can be purchased in both Spanish and English.

We promote the new book in many ways around our campus; first by putting up “bulletin boards” and fliers around the building. We have also made many posts in our social media, [our school] website,  and Schoology community groups. We also keep our classroom teachers involved by providing electronic timelines for reading, activities that go with the book and rewards for those who can answer comprehension questions about the book.

Each Friday we visit each classroom in the building and ask these questions and even put winners on the Announcements.

We believe each time we participate in OSOB our students are the most involved in their own reading and are including their own families in a positive way.

 

Linda Garrison– Librarian

Canterbury School of Florida in St. Petersburg, Florida

Choosing the book: We begin discussing book choices at faculty meetings in the spring. Our school comprises PK-4th. I alternate choosing books which would appeal to our older students (Dominic) with the whole school (Mr. Popper’s Penguins). One year the theme of our fundraising gala was loosely based on The Wizard of Oz, so we chose that book as our

OSOB. It is critical that at least one person has read the book recently, before finalizing the choice, thus ensuring that teachers and administrators can be prepared to answer possible objections.

It is essential to choose and purchase the book as early as possible so that teachers can read it and begin to choose activities. I try to choose books that have sequels, or the author/illustrator has published other books; do not have movies (difficult); have a beginning reader companion; have a Spanish version; include music, science, or language. I purchase as many sequels as possible so that the students (or teachers) can seamlessly move to the next. I try to have at least 5 of the next book, 3 of the 3rd, and 1 of the next few. Students love to read these throughout the year!

Creating excitement: We begin teasing the book in May. I create a bulletin board with the covers of past reads circling a blank cover with a question mark. During the last week of school, I give hints to the students (we have a morning Flag; this could be done over the loudspeaker). When we read The Trumpet of the Swan, one hint was, “The author of this book has won a Newbery Medal and a Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal.” The title is kept secret until the “Big Reveal.”

Timing and Introduction: Canterbury reads the book over 3 weeks. We launch the program the first full week of the school year, which allows teachers to focus on the OSOB without having to balance other curriculum reading. It also encourages parents to make reading every night a habit. On the first day of school, the Head of School receives a hardback copy (which will be given to the library), wrapped in brown paper. They are not allowed to unwrap it until the students get their copies the morning of The Big Reveal.

The Big Reveal is important! In past years we have had the PE teacher, wearing a helmet with mouse ears, deliver The Mouse and the Motorcycle on a scooter; a drone delivered a letter from our state Senator who was an astronaut when we read The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet; a video of faculty reading Fenway and Hattie with their own pets followed by a student delivering the book to the principal in a “moving van” (a decorated pedal truck).

Curriculum tie-ins and activities: Journaling in science class and Boston baked beans for lunch (The Trumpet of the Swan); building beds and cricket cages in STEAM/Art, fortune cookies, learning about opera (The Cricket in Times Square). I created vocabulary bookmarks for Dominic. It was very time-consuming but worth it. I laminated them and encouraged students to keep them to study for their college entrance exams! The music teacher has highlighted musical styles or artists mentioned in books (opera, jazz), and the art teacher has created projects based on themes.

My job is to encourage teachers to think creatively, support them, and showcase their work. Many of the books lend themselves to lessons such as empathy or resilience – use the themed list provided or ask teachers for their thoughts.

I believe one of the decisions I made early on has been critical to student buy-in: there is to be NO testing on the book! Teachers may, for example, use the vocabulary, discuss themes, and incorporate geography into projects, but none of the work can count toward a grade. This constraint was the only area I had resistance from teachers, but after conversations about why, most – not all – have accommodated this request.

Family/student involvement: Along with the letters Read to Them provides, I send home a handout a week to parents, such as “Tips for Reading Out Loud to Young Students” and “Why Reading Out Loud to Older Students is Important.” Students are encouraged to create projects at home. They have created miniature school desks (The World According to Humphrey); a water horse built from a pumpkin base (The Water Horse); and paper dogs with knapsacks (Dominic). I encourage parents to send me pictures of the family reading together, which I post around the library. We do participate in the trivia program, with correct answers going into a basket from which I draw a winner from each grade level to get a trinket (bookmark, sticker, nothing big). Our head of school and other visitors or often-invisible staff (chaplain, reading, OT specialist) sometimes read the questions. Make the trivia easy on the teachers by providing pre-cut paper and a basket/baggie.

Wrap-Up: We read the last chapter together. One year we played the audio of The Trumpet of the Swan at a school assembly, but typically the teacher reads the last chapter in class. Every student receives a reading bracelet (purchased with book fair money the year before).

Be patient and kind to yourself! The program builds upon itself. Funding was difficult the first few years, but parents are now so enthused that they fundraise to pay for the books! It is easy to get overwhelmed and over plan; I think it is more important to have teachers and parents excited about a simple program than stressed about details in an elaborate one. Once they understand the power of this program, they will be volunteering to help! Good luck!


Perkins Elementary Conducts Read-a-Thon for OSOB

Over more than a decade of program launches and anecdotes from educators, Read to Them has found that no One School, One Book looks exactly the same. We are constantly amazed by the ingenuity that program coordinators take to launch a successful event or – in this case– to ensure an OSOB program even lands at their school in the first place.

Anne Ware, K-5 gifted teacher at Perkins Elementary in Pinellas, Florida, first heard of the program through Read to Them’s Florida Regional Representative, Sally Baynard.  As it happens, Ware is one of Baynard’s former students. Ware found herself drawn to OSOB for a number of reasons. What charmed her the most was the prospect of building a stronger school community.

“It was something we desperately needed, especially in these days,” Ware claims.

Ware was incredibly determined to bring OSOB to Perkins, though program funding was, admittedly, an issue. With the aid of former PTA President, Summer Jensen, the two sought a unique initiative that could garner a wide net of support for a school-wide reading event. Ultimately, they settled on conducting a Read-A-Thon. Perkins students were eager to ask friends and family for support– and it was a call happily answered.

“I posted the fundraiser on Facebook and got a lot of support,” Ware shares. “Grandparents love to support reading!”

The fundraiser was a roaring success. With the aid of the Pinellas community, Perkins Elementary raised not only enough money for an OSOB program, but had enough funds remaining to give teachers money for classroom supplies.

“Students still fondly remember the Stella mosaic…”

Perkins selected Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan for their school-wide read.

“It was such a community building experience,” Ware says. “You could not walk through the halls without seeing pictures of the characters [from The One and Only Ivan] posted. In my own window we decorated with coloring work of different characters and posters of character traits!”

Ware’s favorite piece that students created during the program was a collage mosaic out of Rubik’s cubes. The piece depicted Stella, one of Ivan’s elephant companions in the novel, and it was “a very big hit” among the students and staff. 

“The primary classes did lots of art activities based on the book,” Ware says. To nurture further engagement, Ware adds: “There were trivia questions on the [school] news every morning. A few classes even held parental involvement contests.” 

Ware remains hopeful that another One School, One Book program is on the horizon. Students still fondly remember the Stella mosaic, for instance. Seeing the lasting impact and the incredible amounts of potential that remain, Ware’s determination is certain to yield another successful event down the line. 


Read to Them Schools Receive Mother Cabrini Health Foundation Grants

Read to Them is incredibly honored to be selected as a Mother Cabrini Health Foundation grantee for 2022. Through this partnership, and the work of countless educators across the state, Read to Them is eager to continue to support vulnerable communities in each corner of New York.

“As we look back at the compounding crises of the last few years, the health-related needs of vulnerable communities have only grown. Our grantees have demonstrated tremendous resilience, creativity, and dedication to serving those in need, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have such detrimental impact,” said Alfred F. Kelly, Jr., Chief Executive Officer of Visa and Chair of the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation Board.

The Cabrini Health Foundation awarded Read to Them two grants, the first of which will serve students in the Syracuse City School District in Syracuse, NY. The primary focus of this project is to address literacy loss of Syracuse students in grades K-6 caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Through an accessible literacy initiative and an emphasis on reading proficiency, Read to Them’s One School, One Book program will aid in building a bridge between the Syracuse community, schools, and parents. The goal is to enable students to read at home and at school, a balance that is pivotal in increasing reading levels.

The second grant will serve students in Oswego and Fulton (Oswego County), Lafayette (Onondaga County) and Rome (Oneida County) School Districts. This grant will focus on partnering with these four districts in grades K-8 to target the Three Rs from the Pandemic – Reading, Regression, and Recovery. Students returning to school are expected to be one year behind in reading. Read to Them will partner to address reading regression and involve the districts and their communities, and engage parents in helping their children overcome this huge barrier to academic success. Read to Them endeavors to reach across academic and economic barriers to engage all sectors in the community to address the pressing issue that is reading regression.

Literacy is the foundation to improving the economic future of children. It is fundamental to equity in healthcare, economic stability, and the dignity of life. Read to Them is grateful for the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation for emphasizing this simple, but crucial truth and looks forward to our budding partnership.

 

 

The Mother Cabrini Health Foundation is a private, nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve the health and well-being of New Yorkers, bolster the health outcomes of vulnerable communities, eliminate barriers to care, and bridge gaps in health services. Named after a tireless advocate for immigrants, children, and the poor, the Foundation funds programs and initiatives across New York State that provide either direct healthcare services or address the social determinants of health. For more information, visit the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation.


The Importance of Sharing

Read to Them‘s family literacy programs are grounded on a simple, ambitious premise: read a high quality chapter book at home with your family and as an entire school. In a perfect world, a family gathers together and each member listens to every page together.  No one misses a word.

But life isn’t perfect.

As eager as we are for our thousands of participating families and schools to read a wide-range of challenging titles, we also recognize that the most important aspect of all this is the sharing.  That’s right, the sharing.

“But even more important is the simple act of being together and sharing the text – and the moment and the choice details – together.”

Not your favorite line or your favorite character. Not “Have you read this part?!”  Or “Read that part again!”  Those discoveries are vitally important.  It’s why we read together in the first place. To create memories.  To transmit culture – stories, lessons, morals, and style.

But even more important is the simple act of being together and sharing the text – and the moment and the choice details – together. So you both know them. So you can both refer to them. (“Remember that time when you read…”)  So you both know that text, that title, that chapter, that moment, that line is something that’s now a part of both of you. It’s something you share.

Our Director of Programs, Bruce Coffey, was reminded of this central truth in a recent conversation with a professional colleague. The colleague came to the Read to Them office to talk about writing and graphics and the future. But, as Coffey notes, she is also a mother, so naturally they talked about books, too. Two of her children were reading ripe Read to Them titles – The One and Only Ivan (Katherine Applegate) and the incomparable Wonder (R.J. Palacio).

“Such a conversation naturally turns me into a reading evangelist, but I can’t subject every person who crosses the Read to Them threshold to that kind of enthusiastic pressure,” Coffey says. “I wanted to ask, ‘Are you reading the books together?  Have you read them, too?  Do you know what’s in them?  What does your daughter think of Ruby? Or Auggie’s helmet?’  But I didn’t.”

Coffey recalls that his colleague acknowledged that one of her daughters found Wonder confusing.

“I suspected that that might be because of R.J. Palacio’s magnificent technique of switching narrators and perspectives,” Coffeymuses. “Magnificent to me, perhaps, but maybe not for each and every inexperienced reader. I sensed my opening.”

He went and pulled Wonder off the shelf and they talked about how the book is organized.  About how the perspective changes from Auggie to his sister, Violet, and then to Jack, Will, and even to Violet’s boyfriend, Justin.  And then Coffey gently suggested they might try reading it together.

“When we were done, she said, ‘I understand it so much better when we both read it out loud.’”

A day later Coffey received a highly professional email, with a memorable addendum:

“On a totally separate note, I read Wonder with my daughter out loud last night. We read the ‘Summer’ chapter together….alternating pages. When we were done, she said, ‘I understand it so much better when we both read it out loud.’ Thanks for the advice!”

This simple, elemental truth is what lies at the heart of family literacy. It’s why we at Read to Them work so tirelessly to promote families reading together in the hopes of children blossoming into lifelong readers. It doesn’t matter if Coffey’s colleague started from the beginning. It doesn’t matter if she reads the whole book with her daughter. All that matters is the sharing and the creation of shared magic through a book– one they won’t likely forget.

Even middle schoolers and their parents can still share stories together! Both are likely starved for such moments. So we invite them both – teenager and parent – to consider sharing a character or scene, a chapter or line from your book together.  Show what you think is cool or memorable – sad or funny – or unforgettable.  What’s worth sharing, worth remembering.  Bring it up when you’re on a walk or doing a chore. You can even offer to read while on a trip or the sliver of downtime that follows a meal. The when doesn’t matter, either, so long as you’re sharing with someone you love.

Remember: We all have memorable moments we are probably eager for others to know about. To connect with.  All that matters is the sharing.


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.


Introducing At The Lamp-Post

“I can always get back if anything goes wrong,” thought Lucy.
She began to walk forward, crunch-crunch over the snow and
through the wood toward the other light. In about ten minutes
she reached it and found it was a lamp-post.”
          – C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

 

Read to Them currently features 150 books in its active catalog. We’re book people, after all, so we’re passionate about carefully selecting books by a wide-range of voices to enrich a child’s personal library. We talk about books and what’s in them every day. Conversations about characters, themes, and even single lines enrich our work and our relationships.  The books we love provide the details that help us build the connections that come from a love of reading.

We’d like to invite you to pull up a chair and join our conversation and share your reading insights, too, by stopping by At The Lamp-Post.

Each month, we’ll select a theme and highlight three books that illustrate subtle aspects of that theme.  In January, we’ll be all about Friendship – how unlikely friends come together, how not all friendships look the same, how vital it is to show vulnerability in a friendship, how friends help you see yourself in a different light.

We’ll be sharing examples of these subtle themes in Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins, Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate, and Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis.

Our table has plenty of open seats. We can’t wait to talk with you and invite you to make your voice heard.  Please join us this month – At The Lamp-Post!

Be sure to keep up with all the latest updates at The Lamp-Post by following us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


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!”