If you follow me on social media, you may have seen this post…I know many have and many had questions. So this is my attempt to answer those questions.
A while back, I realized that if I started collecting books, perhaps, just perhaps, I could give every single one of my literature studies students a book to keep on the last day of school. But that would require 76 individual books. As I pondered the idea, I realized the injustice. Summer slide can happen to any child. Every child we teach on our 7th-grade team could use a book, even if they already live in a book flood. What if we were able to gather up 150 books, one for each student, for the last day of school? Would my team be up for it?
I shouldn’t even have wondered, of course, they were because one of the things I love about working at Oregon Middle School is the dedication of all to joyful literacy experiences. Is the dedication of all staff to help students become or remain readers who like reading. And so we realized that we now needed 150 books. And not old, worn out copies. Not books that no one would want to read, but instead books that would entice. Books that would actually be a possibility for a child to want to read, without a nagging teacher around, with the competition of everything summer holds.
So we started to collect books. I am in the lucky position that some publishers send me books and so I knew I could use a few books from there. But, it wouldn’t be enough. We needed books that would work, not just any old book. My next stop was Scholastic. We knew I would be able to use my bonus points to get more books for the kids. I also spent my own money to add it up to receive bonus books and get more points. Slowly the collection started to grow. Finally, I asked our team for money. Could we take money out of our team fund for this endeavor? Once again, they were onboard and excited for the idea.
And so we went to Books4School – a warehouse here in Madison, whose owner’s sole mission is to get high-quality books in the hands of children for cheap. He buys up overstock from publishers and then sells them to the public and online for less than $2. Yup, less than $2. Because he is not in it to make a huge profit but instead to ensure that more children have books in their hands. So armed with our team funds, I bookshopped. Filled an entire cart with titles like Speak, Noggin’, Day of Tears, Sunrise over Fallujah, Backlash, and See You at Harry’s. Filled it with books that I knew represented a diverse wide of readers. Books we had loved this year. Books we had loved in the past.
As the pile grew in our classroom, the students were curious. Why may we not bookshop those? What are those for? We held our tongues until the very last day when we gathered them all around for our final team meeting.
Surrounded by books each equipped with a hand-drawn bookmark from Kevin Sylvester, who writes one of our very favorite book series Minrs, we told the students just how thankful we were for them. Just how proud we were. How we would miss them. How we wanted to thank them and we knew just the way.
We then told them to look around because in a moment they were going to have a chance to select whichever book they wanted to keep. To stand up and browse all of the tables and then o please find a great book and read it this summer. That is was the very least we could do.
And then something surprising happened. The students cheered. These sometimes too cool to read kids actually cheered. And there was a mad rush to grab the book they had noticed. There was a mad rush to find just the book they wanted to read. Kids walking around with each other sharing ideas. Pointing out favorites. One child telling me that she grabbed a book she had already read because she knew it was so good she had to read it again. Another child telling me that he had wanted to read this book all year but never had the chance. Almost every single child leaving with a book in their hands.
At the end of the day, I wondered if the students actually cared about the books or whether it was just one more thing we had tried that didn’t really make an impact, yet as I looked around our team area, I only found three books left behind. Three books out of 150. Three books that someone had forgotten. These kids that sometimes could not remeber to bring a pencil a class actually brought their books home.
This morning, I received an email from a parent thanking us for the year. She wrote about the change she had sene in her child this year. How “…he even told me yesterday that before the kids were allowed to pick out their free book, that he purposely sat close to the book he wanted to make sure to get, so he could read it this summer.” This from a child who was not sure that reading was something he cared about before this year.
The mission for us at Oregon Middle School is to create opportunities for kids to love reading, or at the very least like it. Handing them all a book on the last day of school was the very best thing we could have done. It showed our commitment to their future lives as readers. And who knows, perhaps that book will be THE book for that child one day? May every child be given a book on the last day of school.
If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child Also consider joining our book club study of it, kicking off June 17th. This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block. If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.