My Back to School Promise: Books, Glorious Books!

If I had a plane, I would skywrite “Books, Glorious Books—and Time to Read Them!” for all to see. Knowing that voluminous reading is key to literacy development, this year I promise to intensify my district’s efforts to provide every student with daily access to vast amounts and varieties of appealing reading material and time to read. Specifically…

I promise to empower teachers and librarians to build stellar collections of irresistible books.

To boost “shelf-esteem,” administrators must provide time for teachers and librarians to explore books together—to pore over reviews, browse stacks, read, book-talk, compare notes, and develop orders for more books. In Mamaroneck, N.Y., where I serve as Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, some of our favorite, reliable online resources include:

  • The Cooperative Children’s Book Center: CCBC librarians post and archive Books of the Week which inevitably include gems not reviewed elsewhere. The center’s compilation of awards and Best-of-the-Year lists is all-inclusive. CCBC’s Bibliographies and Booklists on myriad themes and topics not only help teachers choose specific titles, they also remind us of the breadth necessary to reach all readers.
  • The American Library Association: Our “mother ship” bestows a slew of book, print, and media awards each year. Ordering the top ten in as many categories as one’s budget permits is an efficient way to jumpstart a collection. In Mamaroneck, for example, we seek the Alex Award winners because ALA has vetted them as adult books widely read and enjoyed by teens.
  • The National Council for Social Studies: This organization releases Notable Trade Books for Young People each year in thematic strands. 2014 selections in Biography include Miss Moore Thought Otherwise, Jan Pinborough and Debby Atwell’s account of how Anne Carroll Moore first ensured that children were welcomed in libraries!
  • The National Science Teachers Association: The NSTA also selects Outstanding Trade Books each year. 2015 picks include Katherine Applegate’s Ivan: The True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla, the author’s nonfiction follow-up to The One and Only Ivan which includes a tribute from the gorilla’s zookeeper and one of Ivan’s paintings signed with a thumbprint.
  • Indefatigable bloggers at the Nerdy Book Club: These writers, led by Donalyn Miller, Colby Sharp, Katherine Sokolowski, and Cindy Minnich, post a steady stream of lively and timely reviews--and they welcome contributions!
  • Houston, we have a solution: Texas librarian Teri Lesesne, aka the Goddess of YA, prolifically posts “pearls” and book recommendations on her blog and on Twitter @professornana.

This year, I will suggest that we energize the hunt for great books by timing faculty, department, and grade level meetings around the release dates for prestigious awards such as the National Book Award (November), the New York Times Notable Children’s Books (December), and the Caldecott and Newbery Medals (February).

I promise to keep the stream of great books flowing across the year.

It’s vital to understand local budgeting procedures and timelines so that adequate money is allocated for books and every dollar is spent! Rather than giving teachers a lump sum, I will suggest that administrators divide book allocations across the year so that teachers may place orders as outstanding new titles are released. This will require good communication with the district business office to confirm that the earmarked money will be available across the year, and to guide independent booksellers onto our state’s approved vendor list so that we can do business with these local treasures who know our children.

This year I pledge to develop a more nimble means of acquiring hot new books. When social energy bubbles around a series and the latest one is released, how do we quickly borrow and/or purchase multiple copies to feed the viral interest? Finally, I will continue to encourage teachers and librarians to keep extensive “wish lists” so that if and when monies become available, they are poised to pounce.

I promise to support teachers and librarians in curating their collections.

It’s not enough to flood our classrooms and libraries with books; administrators need to provide time for teachers and librarians to weed and update. Just as produce managers remove bruised peaches and limp lettuce from the aisles, we need to review our collections regularly, replacing worn-out favorites and removing books that don’t circulate to make way for newly-published gems. Administrators need to bless the weeding process because most teachers hate to discard books! 

I promise to provide children with uninterrupted time to read during the school day.

Given the indisputable link between volume and reading development, a large, daily block of independent reading should be the centerpiece of our reading curriculum. In Mamaroneck, elementary students read extensively during reading workshop, and middle and high school students have sacred time at the outset of each English period. Time to read in school provides kids with a leg up, making them more likely to continue reading at home. In-class reading time also provides us with invaluable opportunities to confer with kids and to make sure that they are well-matched with their books.

Finally, I promise to trumpet the importance of independent reading to families, community members, and the Board of Education.

At parent coffees, community forums, and Board of Education meetings, I will assert the importance of voluminous reading. I will encourage teachers to showcase their classroom libraries at Back-to-School night, book talk, and share the research that supports high volume of independent reading. I will provide opportunities for teachers to share the upbeat letters they send home at the beginning of the year which explain that students will read in school every day and enlist parents’ support in prioritizing reading at home.

Once we’ve moved mountains to put captivating books into children’s hands—and we’ve made sure that they are engaged and really reading—then we need to step aside and let kids read! Great books have powerful work to do in the hearts and minds of readers.

Have a great school year!

Comments

This is such an inspiring message for school administrators and teachers. In a time when we can easily get sidetracked by new state initiatives, policies, and regulations, it's important to remember our roots. It's all about reading and helping to create lifelong readers!

Thank you for sharing such a powerful message about the importance of reading great books. Planning to share your blog with my teachers and my administrators. Your mighty pen is at it again!