On July 3, 2022, Jan Half and Sharyn Saslafsky celebrated their nuptials in an original way: instead of receiving gifts, they invited their guests to support local organizations they are passionate about. One of these organizations was Bring Me a Book.
When asked why they decided to celebrate their marriage in such a way, Sharyn recounts, “We have so much. And we actually gave away so much. The last thing we really thought about was a registry. How many toasters can you collect?”
In honor of Jan and Sharyn’s abundant love, their friends and families raised over $5,000 for literacy efforts in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Since meeting in 2016, Jan and Sharyn have embraced life not only as partners, but also as lifelong learners. Jan, a retired educator and nonprofit director, taught middle school students in rural Illinois in the 70s and has an affinity for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). Sharyn, retired director of Muni (San Francisco Municipal Railway) communications, has been active in the political and activist world for many years. Both continue to learn from each other about their respective expertises, but share a common passion: literacy. As Jan shared, “Books, literacy, learning, children… All fit into a scope of things that we are both still very, very interested in.”
Inspired by Bring Me a Book’s work in San Mateo County and the foundation’s integral approach to community literacy, Jan and Sharyn decided to reach out to Lois Bridges, Executive Director of Bring Me a Book. Together, they worked to organize a wedding fund and select the best project for Jan and Sharyn to support. A month after their marriage, the couple continue to be closely linked to the foundation’s efforts and are eager to hear from the children and families benefiting from their contributions.
“If people are going to donate or honor you, why not give to a cause they are most passionate about? It is a win-win for all”.
With the support of their beloved family and friends, Jan and Sharyn transformed their celebration of love into an act of service toward their community. They hope that others with abundance in their lives decide to follow suit and choose a worthy cause to donate to. “If people are going to donate or honor you, why not give to a cause they are most passionate about? It is a win-win for all,” explained Sharyn.
If you would like to commemorate a special occasion by supporting Bring Me a Book, please contact Lois Bridges: email@example.com.
Learning – all learning – is inherently relational and social. Famed reading researcher Frank Smith drew from this foundational understanding to craft the metaphor of a “literacy club”, creating both a vision and a goal for children’s literacy learning (1987). Children’s nurturing into the literacy club begins long before formal schooling as family and caregivers immerse them in conversations, storytelling, drawing and writing, libraries and bedtime stories. Ideally, the ways we design teaching and learning continues this journey by deepening and broadening children’s engagement in joyful literate communities, with the goal of ensuring all students see themselves as readers and writers.
Towards this end, our teaching and learning must balance the cognitive and social processes of being a reader. My collaboration with Excellence and Justice in Education (EJE) Academies, a charter school located in El Cajon, California, includes a focus on creating time and space for independent reading, with an emphasis on building student’s cognitive abilities and surrounding these efforts with attention to process, collaboration, talk, passion, and reflection. Tenesha Jones, a passionate and energetic sixth grade teacher, eagerly embraced this journey, and recognized Bring Me a Book as a partner for creating book abundance, book joy, and constructing reading lives.
I stopped by Tenesha’s classroom one gorgeous spring day as students were turning their attention to their next Bookelicious order. The buzz of excitement wafting out the door hurried my step. Once inside, I found students scattered about in twos and threes, deep into the Bookelicious website. Some were comparing, discussing and adjusting their avatars, others excitedly scrolling recommendations for their next reading gem, and still others sharing and discussing books from their last Bookelicious delivery, with no attempt to hide their goal of enticing converts. To a person, these students couldn’t wait to share their journey.
Leilany Delgado was bursting with excitement over her last find, Anica Morse Rissi’s Hide and Don’t Seek: And Other Very Scary Stories. “It was the cover,” Leilany enticingly whispered. “It caught my eye. Each story changes, like a mini-scary mystery. My favorite is “You’re It”. It’s all texting – so freaky! And now I know I love horror. It gives me goosebumps. I take it home to read alone in my room in the dark! And I like how it’s written – you know, in texting. I’m looking for another story like that.” As we were wrapping up our conversation, Leilany tossed out a bit of strategy. “I’m changing my avatar by seasons”, she advised. “I think I’ll get new book recommendations!”
Thanks to the Bookelicious book search feature, Jonathan Llamas stumbled on Max Bralier’s The Last Kids on Earthseries, and remembered his older brother reading it. Jonathan now had a growing stack of titles from the series on his desk. “Yeah,” Jonathan explained, “I like to keep my books here at school so I can read them. It’s too busy at home because I help babysitting and the housework and stuff. If I keep them here, I can read and talk about them. At home, my [two year old] sister would destroy them!” The sticky notes protruding from several titles intrigued me. Jonathan explained, “See, I don’t do any folding pages or corners or anything. It has to stay perfect. So if someone reads it too, they have to do a sticky note to mark their place like me.”
Paty Alvarez flagged me down next, launching immediately into her self-proclaimed status as a big “nerd of reading”. True to her title, she proudly shared a HUGE (capitalized at her direction as she oversaw my notetaking) book, The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft. The book, it turns out, was a birthday gift from her big brother, because he (and everyone else it seems) knows she loves mystery and thrillers. Paty’s partner joined our conversation to share how scrolling through Bookelicious led to the discovery of The Traitor’s Game series by Jennifer A. Nielsen. “It was recommended because we liked The Inheritance Games series. We thought it would be just O.K., but we loved it! Now we’re going to try getting the other ones [in the series]. And we have a new author to love!” As I prepared to head towards Damanis Uelala, who had been motioning to claim next-in-line, Paty added a last insight into the depth of her membership in the literacy club. “By the way,” she smiled, “did I tell you I’m writing a screen play?”
Damanis was waiting with her computer in hand, excited to shared her Bookelicious avatar. It seems she and her partner had created avatars with matching outfits, but each added their own favorite dog. Despite the difference in canine preferences, the similarity in avatars led to similarity in comic book and graphic novel recommendations, and the two were becoming Raina Telgemeier connoisseurs. Their current ordering strategy was to find one book in English and one book in Spanish, nurturing their growth as bilinguals.
These four students offer a mere sampling of the abundant joy in this 6th grade classroom. With the support of a caring and passionate teacher, a nurturing and collaborative culture, and our Bring Me a Book grant—that enabled us to select books from Bookelicious— these children are discovering who they are as readers, learning how to share and broaden their reading, realizing the joy in reading, developing reading habits, and learning how to curate and care for books. Clearly, they are building and layering on the foundation for lifelong membership in the literacy club.
“We should purchase a couple of books on ADHD, so that I can share them with my friends and they can understand what it’s like to be me.”
This comment, overheard during a conversation among fourth graders, is a microcosm of the outcomes hoped for when students are empowered to update the school library.
The project: analyze the library catalog at Mineral Point Elementary School and make recommendations for new titles. While our librarian, Micki Uppena, had updated the books available for check out over the last four years, a number of texts needed to be replaced or were missing.
With this in mind, our goal was simple: empower students to lead the curation of texts in order to improve the school library.
The rest of this summary highlights students’ responses to the project, described in more detail through our action plan, outcomes, and lessons learned.
Action Plan: Responsibility, Support and Trust
From the start, we knew that we wanted students to have as much responsibility, support, and trust possible when examining, evaluating, and ultimately deciding on how to improve the school library.
At the time (2021), we were transitioning to a renovated and expanded school due to a recent referendum and facility upgrade. New shelving and seating were purchased for the new library. Mobile tables and other flexible furniture prioritized a more personalized learning experience for students. The stage was set to take that next step in empowering our students to make decisions on behalf of their peers and themselves.
The following three elements – responsibility, support, trust – served as pillars in structuring the experience for the students.
Element #1: Responsibility
All readers in fourth and fifth grade were formally invited in the fall to join the library book budget project.
The initial enrollment totaled over 60 students. After some dropped out once the expectations were explained at the first meeting, the group of over 50 students coalesced around clear steps for improving access in the school library:
Examine the current selection of texts. Ask students what they want to see in the library. Work to represent their interests, identities, and needs with the acquisition of new texts.
From this point, students got to work.
Micki Uppena facilitated a variety of literacy leadership experiences for students, including:
Brainstorming sessions around interests, needs, and observations regarding the current state of the school library Collecting this information both in print (chart paper) and digitally (Google Forms). Working with classroom teachers to secure time for students to come down to the library, as well as to connect with peers.
The responsibility for updating the school library was embraced by the students.
Of note is how infrequently the students needed redirection or reminders for appropriate behavior in school while engaged in this work. They thrived on the authority given to them. As only one example, students connected with peers throughout the school to log their interests for books. They carried iPads with digital forms queued up on the screen to enter each student’s preferences for new texts in the library.
The student survey data was later organized in a spreadsheet with Micki’s guidance to find patterns and trends about what texts to purchase.
Element #2: Support
None of this work would have occurred without the financial support provided by Bring Me a Book and Title IV grants.
Bring Me a Book is a nonprofit organization founded by Judy Koch and led by Dr. Lois Bridges. Its mission is to help schools and organizations that serve children overcome book scarcity, bring book abundance to all children, and help them grow a sustainable reading habit. Through Bring Me a Book’s generous donors, Mineral Point Elementary School was granted $5000 to purchase the books the students selected. Bring Me a Book’s partnership with the online independent bookstore, Bookelicious, enabled children to select the books.
These dollars were matched through the U.S. Department of Education’s Title IV “well-rounded education” non-competitive grants, designated for students in underserved communities (Mineral Point Elementary School qualifies for Schoolwide Title I services).
In addition to financial support, it is important to note the support of the Mineral Point Elementary School faculty and staff. They were flexible and gracious in allowing the student leaders to leave the classroom to participate in this project.
Element #3: Trust
The list of books requested by students generally fell into three categories:
Books to replace “well-loved” copies, e.g. the Harry Potter series. Books to expand on current offerings, especially nonfiction for younger readers and graphic novels. Books to better represent our diverse community and world; for example, texts about understanding individuals with special needs, and non-traditional family structures.
The actual purchases were made through online vendors as well as directly from book publishers.
From a previous school research project we learned that how books are positioned—i.e., the library design—was influential in getting students to check out and read more books.
The students walked away with a better understanding of how to design spaces with readers in mind (as well as several boxes of new books!).
Just as it is rare that students are entrusted to make thousands of dollars in purchases of books for a school, it is also uncommon for a business to be so welcoming to a large group of students. Signs are typically posted at the front of stores with limits on what can be brought in, and sometimes, young people are not even allowed to enter without an adult. It is difficult to become an engaged, literate person unless the adults in our communities trust kids and open the doors, literally and figuratively, to opportunities such as these.
School Outcomes: Surprises, Challenges, and Hopes
That students involved in the book budget would be motivated and engaged in the process was not necessarily a surprise. What was a surprise was how motivated and engaged the students were by the project.
For instance, Micki noted that a few students who were typically disengaged during the classroom literacy block would regularly come to school early and head down to the library to see what they could do for the project. They helped unpack deliveries and put school labels on their new books. When there was no work to do at the time, students found other tasks such as turning on the library computers.
This enthusiasm carried over in the form of positive attention for the school.
As an example, the book budget project caught the attention of State Superintendent Dr. Jill Underly at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Dr. Underly and her staff made a stop at Mineral Point Elementary School during a visit to the region. Students explained the book budget project and gave her a tour of the school library. Several titles the kids had selected were proudly displayed.
This project was highlighted on the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s website.
A final surprise was the utilization of the students’ book choices for the annual family reading night.
Typically, books are purchased for these events as sets organized by a publisher. Instead, Title I funds allocated for the reading night were used to purchase two additional copies of each text selected through the book budget process. This was highlighted at the reading night when families selected a book as part of the event.
While the book budget project was overall a success, two challenges – one expected and one a surprise – were discovered through the process. The expected challenge is: how do we sustain this project long term? This inquiry is founded on additional questions, including:
What if current funding becomes unavailable to support the project? Relatedly, how can we secure financial support from individuals and organizations? How does this project become “institutionalized” to ensure sustainability and become an annual part of the school library programming?
The surprising challenge is: how can students see this book budget project as one and the same with their formal learning experience at school?
This issue came up during our visit to the local independent book store field trip. One student (who also happened to be one of the disengaged readers who regularly visited the school library in the morning) shared that he was “happy to be on the field trip because I got to get out of school.” While it was explained that he was still in school even though we were at a book store, he did not see it that way.
The underlying issue here is how we break down the mental barriers that some readers hold between projects like this one and what they experience in the general classroom. This student has a caring teacher who employs similar practices in his classroom including a robust classroom library, opportunities to select books of his interest, and time to read independently. Still, he perceived the book budget project as the preferred experience.
With that, we carry three hopes going forward from this experience:
To start developing lasting relationships with individuals and organizations to support the book budget project long term. To break down the mental barriers between what students learn during the project and in the classroom. To support students’ enthusiasm for marketing and promoting what the library has to offer to peers and the community, e.g. book recommendation posters, book talks.
These challenges and everything else we learned also serve as lessons that other schools can consider and apply to their contexts.
Lessons Learned: A Replicable and Sustainable Model for Other Schools
If other educators want to implement the book budget project, they should consider the following lessons going forward:
Ensure faculty, staff, and administration are on board and supportive of releasing students to engage in the book budget process.
Review expectations for the project at the first meeting.
Invite all eligible students to participate in this experience, and consider special invitations for students who have demonstrated disengagement in reading in the past.
Consider this project as a potential reading intervention for historically reluctant readers.
Stay current on related topics, such as diversity, inclusion, and representation when examining school libraries.
Share updates and summaries about the book project regularly with your school communication director and/or online via social media and newsletters to garner their support.
Look for and organize promising strategies for initiating and nurturing relationships with individuals and organizations that have the resources to financially support this project.
Assess participants’ engagement levels before, during and after the project. Data/information can be collected through surveys, observational notes, images/video, transcripts of student discussions, library check-out rates, and reading proficiency results.This information, collected over years, can be summarized and shared with students, teachers, and community partners to strengthen their support long term.
We have a group of 5th and 6th graders at Conway Elementay School working on what they want to order. They are reviewing titles and thinking about where the Manga Collection will go… how they will teach other kids how to read Manga, and most importantly, why they believe Manga is an essential new addition to the school library.
We met with 13 students about their wish list for the Manga library. New kids have joined the group since our first meeting—a positive sign! Meg and I talked about the diversity of kids in the room… wonderful to see.
Students were in groups of three to four working on how many of each title they want to order. Meg created a Google form with the cost and availability of the titles first on their lists. Students had to solve problems with math to figure out the total cost they want to spend—and it was wonderful to watch them helping each other and imagining how popular this small collection will be. They read reviews of books they haven’t read (classics like Anne of Green Gables are now offered in Manga form and the students are interested in them.)
Many students are interested in drawing Manga characters, so they plan to purchase two copies of “How to Draw Manga”… they also want to subscribe to ComicBooks—a subscription that allows access 24/7 online and all summer. This is $775 and was not included in the library budget, so this is a nice opportunity to bring it back. Students LOVE it. During the Covid lockdown Meg connected it to a virtual visit from a comic books artist. Students at CES even produced a school wide comics newspaper!
Meg sat with our independent book store owner to go over prices before the meeting. We considered also going to BAM, which is a chain, but has a larger collection and perhaps access to the titles our independent book store said were unavailable. We encouraged students to stop by the store and check out their collection this weekend.
Between our last two meetings both Meg and I have been reading Manga. I finished my first one, and it was harder than I expected. It stretched me, for sure.
Fifty-five 5th and 6th grade students answered a survey regarding Manga in the library.
Here is a snapshot of their responses:
Do you have anything else you want to share about manga, comics, or graphic novels?
I think they are cool and will be a great addition to the library
i like comics and anime so BOOM Manga
Graphic novels are better in my opinion
I think that it would be in the YA books because most of them have swears.
They are read lefty so be aware of that
I think that Mangas are very interesting if you like anime. I really hope we can have a collection in our library.
i like Manga and we should get some
most mMangas have blood
10 students signed up to help create a Manga Collection.
Red moons are rare, occurring only once or twice a year when the moon is totally eclipsed by the earth. Hidden in darkness, the full moon glows in crimson luminescence for a few hours, a delicious astonishment set into the glittered night sky. We toast them with our cameras and marvel at their brilliance.
A just-right book is a red moon.
For Bria, a second grader at Stonebrook Elementary in Cleveland, OH her just right book was the very first book she could read independently, Rhyming Dust Bunnies. When she found she could read the book on her own, she cradled it close and wanted to read it to anyone who would listen. For Teri that book was Hello Crabby. Because of Bring Me a Book, both of these readers were able to get their very own copies of their chosen books to take home.
In October of 2021, we casually offered to drop by the classroom of Cleveland teacher/poet Quartez Harris, share some poems and engage his second graders in a writing workshop. Mr. Harris had somewhat nervously warned us that the students had done no writing thus far and went on to describe the devastating impact that the pandemic had on these particular children. They had missed the last three months of kindergarten and spent most of first grade in virtual classrooms. No problem, we replied naively. We’d heard about the “learning gaps” children were experiencing, the reports were all over the news. They’ll catch up, we reassured him and each other with confidence, all kids are in the same boat, same rough waters, same buffeting winds. Right?
What we found on that first visit were eager faces in an under-resourced classroom, in an under-resourced school. Maybe it shouldn’t have been so surprising, Cleveland, among all the large cities in the U.S., has the highest number of children living below poverty level. The tax base here has been gutted by a decades-long, slow-moving excavator of declining industry that has left crumbling infrastructure, limited opportunities, and a malnourished school system in its wake.
Still the barren classroom was a stunner to us, perhaps because as paid educational consultants we are generally hired by schools with money – schools with vibrant libraries as well as bins full of books in classrooms that are often outfitted with comfortable seating, cushions, and cozy places for reading. This room was a virtual book desert. On display were some high-quality picture books that Mr. Harris had purchased himself, but there was no classroom library to speak of.
The curriculum at Stonebrook takes a structured approach to phonics instruction and decoding words in isolation, which is what Mr. Harris had been doing up until we entered the classroom last October. It was clear that wasn’t working as the kids repeatedly chorused, “I can’t read.” It was practically unanimous, almost as if there was peer pressure not to read. However, in individual and small group discussions, kids would shyly acknowledge they really did want to read.
It is important to note that we are children’s authors as well as writing and public speaking consultants. Unlike many of the literacy champions dedicated to Bring Me a Book, we are not reading specialists. Bring Me a Book was the perfect resource we didn’t know we needed! We told our story of this classroom to Lois Bridges, and she introduced us to Bring Me a Book where we not only received funding for books for the children but critical professional development support. The weekly meetings of the BMAB Consortium were invaluable. We learned so much from the other members and the speakers who Lois and BMAB introduced to us. It truly is a community of literacy champions.
Over the course of the rest of the school year, we took a three-pronged approach to engage the students of Room 105 as readers.
1. Building a classroom library and giving students six just right books of their very own.
If phonemic awareness is the how of reading, books are the why. Words and syllables in isolation just aren’t engaging. BMAB champion Regie Routman guided us in organizing the classroom library and she also encouraged us to write with the children as an inspiration for reading as well as some classroom management techniques that helped bring the students back in from the wilds of the pandemic. We held a fundraiser to start a classroom library with about $1000 in donations from friends and family, but it quickly became apparent we would need financial assistance to give these students access to an individually tailored personal library. Students took an active role in organizing their new books. Having these new books on hand helped students as they chose their own books with funds granted to the students from BMAB. Once books began to flow into the room, kids’ interest in reading increased dramatically! A new chorus of voices began: “What’s this word? Read this to me? I want to read this book!”
2. Writing with purpose: writing short text about their world, creating literature with which they could make a true personal connection.
Regie also encouraged us to commit to writing as an inspiration for students to read. We wrote short text about their homes, families, dreams and what they were studying, often introducing short poems as mentor text. It was during a writing workshop in which students wrote about a subject of their own choosing using the prepositions “between” and “among” that Nathan came up with the title above, “The red moon is between Mars and Cleveland.”
Over the course of the year we published four chapbook-style books of the students’ writing plus a final anthology. As Regie predicted, this writing served as an inspiration for reading as students enthusiastically read aloud their own writing as well as that of their classmates.
3. Providing remedial small group reading support using phonics and just right books
Our biggest stumbling block out of the gate was that so many of our students needed remedial reading instruction and were unacquainted with letter sounds. The missed classroom time due to Covid was devastating for these youngsters! We decided to devote one morning a week to small group reading support as well as one morning for writing. BMAB literacy champion Sharon Zinke’s Rime Magic became our go-to phonics instruction for our kids who through no fault of their own, were starting from scratch on their mastery of letter sounds. Sharon gave generously of her time explaining how to use the phonics instruction for 10 or 15 minutes and then transition to a book of the student’s choosing. It was in the course of these small group lessons that students really began to unlock the mystery of how big words can be broken down for understanding. Capabilities and vocabularies began to expand.
Of course, essential to all of this were the books. Access to books and finding those “just right” books are what transformed our kiddos’ self-perceptions as non-readers to browsers of lists of books, looking for their new favorite series or author. Michael and Ryan dove into Captain Underpants, Shiare became a devoted Jacqueline Woodson fan, Armanie loved the fashion sense of Baby Mouse, Shamar and Pete the Cat were both enamored with their shoes. All of these students just like Bria who began the year as self-proclaimed nonreader had been swept away by Rhyming Dust Bunnies, were able to discover just right books.
These individual discoveries, each as precious as a red moon, were funded by BMAB, changing these children’s self-perceptions, capabilities, and the trajectories of their learning journeys. Thank you, Lois Bridges and Bring Me a Book!
What an amazing journey this is proving to be! When we started this school year, El Nido Elementary School had completely dismantled their rundown and limited school library so they could start over with brand new furniture and shelves and more up-to-date books.
By November 2021, the new furniture had arrived but not the new shelves, so almost all of the books were still in boxes. The book count in the library was 5,797 (40% fiction and 29% nonfiction). Very few books were available to students.
As a Bring Me a Book Literacy Champion, I realized I could help. I called the Merced County Librarian Amy Taylor and connected her to Lori Gonzalez, who serves as both the El Nido principal and superintendent of this rural one-school district. Lori explained that El Nido wouldn’t be receiving the new shelves until after the first of the year. So Librarian Amy offered to loan temporary shelves to the school. And, indeed, that very week, Amy made the 15-mile country road trek to El Nido in the Merced library bookmobile with not only shelving, but also, with public library cards for every student.
The El Nido students have been largely limited to the few books in their classrooms. Slowly, that’s beginning to change—soon, through a Bring Me a Book sponsorship and a partnership with Bookelicious, El Nido second and fifth-grade students will also have new books in their homes that they have chosen themselves.
Having retired from more than 40 years of teaching, I realized that I could also add to El Nido’s book abundance by donating my own extensive collection of children’s literature and give the El Nido K-5 classrooms a fresh collection of great books. Because there is only one classroom per grade level in this small school, each classroom received between 50 and 200 books. I can’t begin to describe the excitement and appreciation of the teachers and students when my husband and I arrived mid-November with boxes and boxes of books.
As we were about to deliver books to the second-grade classroom, the custodian stopped us from opening the door. He couldn’t contain his excitement as he was grabbing books out of the boxes. Recognizing some of the titles, he began to read aloud one of the books to us before we opened the classroom door and surprised the students with the books.
The second graders enjoyed browsing their new books!
We dropped off the books in the fifth-grade class and let them know I would be back later in the morning to introduce the books to the students. But when I arrived an hour later, each student had already browsed the books in each box and chosen two books to keep at their desks.
Now, for this little school, the possibilities for book abundance and enriched student reading lives seem endless. Kudos to Principal Lori Gonzalez and the teachers for being ready to go for it! I’m sure we will see a transformation to book abundance and joyful reading for the students that will make our hearts soar!
We began the year with a huge challenge ahead of us. We decided to focus on choice and access for this school year since there was a severe shortage of books and book access in the school and it seemed that the language arts period was much more focused on published lessons rather than BOOKJOY and encouraging lifelong readers.
Reader Agency, Identity, and Choice
When we started the year, “reading time” was regulated to instruction. Many students didn’t see themselves as readers, let alone readers with the power of choice and identity.
Now students are beyond excited about books, especially getting to choose their own. They are beginning to see themselves as readers and to define their reading interests. There is a new level of excitement about books at El Nido. Bring Me a Book in partnership with Bookelicious have been able to touch the students in every classroom in the school.
New School Library
Check out the new library! Everyone at the school is beyond excited about it!
I happened to catch the girls in a little group among the shelves sharing with each other what they love about their favorite author:
Merced Public Library
Connecting with Merced Public Library started out as a big excitement. However, it didn’t turn out quite as planned. The students all got library cards but the Bookmobile never was set up. I had thought it was happening but when I asked how it was going at the end of April, Lori said she had reached out to Amy (the wonderful librarian in Merced) about returning the shelving and about the Bookmobile and communication between them was interrupted by the many obligations they each had to deal with this year.
Now we have some good news! The Bookmobile will be set up for this summer (yay!!) and for the beginning of the next school year. Even though El Nido students didn’t have easy access to the public library this year, they have been beside themselves with excitement about their own school and classroom libraries.
Two Brand-new Excited, Committed Teachers
Ana Vega-Torrez is a 5th grade teacher and is teaching her first year at El Nido Elementary school. She is a graduate of CSU Stanislaus and Merced Jr. College. Ana is excited and thrilled to begin her teaching career. She wants to make a difference within her own classroom and provide the best quality instruction her students deserve. Ana holds a special place in her heart for reading and wants the same for her students.
Mayra Vega is a 2nd grade teacher and is teaching her first year at El Nido Elementary school. Mayra is an alumni student from El Nido Elementary School. Being able to teach and give back to the El Nido community is a huge accomplishment for Mayra. Mayra truly wants to make a difference within her community. Her overall goal is to enrich and improve her student’s reading fluency, comprehension, and stamina.
Some sparkly moments Ana and Mayra have observed in their classrooms this year:
Yaz was showing one of her books that she found really interesting and while that conversation was happening Heriberto overheard and made sure to tell her that there is a second book for that series. He also offered to show her it when we visit the library next week.
Jazmin lost her father a couple of years ago and she found a main character was her same age and lost her father as well. I could see how much she related to the book and valued it.
I also have many students that love to write their own stories and I have one student in particular, David Frisbee, who has already been writing his own books. He even loans them out for students to take turns reading his books. He loves writing them and sharing his passion.
Ana, 5th grade
Each morning I read with two small groups. My first small group reads “Frog and Toad”. Camilo has improved his fluency so much by reading Frog and Toad that he now races Cristian when reading together. I love that Camilo now feels confident with this reading and volunteers to read pages alone. My second group reads “Small Pig”. Aylin has also improved her reading fluency. Alyin is very kind and helps the other group members read by modeling how to sound out a word.
Today we went to the library, and Aylin checked out “The Cat in the Hat” by Dr. Seuss. As Aylin was reading independently she came up to me and pointed out the words ‘here’ and ‘fear.’ Aylin mentioned to me that both words rhyme because they have the ear spelling pattern. I was delighted to hear her explanation since we learned this spelling pattern last week.
Mayra, 2nd grade
Thrilled About Books at El Nido
Winter break was approaching. Mayra and Ana were hoping their orders would reach them in time for their students to get their two wishlist books before leaving for winter break. The books arrived for the second-grade class just in time!
Watch the response below!
After the second book delivery everyone was doubly excited about books!
Fifth-graders were excited to show me their books and their book recommendations.
These girls were beside themselves they were so excited about sharing author Svetlana Chmakova! They wanted to stand in their new library and share on video:
Matthew Golub, children’s book author
On March 3 Matthew Golub worked his magic performing assemblies for all the grade levels, sharing his stories with music, drumming, and amazing animated voices. 100% engagement all day long! Mayra talked with her students about reading with those voices and sounds to their younger siblings.
A Special Donor
My nephew, Alan Becker, and his wife Kaori, made a $3000 donation to BMAB so that ALL students at El Nido could have two books of their own from their Bookelicious Wishlists.
Our Literacy Champion Islah Tauheed worked with two teachers, third grade teacher Melissa Bowman and kindergarten teacher Elana Vela; over the course of the school year, each child chose six books to take home, read, and keep.
We interviewed Elana at the end of the school year to learn more about her experience helping her kinders learn to regard themselves as readers with their own unique interests and book preferences.
It’s been such a joy to see how excited they are about their books and about different topics and discovering topics that they didn’t think they would like… Because in the beginning: the girls wanted princess books; the boys wanted superhero books; that was pretty much it. But once I pushed them a little bit, and once they saw what their friends were ordering, and once they saw what I read to them in class, they got more excited about different topics…
I think them seeing reading as a fun, exciting thing has made it maybe a little easier to teach them how to read because they love looking at books. And they go home and they say, “Oh, I’m so excited to read this to my sister”, or “I’m excited to show my friend this book” or… And they ask me questions about authors. I’ll read them the book and they’ll be like, “Is this the same author or does this…?” A bunch of my girls wanted Princess Hair by Sharee Miller because I read it in class, so they all wanted it, but we explored what other books that author has, so I was showing them like, “Even if it’s not the book you want, you can find one with a similar theme or a similar title”, just making them aware of things that five-year-olds aren’t necessarily aware of…
It’s been really joyful because it’s just fun to watch them. Hopefully they grow up still enjoying reading and develop as strong readers.
Elana Vela, kindergarten teacher at 189 Cornerstone Academy, Brooklyn, New York.
“Mrs. Burkins! Mrs. Burkins! Last night was magical. My mom loved our family reading night.”
Brayden, age 8
Holding a family literacy night can provide a meaningful experience for students as well as their families. It is a unique way to bring families into the reading lives of their children. One key to success is to get students involved in the planning for the event, as well as the execution. That participation and buy-in means the students have ownership of the event and creates a rich and satisfying experience. What follows is a description of a virtual family literacy night, planned and executed with my third-grade class.
Hopewell Elementary is located in a suburb outside of Columbus, Ohio. The school opened in the fall of 2020 to over 600 students in grades kindergarten through fifth grade. Hopewell Elementary is unique in that it opened during a pandemic year, with students that came from four other elementary schools. The staff and students were challenged by the need to build a community when distance learning was a requirement. The school prides itself on strong parent and community partnerships. According to the student social emotional data collected in 2021, students feeling a sense of belonging and acceptance is one of Hopewell Elementary’s greatest accomplishments since its inception.
Meet Classroom 205
Classroom 205 is located on the second floor of Hopewell Elementary and has 18 third grade students. There are 13 students who use the he/him pronouns, and five students who use the she/her pronouns. Seven students identify with having more than one language that is regularly spoken at home. Six students have identified with being born in countries other than the United States of America.
The class members have chosen to see themselves as a “family community.” This choice came about during Week Five of the school year, when a new student arrived to our class. During their morning talking circles, students were talking about how to greet a new student. One student said, “We can say ‘welcome to the family.’” From that moment on, the students referred to our class as a family.
Classroom 205’s Reading Journey
The readers in classroom 205 have spent the school year thus far getting to know themselves as readers by studying books they like to read, authors who they enjoy, places they like to read, ways that books make them feel, and stories they love hearing. This exploration of identity has allowed students to get to know themselves and each other as readers in one community. It has allowed students to bring their family reading histories in, and to listen to the histories of fellow students.
I introduced students to a reading/book website called Bookelicious—to get to know books that match our unique identities and help us to keep track of books and stories we really enjoy. Students learned that this website could help them make lists of books they want to read, and also get ideas of books that might speak to their hearts. One feature on the Bookelicious website is the ability to create Bookmojis, which are avatars that we design for ourselves and reflect our unique likes and interests. It turned out that this website was instrumental in the idea of hosting a virtual family reading night.
Classroom 205’s Virtual Family Reading Night
In mid-September parents in room 205 attended a virtual curriculum night. This night was designed for parents to have time to get to know the teacher, curriculum, and flow of the school year. I took this time to introduce parents to the organization Bring Me a Book as their classroom sponsor, and to Bookelicious as the vehicle in which students would engage with book selection and reading identity work. Multiple parents cheered when they learned about Bring Me a Book sponsoring the classroom for the year. I shared what the partnership will look like: Students will help plan three family reading nights, students will get to pick out six books for their home libraries, and students will get to help facilitate book conversations with their families. One parent said, “Wow this seems like a dream.”
The first family night was scheduled in October. The students used their talking circle time in the morning to think about ideas and plan for the event. Many students said things like, “My mom works at night,” “I don’t know if my family can come after school,” “Can it be before school?” “My family can’t come before school,” and so on. Students expressed interest in finding a way to involve all families. One student suggested that maybe we ask our families for a good time then try to find one time.
Together the class and I crafted an email that went home to families asking for their opinions on times. From the responses, we discovered that there would be no way at this time that everyone would be included. Families were worried about specific times of days to meet and also meeting during the pandemic. One student suggested that we could do it on google meet. That led to my suggesting that we have a virtual family night, in which each family could decide what time worked best for them. The students agreed with the plan.
We knew that, in order to have a successful reading night, students would have to be excited and invested in running the family night at home. So I conducted a series of mini-lessons during our reading workshop to help prepare students for their roles in the virtual family reading night. The focus of the first night was for students to teach their parents how to make a bookmoji, a personal reading avatar, on Bookelicious. This was something that brought each student so much joy. Students had to think about a lot of things, like: How to ask their family when a good time was to do the virtual family night? What was a good place in their home to do it? Do they need to borrow a Chromebook™?
After students thought about the logistics, then they had to think about practicing their expertise on Bookelicious. They thought about different questions: Do I remember how to log in and find where to build the bookmoji? Can I show my family how to find different parts to add to the bookmoji? What will I point out to my family for them to notice? Can I show my family how to add books to the wishlist?
Once students practiced with partners, they had to think about how they would share their reading identities with their family members, in order to add books to their wishlist as a family. They considered issues such as: What books do I like? What stories might my family like? What am I excited about reading right now? Students spent time practicing so that they felt prepared to host their own family reading night. As a classroom family they picked a week in which everyone would try to host their reading night.
As students began to host their family events, they would come to school and say things like:
“Hey guys, have you done yours yet? Look at my dad’s bookmoji!”
“My sister wants to do this in her class. She made two bookmojis!”
“I love the books we picked out…look!”
“I can’t wait to get our books and read them together. My brother helped, too!”
Sixteen out of 18 families have experienced the virtual family reading night. The next reading night will not be a virtual one; it will take place at the community library. Each family will receive a copy of, Our Favorite Day of the Year by A. E. Ali and Rahele Jomepour Bell, one month prior to the family night. Students will create reflection questions to use with their families while reading the book at home. During the Family Reading Night at the library families will get a chance to share their experiences with the book and participate in a shared art experience. Librarians will be on hand to talk about the benefits of library cards, and to assist with signing families up for their library card. The goal is to gather families around a shared text and engage in a shared family reading experience as a Classroom 205 reading family.
Instilling a love of reading through choice, agency, and time to talk about books
The students and teachers in Paradise have experienced a series of tragedies and challenges the past few years including the horrific Camp Fire which destroyed their school and entire town. On November 8, 2018, the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in the history of California raged through the beautiful town of Paradise, California ruining everything in its path. About 93% of the students in the school district lost their homes in the inferno. From that fateful morning when the Camp Fire’s flames ravaged the town, the teachers in Paradise heroically stepped into action and their lives were changed forever. The district set up makeshift classrooms in stores, churches, and schools in neighboring towns. Teachers scrambled to gather books and materials. Returning to school provided the recovering town with a sense of normalcy.
The community was still digging out of the tragic ashes to rebuild when Covid hit in 2020. Just like schools everywhere in the world, Paradise educators stepped up to deliver remote virtual learning. To meet the needs of the community during Covid Principal Ed Gregorio and a dedicated team spent long days at school masked up to pass out meals to families in need, provide moral support, and to create instructional packets for students.
Many families moved out of the area after the fire leaving about 42% of the school district’s original population. Two of the former elementary schools, Paradise and Ponderosa, combined in the rebuild to become Paradise Ridge Elementary which opened in August 2021. Paradise Ridge Elementary is a Title One school with around 75-85% of the students on free and reduced lunch.
The newly built school building, Paradise Ridge Elementary, houses a new library stocked with a wonderful selection of books run by a skillful library aide. Teachers continue to rebuild their classroom libraries post-fire. However, due to poverty coupled with the loss of their homes in the inferno, many students in Paradise still lack books of their own. When Bring Me a Book (BMAB) approached the school, the invited teachers were thrilled to participate to provide their students with books to take home.
What Book Abundance Makes Possible
Once the books were in the children’s hands, teacher Laura Taylor made the most of the books, finding ways to optimize their impact in the classroom. The kids, too, came up with their own ideas to celebrate the new books that entered their classroom.
The third graders filed into Laura Taylor’s classroom wide-eyed as they spotted two unopened “gifts” on each of their desks. Their teacher lovingly gift wrapped each of their recent BMAB selections. On cue and all at once students joyously ripped into the colorful papers to embrace their new reading choices. They squealed with delight and blurted out comments as they eagerly shared their titles with one another.
“This is just like Christmas!”
“Wow! That’s such a good book for you because you love horses.”
“I’m not surprised you picked that one. Can I read it when you’re done?”
“My mom and I are going to have so much fun reading this together at bedtime!”
“I’m going to read these now, and I’m going to try and get the rest of the series next time.”
“I’ve always wanted this book, and now I finally have it!”
“Can we read them at recess?”
Laura Taylor reports that her students enjoyed sharing their books with the class after they finished reading them. She set up a designated shelf in the classroom for lending or trading Bring Me a Book titles.
Students brought the books back to class to give a short oral review of the title before it was placed on the classroom lending library shelf. This way all the students benefitted even more from the Bring Me a Book and Bookelicious orders. The students felt like they were helping pay forward the kindness that was shown to them by being generous with their books! Some students also donated their books for me to read aloud to the class.
The second graders in Mary Ludwig’s class stood behind their chairs ready to rotate around the room in a gallery walk featuring their latest BMAB choices. On cue students quietly milled around all the desks to page through their classmates’ book choices. Students wrote comments on comment sheets placed next to each book. They expressed interest in the titles and gave compliments for book choices. The gallery walk benefitted students by promoting a wider variety of book selections. Students looked forward to a gallery walk with every book order! They enjoyed “flipping not ripping” through each other’s brilliant book selections.
When Jaime received his cookbook from BMAB titled, Super Simple Baking for Kids: Learn to Bake with Over 55 Easy Recipes for Cookies, Muffins, Cupcakes and More! He had no idea he would start a class cookbook craze! Once the other boys in the third-grade class learned about Jaime’s cooking choice for reading, they ALL raced to the library to hunt for more recipes. One of the children noted, “I didn’t know we could choose a cookbook to read.” Fortunately, the librarian had already curated a fun cookbook display. The third-grade boys proceeded to check out the entire collection. Mrs. Taylor, their teacher became the ultimate taste tester for the boys’ home creations which included brownies, cookies, pizza, and muffins! The cookbook craze in Taylorville (Laura’s classroom nickname!) began with a BMAB selection that set off cooking fun and cookbook reading for the remainder of the year.
Impromptu Book Clubs
When faced with their second book order the third graders in Mrs. Taylor’s class came up with a brilliant idea on their own. Since the class read The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate together, many of the students decided to select the author’s book The One and Only Bob as one of their BMAB choices. When the books arrived, the children formed their own impromptu book clubs. They choose to read in pairs and trios under trees on recess and at home. They organized their discussion groups and chose how many pages to read over the weekend and each night. Everyone felt included and empowered as they engaged in lively discussions about loyalty, love, and friendship through the adventures of Bob the dog. Children directed every moment of the reading including how to read (aloud, silently together in paired reading etc), when to read, where to read and what to discuss. The teacher marveled at the students’ ingenuity and independence. Captivating award-winning books like those written by Katherine Applegate, possess the power to inspire students to become joyful, self-directed readers. The impromptu book clubs at Paradise Ridge Elementary became a highlight of the third-grade year.
School Outcomes: Surprises, Challenges, and Hope
Laura shared the following insights:
The books given through Bring Me a Book have been a springboard for books being checked out in our new school library. Because of the gifted books, the students go into the library and ask for other books in the series or by the same author. I see this as a real benefit because we can then purchase books that students really want to read if we don’t have them already. We want to have books in the library that are going to be checked out and are in high-demand by the students.
Both Laura and Mary observed that students improved their skills as they searched for appropriate books by round two. Children became more comfortable with the platform and learned how to search effectively. Ordering the second time around was much quicker because they were more aware of authors and series. Students were interested in building their book collections.
Mary’s second graders this year were reading at much lower levels since pre-covid. Some of them didn’t know their alphabet at the beginning of second grade. Placing orders took a long time because of the reading levels of the children and the amount of help they needed to choose titles.
Both teachers explained that students had difficulties with the first order. They often choose books that were way too challenging. They did improve in this area by the subsequent orders. Students learned to use the “sneaky peeks” into texts to see if the reading levels were appropriate and to hone their interests.
The teachers gave helpful suggestions for logistics for the BMAB program which centered around sending a printout of the student choices when the books arrive for easier sorting, ways to deal with out-of-stock books, and a letter for families.
In the aftermath of Camp Fire’s total destruction, amazingly, the school’s buddy bench at Paradise Elementary stood untouched by the fire as a lone symbol of hope, love, and friendship. The rebuilt school’s motto, We Will Soar, is a testament to the bravery and determination of this dedicated staff and community. We are honored that that Paradise Ridge Elementary is part of our Bring Me a Book family. Together we hope to help strengthen the love of reading and access to books in the school and the community so that all students may SOAR!
Lessons Learned: A Replicable and Sustainable Model for Other Schools
Book Activities at Paradise Ridge
Replicable and Sustainable Modelfor Other Schools
Wrap books that students ordered to create a sense of excitement around books that they now own! Tip: Invite parent volunteers to help wrap the books. Buy dollar store materials or ask for donations.
Designate a shelf or table in the classroom as the lending library area. Students either donate books or indicate they’d like them back by writing their name in them. Tip: Include a sheet in the back of each book for student reviews. Give books a number review 1-5 and tell why. Or make a bulletin board for reviews to be posted.
Students place books on their desks with review sheets. Students take a quiet gallery walk by circulating around the room for “book peeks”. Tip: To cue students to move on to the next book you may wish to use a sound signal such as a bell or even music
Bring cookbooks into the classroom. Encourage students to check them out and ask parents if they may try some of the recipes at home. Choose a recipe or two to make in class. Tip: Find cookbooks that reflect the cultures in yourclassroom.
Impromptu Book Clubs
Encourage students to order some of the same titles that they are interested in and to form their own book clubs. Tip: Try very informal book clubs in the classroom. Model ways to read together and set goals for pages read etc. Choose an author or series that students at your grade level absolutely love!
Making Space for Independent Reading: Guidelines for Bring Me a Book Schools
Review expectations for the project including deadlines for ordering books and for meeting with BMAB staff and the literacy champion. Provide a chart of dates and deadlines for participating teachers.
Encourage students to sample a wide variety of genres including cookbooks (consider poetry, how-to books, biographies, etc.).
Expand on classroom favorites authors or titles you’ve read together to guide choices on BMAB. (Example of Ivan book).
Share stories from the classroom with BMAB and also with the community.
Engage parents in participating classrooms by providing support for reading and discussing the books at home.
Look for promising organizations in the community such as the Rotary Club that may support the project.
Collect data including participant’s engagement levels throughout the project.
Gather data/information can be collected through surveys, observational notes, images/video, transcripts of student discussions, library check out rates, and reading proficiency results.
Check in for teacher satisfaction throughout the project.
Ed Gregorio, principal of Paradise Ridge Elementary, supports his staff and students in developing independent reading across the school to promote literacy and grow a love of reading. Ed shares the following ways that administrators can support independent reading in the classroom.
The Importance of Independent Reading
“Very few practices can compete with independent reading in fostering engaged, life-long-learners. With independent reading, student autonomy and choice positively contribute to each student’s motivation and desire to read. Independent reading builds students’ reading comprehension and provides ample opportunities to build students’ content knowledge.”
Support for Choice and Independence
“Administrators need to provide teachers with reassurance that time spent on building students’ independent reading habits is time well spent. With an impacted instructional day, schools and teachers need to prioritize the key learning strategies to support student achievement.
Independent reading is a key instructional strategy. I appreciate Bring Me A Book’s support in providing a platform for student choice in their reading, which positively impacts their motivation to read and, as a result, their learning.”
The central and most important goal of reading instruction is to foster a love of reading.
Linda Gambrell, Distinguished Professor of Education, Clemson University
The most powerful way to promote independent reading is to provide all children access to books they can and want to read. When we invest in books, we are investing in kids. It’s really that simple. Real reading creates real readers.
Countless researchers have proven the impact of classes and communities that have an abundance of books. Frequent, voluminous, self-selected reading and personal preference are the foundation, walls, and ceiling in building a reader for a lifetime (Atwell, 2009).
And yes, there is something magical about seeing children find their hearts in a book, and that should be attainable for every child, every day.
Which is why independent reading cannot be viewed as a curricular add-on; it must be deeply embedded in our daily routines so students see reading beyond school work—as part of lifework.
When students view reading as an essential part of life, not something designated to a time period, or as an opportunity to “cover” an assignment, they understand the power of a good book, reap the benefits, and will seek books to nourish their minds and hearts. They need time with real books.
Children who spend time reading in school, are more likely to read outside of school, and view reading as a positive experience. This home-school connection strengthens the message that reading is about more than school work. When such time is valued and protected it sends the message that reading matters. Students increase their engagement, expand their knowledge of books (and authors), and establish lifelong habits of strong readers.
Devote time to helping kids access books they can and want to read.
Invite Deeper Conversations.
Understand and attend to the passions, interests, and needs of all readers.
Lean in and listen to the voices of Milton Olive Middle School who experienced reading as lifework:
“I love reading to learn about other people’s lives.”
“Reading stories gives you the ability to understand better.”
“Books can help you feel less lonely.”
“Reading matters- all year long.”
We must advocate for books and kids. Schools need to stop investing in programs, and focus, instead, on what matters most for kids—rich, diverse, vibrant literature that they choose themselves to read.
There is something magical about helping a child fall in love with reading. If we can surround our children with quality literature, we can help them to find just the right book at just the right moment, sparking an essential love of literature that can last a lifetime.
Bring Me a Book Literacy Champions represent a national network of literacy advocates— reading researchers, scholars, and expert practitioners, including teachers, administrators, and school librarians committed to bringing the joyful gift of reading to all children. Won’t you join us?
Reading as Lifework: A Vignette
I think this is the first book club these fifth graders have ever participated in. They gave up their lunch period, and so did their teacher, to discuss Letters to a Bullied Girl: Messages of Healing and Hope. It made a real difference in how often I saw them in my office. Actually, I didn’t have a problem with them for the remainder of the year. That’s the power of a book and a caring adult who treated them with respect and understanding. They are now off to middle school with this book to support them.
Thanks again for helping to make a difference.
Dr. Judy Crates, Interim Principal, Castro Elementary, Mountain View, California.
Access, representation and choice are all critical for children to have positive experiences with books. Future Ready Columbus (FRC) is a collective impact organization that leads implementation of the county-wide kindergarten readiness plan, Future Ready by 5, to support children prenatal through age five, so they track for lifelong success. With grant funding, FRC is working to make book access scalable while still honoring and providing book choice for every child, family and educator. We have found several strategies for providing choice without demanding extra time from an already understaffed early childhood workforce.
In order to update books available to children in their classrooms, Future Ready Columbus provides Teacher Browsing Boxes two times during the year. Browsing Boxes are dropped off at each early childhood center and include 50-70 books for educators to browse and choose for their classrooms. We pick up the unwanted books once teachers have had time to browse and choose the books they want to keep. Additionally, FRC provides extra copies, as needed, of any of the browsing box titles.
Choose containers that fit books in a way that make that make the books easy to browse.
Include a variety of genres, authors, formats and topics. We like to introduce authors that may be new to educators.
Leave the boxes for two to three weeks giving teachers time to read and choose those book they would like.
Offer to order extra copies of books that a school would like for multiple classrooms or spaces.
Family Book Fair
A Family Book Fair is a fun event that can be part of an existing family engagement program or can be an event on its own. During the book fair, children and caregivers choose three to four books to add to their home libraries. The Family Book Fair books include a wide variety of recently-published, age-appropriate books. Teachers are also included in the fun so they can choose three to four books to add to their classroom libraries.
Take advantage of discounted books and buy multiple copies of several books.
Make sure books are displayed so that children can see and reach the books.
Make sure to have plenty of board books available for families with young children.
Curated Bag of Books
FRC also curates bags of books that are specially selected for a particular class. These can be distributed to students for their home libraries as a welcome gift, a kick off for summer reading, or a celebration of a new school year. Each center director chooses three to four titles from a curated list of books. Future Ready Columbus also provides a copy of each book to the classroom teacher so that children can enjoy the books both at school and at home, optimizing their positive experiences.
Work with the center director/principal to determine the types of books they’d like children to have.
Include a way for families to exchange a book that does not meet their family’s/child’s needs.
Provide a bag or container for children to take books home.
As a way to continue adding to home libraries, we can provide baskets or shelves filled with books for the lobby of your center. These books can serve as a Community Free Library and families can take a book when they see one they’d like to add to their home libraries. It can also be used as a Take One/Leave One for families who may have outgrown some gently-used books or want to exchange a book they received in a Curated Book Bag.
Find shelving or containers to display books so that they are easily accessible to children and their families.
Create signage that invites families to take and/or swap books on a regular basis.
Pricing and Purchasing
We’ve learned that when providing books with grant or donated funds, we have to mix and match how we spend the money. We are grateful for organizations like First Book who provide quality books for very discounted prices. We are also grateful for local partners like Junior Library Guild who offer a biannual warehouse sale. We purchase many of our books from these sources.
Often however, some of the best, newest culturally relevant books are not available at a discount. And we want to make sure that our “littles” have access to the best and newest books. We are also committed to supporting our local children’s bookstores. We know that they have the expertise to help with titles and local support. Cover to Cover, our local children’s bookstore, has been a huge support as we work to create scalable book access for every child ages 0-5.
By using a variety of sources to purchase books, we are able to afford the best books for children, families, and educators. Because we purchase so many books at a highly discounted rate, we are also able, then, to purchase specific titles at full cost when needed.
Get to know local sources for new, quality children’s books.
Build a relationship with your local children’s bookstore.
Start a First Book account if your organization is eligible.
In sum, each method of providing book access provides an element of all-important book choice and yet, is also manageable for the staff and relatively easy to implement.
Samara Dual Language Community School, a vibrant bilingual learning community located in The Bronx, NY, is easily one of the most professionally sophisticated elementary schools in the United States. Samara offers a Spanish/English Dual Language PreK – 5th grade program. Each grade level has a team of teachers; one teacher teaches in Spanish, the other in English. Additionally, at each grade level, a bilingual special education teacher works alongside the classroom teachers. Samara embraces the belief that bilingualism is possible for all children interested in becoming bilingual. The children alternate their learning in Spanish or English by switching from their English class to their Spanish class.
At Samara, families and the larger surrounding community are a very important part of the successful school learning environment. The publicly displayed values that guide the school were developed by the staff and children and include a commitment to kindness, compassion, collaboration, curiosity, and persistence. In other words, everyone works together; everyone may ask questions, and this community of learners never gives up in the quest for knowledge and understanding.
Samara schools emphasis is on the arts, language, and project-based learning (PBL). A bilingual art teacher works with all grade levels to provide relevant art experiences that help children make connections to the content-rich curriculum. There is also a strong music program. The PreK-5th grade bilingual children present their Caribbean based orchestra in public settings and are well known for the quality of their performances. PBL is central to Samara’s teacher-created curriculum. At Samara, the principal and teachers believe that children learn best when they are actively engaged in finding solutions to real-world problems and that offer children opportunities to personally connect with the curriculum.
Project Based Learning
Each school year begins with a Project Based Learning Experience that centers on some aspect of Samara School. Below are some examples of inquiry questions that teachers and children develop at the beginning of the year:
Who am I? Who are my friends? How do we take care of each other in our classroom community? (PreK)
Who are our classroom caregivers at Samara Community School? How do they care for others? (K)
What does it mean to be a leader? Who are the leaders in our community and how do they influence us? (1st)
How can we make the Samara Community welcoming to all learners? (2nd)
How do our identities positively impact the identity of Samara Community School? (3rd)
How can we, as historians, inform others of the importance of Samara’s past in shaping our school community? (4th)
Why is advocacy an essential practice for all community members at Samara? (5th)
After several weeks of engaging in study, children prepare to share their learning with multimodal texts during “Museum Day.” At that time, visiting families travel from class to class listening to the children share their learning in both English and in Spanish. The children, also, visit each other’s classrooms. As the school year progresses, each classroom develops a learning project that addresses a new question; for example, the third graders asked, “How can we as ethnobotanists study the connection between cultures by investigating the way in which people feed themselves?” The kindergarteners asked, “How can we help to maintain a healthy environment that promotes biodiversity in our community garden?” Again, the professional sophistication of Samara zooms into focus! These project based curricular learning experiences engage the bilingual children as critical thinkers, speakers, listeners, viewers, readers, and writers.
Partnership with Bring Me a Book
Samara school was a late addition to Bring Me a Book’s action research study. Before the project started, Bring Me a Book’s Executive Director Lois Bridges explained the study’s aim to the school principal. The principal selected two fourth-grade bilingual teachers to participate. In retrospect, inviting teachers to self-select would have been best based on what we understand about choice and ownership—critically important for students and teachers alike. Still everyone did their best to meet the goals despite a school year fraught with Covid-related challenges. The goals which evolved over time, are as follows:
Goals for partnership with Bring Me a Book
Help create a reading program that matches Samara’s high quality Project Based Learning environment — a reading program that is purposeful, engaging, authentic, and multi-dimensional.
Help the teachers and children move away from a one-dimensional level-bound understanding of reading.
Help to develop each child’s own engaging reading identity, together with book choice.
Explore the idea that “being a reader IS important in this class” (Karen Smith).
I (Cecilia) met with the teachers. We talked about Bring Me A Book in partnership with Bookelicious. The fourth grade students made their Bookelicious bookmojis, or reading avatars, and, as a result, discovered a universe of possible book choices. When the first collection of books arrived, children and teachers celebrated with photos and wrote book reviews. Cecilia met with a child from each class. She interviewed them about their reading lives. To her surprise, she discovered that the children were more concerned about their reading levels than crafting their own personal reading life. The children she interviewed could not talk about characters they loved, or a genre they preferred, or a favorite author. It appeared that their only motivation for reading was moving from level to level
Cecilia met informally with the principal, the literacy coach, and the two fourth grade teachers. She shared the results of her interviews and the fact that the children had focused almost exclusively on their reading level. Cecilia then posed the question, What does it mean to be a reader at Samara?
What Does It Mean to Be a Reader at Samara?
As a result, one of the teachers invited Cecilia to create lesson plans they could enact. Drawing from the work of Kylene Beers’s Disrupting Thinking,Ernest Morell and Pam Allyn’s Every Child a Super Reader, Janet Allen’s The Yellow Brick Road, as well as from her own collection of literacy engagements, Cecilia created lessons in Spanish and English. The goal of the lessons was to invite children (and teachers) to think about their reading lives, become active responsive readers, unpack elements of literature, connect with authors, etc. These lessons focused on the life-long practices of readers. In other words, rather than the one dimensional focus on reading level, Cecilia was helping them to consider the multiple dimensions of reading practice that were more in alignment with the school’s professional dedication to Project Based Learning.
After a couple of weeks, one of the teachers shared that she had tried the lessons and admitted that she was surprised at how inexperienced the children were in having these well-rounded, reflective conversations about reading. She said the conversations challenged the children and it also challenged her. When Cecilia interviewed her more recently, she shared that could see that the children in these classes did not know how to talk about the elements of reading beyond levels. She realized that something important was missing in how the children view themselves as readers. She could see the drawbacks of what happens when the focus on levels for reading is way too prevalent. The teacher now maintains that she wants to begin the school year with a different vision for the reading experiences that she wants to offer her children. Cecilia commented that, at Samara PBL is child centered, and that reading could also become child centered. They talked about the idea that she could start from day one with the vision that renowned literacy educator Karen Smith shared with Cecilia, “In this class, being a reader matters.”
The teachers created more intentional spaces for the development of avatars and book selection in the follow-up sessions. Children had more opportunities to identify the kind of books they prefer. For example, one child discussed with an adult how a graphic novel has different subgenres. It can be historical, adventure, or realistic, etc. The children made more intentional choices of books in Spanish. A child for whom English is a new language selected books in Spanish that she knew in English and were of good quality. The children also spent more time reading what the books are about before making their final selections. Still, there is a lot of work to be done in creating an environment in which the joy for reading is of paramount importance and where children choose to read.
Best Practices that Support Change
The question of what makes it a replicable and sustainable model others can follow is an important question. Best practices that support that change include:
Ownership and choice in the project launch—right from the start. Patience, persistence, and professional support consistently in the classrooms each week— pursuing every opportunity to engage teachers in discussions about reading pedagogy.
A clear vision of the change that’s needed: in this case, creating a quality reading environment where children own their own reading lives and, therefore, choose to read in their free time. What does it mean to be a reader at Samara?
Leadership participation in all professional conversations, i.e., principal, literacy coach, and teachers. The changes have to be structural.
In sum, I pose these inquiry questions:
When teachers are surrounded by mandates of reading levels and a reductionist view of reading, how do we help them embrace a vision of reading that builds children’s bilingual reading identities, and which stem from an understanding of joy-centered reading?
What is needed for a true paradigm shift to happen in reading?
How can we support teachers to capitalize on what is happening in PBL to promote a similar kind of learning environment that supports bilingual readers’ development? (children’s agency, choice, personal interests, etc.)—a vision that frees children from the restraints of reading level and enables them to craft their own rich reading lives from a complex universe of possibility.
It wasn’t until I was in college that I was introduced to authors who shared my culture, such as Rudolfo Anaya. I grew up in the isolated Mojave Desert town of Barstow, California in a time before there was easy access to the internet. However, I never felt lonely because I was always surrounded by my family and books. For entertainment, we would sit out in the yard around a campfire in the evenings where my father and grandfather would tell stories about our family’s rich history. They would also read classic books to us after dinner, such as Homer’s The Iliad. I remember that my mother used to take my sister and me to the public library as a reward on Fridays. We always looked forward to the presentations and activities that went along with each story. These experiences are what motivated me to create similar family engagement activities for my students and their parents. Through the Urbita Family Literacy Project, I want to teach parents how to connect with their children through literature and to share the gift that my family gave me.
As a dual language teacher and English Language Facilitator in the San Bernardino City Unified School District in San Bernardino, California, I am constantly searching for resources to help my students and their families. Research shows that children’s literature is a critical element in helping to develop a positive cultural identity and an understanding of the complex world in which we currently live. Bring Me a Book is founded on the belief that “reading benefits not only the individual reader, but also, humanity as a whole. The benefits of reading—superior analytical thinking, an expanded vocabulary, social-emotional strength and resilience, leading to a greater ability to overcome adversity—create a literacy ecosystem that ripples across humanity (Bring Me a Book, 2022).”
However, it is often challenging to find quality bilingual children’s resources. As bilingual educators we often have to create our own materials, lessons, and workshops in order to have what we need for our classes. Throughout my career I have been fortunate to have the support of Dr. Barbara Flores, Dr. Esteban Diaz, my colleagues in the San Bernardino City Unified School District, and professional organizations such as CABE (the California Association For Bilingual Education). The dual language students, parents, and educators in the San Bernardino City Unified School District need access to quality, culturally relevant books to improve biliteracy skills—and I have spent over twenty years of my career working to design and facilitate programs to help our students have access to equitable resources in order to achieve academic success.
To this end, I developed a program to improve the literacy rate of our dual language students by developing a love of reading through increased access to bilingual books. One of Bring Me a Book’s community partners is Bookelicious, a free reading platform and children’s bookstore intended to help kids choose books by age, interest, and reading level. The company’s platform offers book recommendations from the Bookmoji algorithm, the ability to browse by subject, and even helps children find titles in local libraries. They also offer book collections at discounted prices to parents and educators. In addition to working with Bring Me a Book I was invited to work as a consultant for Bookelicious. I worked on curating their titles in the verticals for their Latinx Collection. Once again this was a unique opportunity to ensure that my students had access to authentic bilingual resources.
As a result of my work with both Bring Me a Book and Bookelicious, our school was selected to join the Bring Me a Book National Consortium and, along with the support of our principal Sarah McCain, I designed a project titled “Cyber Biblioteca: The Urbita Family Literacy Project.” Through the Bring Me a Book Foundation, the students at Urbita Elementary received a grant of $5,000 to purchase books. The grant was divided across one transitional kindergarten and two kindergarten classrooms. Together with my colleagues Cheryl Florez and Angie Rodriguez I implemented the Urbita Family Literacy Project.
At Urbita Elementary School the students each had access to individual Chromebooks. Through Bookelicious each student was able to set up a free online account and, with the help of teachers and parents, create a Bookmoji. The Bookmoji is a character designed by the students and it uses technology to match kids with books based on interests generated by its algorithm. After creating a Bookmoji students use the website’s recommendations to build reading wish lists. Then the students’ reading wish lists are fulfilled either by donations from Bring Me a Book or other community partners. The students can also use the World Cat link to find copies of their reading selections at local public libraries. The students were able to order their books and build personal at-home libraries.
When the book orders arrived we held celebratory events for the students and during the course of the 2021-2022 school year our students developed a love of reading through book choice and reader agency. Some of these events included participating in a live Read Across America event that was organized by program specialist Marcia Hunter and the San Bernardino City Unified School District’s Literacy Task Force. As a member of both the Literacy Task Force and a consultant for Bring Me a Book and Bookelicious I was able to partner with children’s book authors to hold live online read-alouds for our students in SBCUSD. The students also participated in a campaign with the theme of “Reading is My Superpower.” We even held an event for an international “Dia de los ninos” (Children’s Book Day) celebration where the students took turns sharing their favorite bilingual books. On the last day of school we held a final book party for the students to present their favorite books from the school year and to make recommendations to add to our classroom library for the new class.
In June, I represented CABE at the Early Literacy Support Block Conference for California. During my presentation I talked about the success of this project and the importance of students being able to see themselves represented in literature (it is for this reason that I started writing my own books and have created projects such as this one so that the contributions of our community are not erased from history). At the end of my presentation, I gave the attendees links for free resources from Bring Me a Book and Bookelicious that can be used to fund their projects. It is my hope to inspire others to construct their own literacy projects and to expand a love of biliteracy without borders. In a world that can sometimes feel so divided, books are the great educational equalizer that can teach us to love and respect each other’s cultures.
This afternoon, once backpacks were piled in the hallway baskets and lunchboxes were dismantled, after steaming quesadillas and apple slices with assorted nut butters, I re-read two of Oge Mora’s books with my two youngest girls, Eloisa and Ezzat. I love when my kids pair off and I get two-to-one Mama time, when they’re less climbing and clamoring for my attention like little bears but more calm and willing to slow down. The sun slanted sideways through the windows, and though it’s still brisk out, it felt warm indoors where we sat on the hardwood, legs outstretched. I would guess these books have been read by my kids at least 100 times, no exaggeration, as they’re the every-night requests, no matter how tired we all are, no matter how many other library books are stacked in their bins. Oge Mora is never out of rotation.
Saturday and Thank You, Omu. I call the second one culturally nourishing, because it’s delightfully community-oriented and centered around sharing stew— showing love, really, through cooking with care. And Saturday shares the relationship between a mother and her young daughter so beautifully. My girls revel in all the ways they have fun together on Saturdays: at the salon, the park, the library, the puppet show. They love the repetition. They appreciate the collage cut-out illustrations. I use both texts in classrooms all the time.
I’m often asked by friends if it’s alright their kids want to re-read books, and I find myself shouting OF COURSE while trying not to stay in all caps. Books on repeat are reassuring. They’re warm security blankets. They’re comfort. And for my littles, who don’t fully know how to read alphabetically yet, their memorization and memories of having the book read aloud by grownups in their lives supports their reading of pictures so they, too, can read the stories to each other. Stories that communicate love.
I want for all kids to have opportunities to read to siblings and play with words and re-read them again with their caregivers like we did this afternoon. I want for all kids to find stories that resonate with them equally. Stories that stick. Stories that soothe.