Caped 'Bookman' Helps Students Discover the Power of Reading

“It's a bird, it's a plane . . . it's faster than a fifth-grader running out the door on a Friday afternoon . . . more powerful than a tennis ball bouncing off the wall during recess . . . and able to leap kindergarten students in a single bound . . . it’s BOOKMAN WEAVER!”

So reads the Facebook page for the alter ego John A. Forrest Elementary School Principal Michael Weaver of Fair Lawn, N.J. Michael uses social media to communicate literacy initiatives with parents. During Book Fair weeks each fall and spring, Bookman Weaver shops with each class, autographs books, poses for pictures, and throws free books to his students from the roof of the school’s library at dismissal.

“It makes reading fun,” Michael admits. Students are led to believe the man behind the makeshift mask – born out of desperation to promote his first Book Fair as a new principal – is actually Michael’s twin brother. Parents are believers as well and have sent Bookman emails to solicit book recommendations. So Michael has embraced his alter ego to promote reading year-round.

Michael launched Bookman’s Facebook page last summer and tested it with PTA members at his Title 1 school. His goal is to use the site as one more means of engaging parents in the quest for literacy.

Michael explains, “By establishing Bookman Weaver as a public figure on Facebook, we are able to offer real-time updates on classroom learning during the school day, booktalks by faculty and students, and strategies for parents so that what is taught in school may be reinforced at home.” Michael encourages all Facebook users to find Bookman Weaver and like him.

Over the summer, Michael – or Bookman – conducted a “Top 25 Scholastic Book Fair/Book Club Books for September Countdown” on his Facebook page. Michael celebrated the first day of school by meeting with each grade level in the library for a read-aloud of the No. 1 title, Pig Kahuna by Jennifer Sattler.

Another summer literacy promotion was held in partnership with a local UPS store. Store representatives Jeff Wallace and Susan Bates rode their motorcycles from Las Vegas to New Jersey on “The Ride to Read: A Journey Across America” to raise literacy awareness and money for Forrest School’s library.

In his third year at Forrest School, Michael believes reading is “the most important thing we do. It has to be what we think about 24/7, whether we’re in school or not.” Reading becomes, then, the hub around which Forrest School revolves. An 80-minute reading workshop block is built into his students’ master schedule. In addition, an author-illustrator series allows “students to connect with authors as real people” through author visits. In the past two years, Forrest School has hosted DyAnne DiSalvo, Emily Jenkins, Betsy Lewin, and Patricia Polacco.

To generate excitement for the fall Book Fair, reading became serious fun as the entire school participated in All-Star Character Madness – a play on the NCAA basketball tournament and Jerry Pallotta’s Who Would Win? series. Bookman selected his top 16 characters that appear in Book Fair books, and two characters matched up daily in round-robin format until a champion was crowned.

Bookman started each day of the tournament by character-talking with a “Would you rather?” announcement, and students were able to vote for the book character they prefer. For instance, in the Sept. 6 matchup between Wimpy kid and Olivia, students were asked, “Would you rather read a book about a video game-playing, comic book-writing slacker or a hyperactive piglet who loves to sing, dance, and draw on walls?”

To ensure all students stay on track, Michael makes daily visits to classrooms and sits with his faculty every six weeks to review student portfolios. “These meetings provide me with the most current academic, social, and emotional information on our students so that we may make accommodations for both the students and teachers,” Michael says.

This year Michael is helping his students latch on to the superhero theme by discovering their superpowers – the theme of his 2012-2013 school year. “I think of superpowers as skills and characteristics that we use to help other people. The superpower of our parent community is that they support their children. Our teachers’ superpower is that they spark the light that helps students learn and grow. The question for students this year will be, ‘What are your superpowers?’” Michael says.

Naturally, the theme has a literacy bent. On Sept. 5, the first day of school, students designed superhero shields. On one side, they described their superpowers. On the other side, they described their weaknesses and how they planned to overcome them this year.

The shields were hung on a large tree – “that I like to think of as a giving tree,” Michael says – in the school’s multipurpose room. Then Bookman chose one of the shields to carry during the fall Book Fair two weeks later to complement his $3 cape and self-made mask.

Michael – recently named a member of Scholastic Book Fairs Principal Advisory Board – credits the support of his family, his parent community, his faculty, colleagues, and Superintendent Bruce Watson for providing “the ingredients that I am lucky to have in order to my job.”

Posing as Bookman is now part of that job, allowing Michael to motivate independent reading more creatively and effectively. “Bookman represents our school. He represents the faculty. He represents the students and the parents. My job is to support them and be their cheerleader,” Michael says.

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