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Book of the Month — Building a Schoolwide Reading Community

By Julie Ballew on August 30, 2012
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5

As a literacy coach, one of my responsibilities is fostering a schoolwide reading community.  One of my favorite projects is our Book-of-the-Month program. While our program involves the entire school, it can easily be used to strengthen a community of readers of any size.

Step One: Choose the books.

To implement this program school-wide, I choose nine picture books, and my principal purchases enough copies of each title to put one in every classroom. I try to choose books that will be appealing to all students, from our youngest 3-year-olds to our oldest 5th graders. This is a challenge, but great books are great books, no matter how old you are, so my main focus is on choosing just that — great books!

Step Two: Send the books out with a cover letter.

On the first day of each month, I put the new book in every teacher’s mailbox, along with a letter explaining why that particular book was chosen. In return, teachers are asked to read the book aloud to their class, allow time for a meaningful discussion, and display it somewhere in the room. I also keep a display in the front office (pictured at top) of all of the titles and letters.

This provides amazing opportunities for conversations about the texts. It also means that I can go into any classroom in the building and know there are some texts that I could use to activate the students’ schema. Over time, it creates a common “books I’ve read” list shared by every single student in the building.

Step Three: Support student connections.

One of my favorite testimonies for the program was a conversation I witnessed during a writing celebration. A class of 2nd graders had came into a kindergarten class to share their latest pieces of published writing. They were sprawled all over the room in groups of two or three, and the kindergartners listened attentively as their 2nd-grade buddies read their pieces aloud. I leaned into one conversation between two boys just as the 2nd grader finished reading. The kindergartner clapped but obviously didn’t know what to say, so I prompted him to talk about his favorite page. The older boy handed his booklet over, and the kindergartner immediately flipped to a page near the end.

“I love this page the most,” he said. “It has a lot of words, and the picture looks just like a picture in a book that we read about a roller coaster.” 

Roller Coaster Book CoverI noticed that he was pointing to Roller Coaster by Marla Frazee (a previous book of the month), so I grabbed it from the chalkboard rail where it was displayed and handed it to him. The 2nd grader’s eyes lit up as he explained how Roller Coaster had been his inspiration for his piece.

“This book is a small moment, and we were writing small moments, so I used it to help me!” he shared.

The boys went on to discuss the book further, and that 2nd grader seized the opportunity to teach his kindergarten buddy about using mentor authors. What a powerful confirmation for him!

This year, every teacher has a stack of picture books that almost every single student in his or her class has already read. This will allow for deeper literary thinking to begin on day one of instruction!

If school-wide program seems a bit overwhelming to you, start small.  You can launch a Book-of-the-Month program in your classroom, or you can partner with a colleague and agree to read a common book at the start of every month.  I think you’ll be amazed at the connections kids are able to make!

 

My 2011-2012 Books of the Month:

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems

Pigeon is irreverent, silly, over-confident, feisty, witty, and just plain hilarious. When we laugh together, we better understand each other. Humor transcends our differences and creates a strong, durable, and sustaining bond.

Ruthie and the (Not-So) Teeny Tiny Lie by Laura Rankin

Ruthie loves teeny, tiny things. She loves them so much, in fact, that she tells a lie to keep a teeny, tiny camera. Dishonesty is an important social issue for students, and books like this one can open doors to conversations about consequences.

Roller Coaster by Marla Frazee

This story is simple, but the metaphor is strong. Roller coasters are not for the faint of heart, but the thrill is enough to make us get back on time and time again.

Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts

Jeremy, wants “those shoes” more than anything else, even though he knows he can't afford them. Jeremy is about 8, but his maturity is so moving that it might cause us adults to feel like we’ve still got some growing up to do.

One Green Apple by Eve Bunting

Farah is new to this country, and the language, and practices are all strange to her. On a field trip to an orchard in her second week at school, it is heartwarming to see how she, like the little green apple she picks, becomes part of the group.

How to Heal a Broken Wing by Bob Graham

Will finds an injured pigeon that everyone else ignores. He takes the bird home and with “rest and time and a little hope” it recovers. This book helps students understand that it is not enough to be compassionate — you must act.

Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles

At its surface, Freedom Summer is a book about civil rights in the1960s, but the conversations that it can start will reach much further than that. What does freedom mean, and what is the cost?

Night of the Veggie Monster by George McClements

This is a story about a boy who is passionate about his hatred for peas. His grandiose reactions to vegetables are highlighted with a variety of text styles and illustrations that incorporate real photographs. At its core, it is a very silly book about a very real childhood problem.

Emily’s Art by Peter Catalanotto

This is a beautiful book about a competition involving a talented young artist named Emily.The upcoming art competition is a perfect opportunity to shine, and in the end, it’s also a perfect opportunity to learn that you won’t always win, but you must always try.

 

Comments (1)

I absolutely love this idea! How did your school fund buying a book a month for every classroom? We have a very large district and this would be quite expensive. Any ideas on how to offset the cost? Thank you I love this!

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