Out of Our Minds by Teresa Bunner
Prior to my current job, I was a classroom teacher for 20 years. I love books and reading and watching kids find joy in both. Two years ago I became the Academic Support Specialist for the Blue Ribbon Mentor Advocate program. It means being out of the classroom, but I knew I still wanted to find a way to bring literacy experiences into our program. So, I thought, why not a One Book project? We serve students in 4th-12th grade and they are all partnered with a community mentor. How would I find a book that would be appealing to a wide range of ages and spark discussion across a variety of topics? I was on a quest….
After much wrangling with myself, talking to many colleagues and getting ideas from our staff, I settled on Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper. The students in our program are all students of color. I wanted either a main character or an author who was of color. While literature can be a window as much as a mirror, I felt strongly that I wanted to expose students and their families to authors and characters who look like them. Too often I think for our students of color, literature is a window, but not enough times is it a mirror.
We purchased several hundred copies of the book and distributed them to any student, family member and mentor who wanted to read the book. It was the start of summer, so the hope also was to stimulate the idea of summer reading to reduce summer learning loss for our students. Slowly folks trickled in to pick up their copies of books. In the meantime, I sent Sharon Draper a message via her website. I wanted her to know we had chosen her book. I know how busy she is, so didn’t expect a response. Surprise! Sharon wrote to say how excited she was and to offer to answer any questions we might have. She responded to our tweets on Twitter and the students (and adults!) were amazed we talked to a “real” author!
There were no assignments, no requirements, no recriminations if you didn’t read. We did meet once halfway through the project to check in and share our thoughts. Our awesome local independent bookstore, Flyleaf Books, sponsored our event “Cookies and Conversation.” We had 15 participants (pretty good for a summer vacation evening!). I loved listening to the students’ enthusiasm about the book! Kids are so amazing and provide such insights when we sit back and listen.
The culmination of our One Book Project was a celebration party! We had 40 people join in to share their reactions to the book and to eat and laugh together. Our partyware color was purple (Melody’s favorite color). We ate goldfish crackers, caramels and butterscotches and drank Mello Yello. If you’ve read the book, you know the significance! Stations were set up and students, families and mentors could move around and complete activities like taking a quiz to see if you could make the Quiz Team, a matching game of characters and quotes and an opportunity to write a reflection on the book.
At the end of the activities, we held a whole group discussion. It was wonderful to have kids in 4th-12th grade gathered together sharing their ideas across age ranges and grade levels. In their words, “This book makes me realize I need to not judge people.” “I think the students in our schools who speak a different language probably feel like Melody a lot of days.” “Reading this book made me realize how really lucky I am.” Family members and mentors faces beamed as they listened to the amazing thoughts and ideas these wonderful young people shared.
On the way out, there was a table filled with other books and every student was invited to take as many books as s/he wanted to read over the rest of the summer. I’m not sure if the students or their parents and mentors had more fun pouring over book titles. As everyone proceeded on their way home, their closing thought was “What book will we read next summer?” Good question. Who knows what we might read together. I just know we will read together.
Teresa Bunner has been an elementary, middle and high school teacher and reading specialist. She’s been a member of the Nerdy Book Club for as long as she can remember. When she’s not busy sharing books with the kids she works with, she enjoys sharing them with the 4 boys in her house who are avid readers as well. You can find her thoughts on closing the achievement gap as a featured blogger for Triumph Learning.