Celebrating Our Reading Communities Through Creative Responses to the Books We Love by Audrey Wilson Youngblood

Earlier this week my campus received the following message from our principal:


As we move closer to the holidays, it is vital that we keep students engaged and learning.  Sometimes we load them down with “busy work” to keep them on task.  There is no substitute for stimulating, engaging instruction at high cognitive levels.


I couldn’t agree with him more; I have been one of the worst perpetrators of finding “stuff” to keep them busy in these few, awkward weeks between breaks.  We’re all tired; we’re fighting to stay healthy with the plethora of bugs and viruses spreading like the plague; our creative juices have just about run dry; and, our students’ abilities to be rational, reasonable beings has just about disappeared altogether.  One of my go-to favorites is the holiday crossword puzzle that often appears sometime during that last week before winter break, and there are plenty of websites that are more than happy to provide ready-made word find puzzles as well about snow, and sleighs, and all kinds of wintry topics.


Our reading communities are just as susceptible to this mid-year slump as is any other classroom.  Throughout September we’re focused on getting to know our students as readers—their likes, interests, and histories—and laying the foundation for a community of readers to take root.  In October we’re setting goals, experimenting with new authors, genres, and ways of thinking about and talking about what we read.  November suddenly arrives, and your classroom seems to run like clockwork (most days):  students arrive, take out their books, conversations about books organically take place between students, we read together and all runs swimmingly.  We leave for Thanksgiving Break feeling like we’ve really accomplished something and cool things are happening.  Then, we come back stuffed with turkey and pie, and it’s December, nearly half-way through the year for some of us.  We’ve used some of our best tricks and tools with our students, so there’s not much we can do to impress them in these few weeks in between.  Many have finished a book and are now wandering around, flitting from book to book, not really settling on anything to stick with for a while.  Some of the enthusiasm has waned as we impatiently cross the days off the calendar until the next vacation.


Rather than fill our classes with more stuff, why not harness the celebratory spirit of the holiday season and provide students the time, space, and tools to strengthen the community by sharing the books they loved?  In our Nerdy Book Club roundtable discussion at NCTE last month, I shared how I came to understand that one habit of readers is that we feel compelled to share our reading experiences with others and even create original interpretations of those books.  Look at the huge fan following and presence of fan art, especially relating to graphic novels and fantasy/ sci-fi.


Manga fans love to create their own cover art that ranges from an exact replica of original illustrations to re-imaginings of their favorite characters.  In his keynote address at the ALAN breakfast this year, Scott Westerfeld (The Uglies and Leviathan), shared some of the amazing creations his young fans sent him.  He discussed the power of images and the ability to tap into our reading heritage through fan-made art and illustrations.


Not only are young readers illustrating their favorite works, but they are creating written works based on them as well.  Fan fiction erupted after the publication of The Twilight Saga; some new authors have even entered into trade publishing markets.  Sites such as Figment.com allow student writers to share their creative adaptations of their favorite books with one another.  Have you ever heard a student talking about what they think happens next after the book or series ends?  Have they ever written or talked about a secondary character and the life they imagine for them?  Sometimes, I like to imagine Sean and Puck riding their water horses through the untamed Thisby surf, dividing their time between their isolated, private cottage and training horses for the next year’s races.


We all do it; we may not be writing about it, but as readers we create imaginative experiences for the characters we love long after the printed story ends.


What if rather than burning through another ream of paper on those holiday mad libs (guilty), we cultivate our young readers’ imaginative explorations of their favorite books and allow them to share their creative interpretations with one another?  Today, I am sharing with you five samples of multi-media tools that your reading communities can use as creative avenues.  Each tool is rather intuitive; the last thing we want to do this time of year is start a painstaking process of teaching them a new tool and how to use it well.  I invite you to try one or two of these tools with your classes and see what type of responses they have to the books they’ve read these first few months of the year.  Take the time to celebrate the successes of your community and the reading experiences that have transformed them.


Book Talks

Traditionally, book talks are excellent tools that librarians and teachers use to expose students to new, exciting titles.  Why not flip this design and engage students in creating book talks for other classes or the school?  Two free, web-based tools allow users to collaborate simultaneously throughout the creative process and presentation.  Prezi.com allows you to create animated, multi-dimensional presentations that embed text, graphics, photos, and videos.  VoiceThread.com is a presentation tool using photos and videos to create a collaboration among editors and viewers information.  Users can leave voice or text comments on pictures and video “slides”  allowing for a virtual exchange of ideas, comments, and experiences.

Dystopian YA Novel Prezi


The following tools have come a long way from their early digital storytelling software counterparts such as Microsoft Photostory and Movie Maker.  Two of them are free, web-based tools (GoAnimate.com and Animoto.com).  iMovie 11 is the latest version of the video creation software provided by Apple.  This latest version now includes movie trailers as a project template!  The possibilities are endless…

GoAnimate book trailer for Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens
Beauty Queens Book Promotion by agraves on GoAnimate

iMovie 11 book trailer for Steampunk Frankenstein


Animoto book trailer for Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker 



I hope you find time to celebrate the accomplishments and bright spots of 2012 with your students before entering the New Year as a community of readers.


Happy Holidays!


Resources and tutorials:






Audrey is the Library Media Specialist at Fossil Ridge High School in Fort Worth, TX.  She is a Teacher Consultant with The North Star of Texas Writing Project.  Her passions include exploring instructional technology with students and teachers, reading and writing workshop in the secondary English classroom, and empowering teachers as learners through transformative professional development.  As the Adolescent Literacy Committee Chair for the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts (TCTELA), she is the editor of the English in Texas book review column, “Text, Talk, and Tips.”  Her blog, www.reinventingthelibrarian.blogspot.com features children’s and YA book reviews, book talks, and trailers as well as reflections on instructional practices and technology tips.   Follow her on Twitter @audreyw222.