@mj_staal arcs pic July 08


Behold! The Power of the ARC! “With a great ARC, comes great responsibility!” by Mary Jo Staal

After being a classroom teacher for 16 years, I just wrapped up my first year as a PreK-5 teacher librarian.  I love spending each day surrounded by books and putting books into the hands of young readers.  I also love trying to connect with the dormant readers in the building and suggesting book after book in search of “the one” that might awaken the reader inside them.

I had the amazing opportunity to attend ALA in Boston this past January and was able to return to school with some wonderful ARCs (Advance Reader Copy).  I’ve always known the power of putting a brand new book into the hands of a reader, but the power of putting a book that hasn’t even been published yet into the hands of a child…that is a whole new level of magic!


@mj_staal arcs pic


I made it my mission to put those ARCs into the hands of as many dormant readers as I could.  I would notice them wandering aimlessly around the library, pull them aside and say, “Would you like to read a book that isn’t even a book yet?”  Their eyes lit up every time I offered and the answer was always a resounding, “YES!”

I came up with an ARC speech: “This is called an Advance Reader Copy…there are actually many different names for it, but let’s just stick with ARC for now…and you are about to be one of the first people to read this book.  You may not sell this book on the Internet.  You may not scan the pages and post it online.  You don’t have to like it.  But!  If you do like it, I am going to need you to become this book’s ambassador when it is published.  With a great ARC, comes great responsibility!  Are you up for this challenge?”

I have not yet had a student turn me down.  Some of the ARCs came back after a few days with a negative review, but most of the time the readers would seek me out before school in the morning to tell me they had finished the book and thought it was, “GREAT!”  The readers who brought back the “GREAT” ARCs often brought a friend with them who wanted to be the second person in the building to read the book.  And before my eyes, dormant readers woke up!

One of my favorite ARC stories of the year happened with a 5th grader.  He often loudly proclaimed that he “did not like to read!”  I suggested book after book, but to no avail.  I knew he enjoyed sports, so I somehow convinced him to read The Crossover by Kwame Alexander.  He admitted he enjoyed it, so when I returned from Boston with an ARC of Booked, I knew exactly what student would have the honor to be the first reader.

I gave this reader my ARC speech with an added, “I met Kwame Alexander in Boston and he signed this ARC, so it is extra important that you guard it with your life!”  He laughed and smiled as he walked out of the library holding that book like it was a treasure.  He returned the following week loudly proclaiming that he thought the book was “Amazing!  So good!  The best book I’ve ever read!”

When the library copies of Booked arrived at school, I immediately went to that student’s classroom to show him what the “real” book looked like.  He loved it!  Suddenly, there were 5 or 6 students around his desk asking him what it was about and if it was any good.  I stood there and just watched him turn into the school ambassador for Booked.  It was incredible to watch the transformation.

I had ordered 2 copies for the library, and neither one of them sat on the shelf for the rest of the year. This 5th grader gave the book more value and momentum than I ever could have given it on my own with a book talk.  Student ambassadors are able to sell books to their peers in ways that even the best teachers and librarians cannot.  They speak each other’s language.

I wish I could say that this moment turned this student into a voracious reader.  It didn’t, but it gave the reader inside him a new lease on life.  I never again heard him loudly proclaim that he “didn’t like to read.”  I even caught him completely lost in a book on several different occasions.  Whenever Booked was discussed in the library, he would be the first one to speak up about it.

Watching the “power of the ARC” take over our school confirmed that with a great book comes great responsibility. Are we empowering our students to be book ambassadors?   Today’s book ambassadors are tomorrow’s Nerdy Book Club members.

Mary Jo Staal is a former 5th grade teacher and current PreK-5 teacher librarian in Hudsonville, Michigan.  She loves all things books and enjoys sharing that love with students.  You can find her on Twitter @mj_staal or on the streets of Holland, Michigan, every May dancing in wooden shoes!