One Book + One School = One Reading Community by Karyn Lewis
As a school librarian I gush over books, I hug books, I smell new books, and I treasure all the stories that come into my life. I became a librarian to share with my students the joy that books bring me. So after 3 years as the librarian in an affluent elementary school, I was saddened as I felt the love of reading was dying in my school community. Parents would say all the right things, teachers encouraged reading at home and at school, students visited the library on a regular basis, and yet something was missing. I knew I needed to find a way to fan the flame and ignite a LOVE of reading once again. Through Twitter I heard of an idea called One Book One School where librarians would share a book with an entire school, and I felt this was the perfect program to get my students and their families reconnected! Many schools used older books, such as Charlotte’s Web or Roald Dahl books, but I felt a newer novel would be a much better match for our community. I turned to Twitter once more, asking for suggestions, to which the response was almost unanimous, and so The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate was selected, and our journey began.
In order to get the message to parents first, I decided to share my idea as part of our back to school Curriculum Night through a short video that every teacher showed in their classrooms. Several parents stopped by the library that night to tell me they were so excited about this program and couldn’t wait to find out what book we would be reading. I had a good feeling that this really was going to work! The very next day I showed the same video to the students and revealed one clue each day over the next week: 1. It is one of Mrs. Lewis’ favorite books! (“Mrs. Lewis has LOTS of favorites, so it could be so many!”) 2. It is a Newbery Award winning book. (“Where are the Newbery books in the library?”) 3. It is a story with animals in it. (“Is it by Kate DiCamillo? Mrs. Holter and Mrs. Lewis love her books and they have animals in them!”) 4. It is a story about friendship. 5. It is based on a true story. (By this time many of my fifth graders had started to figure out it might be Ivan.) 6. It was also on the Texas Bluebonnet list. (“Is it still on the Bluebonnet shelf? Look for the sticker on the books!”) Finally the big day arrived, I pushed my cart full of books around the school, and delivered a book to each and every child.
That is when the magic happened! I saw the twinkle of excitement in students’ eyes as I shared Ivan’s story and gave them their very own copy to keep FOREVER! For days after passing out the books, students would stop and thank me for the Ivan book telling me how much they enjoyed it. They would tell me that they just couldn’t stop reading it and they loved it so much! Over the next six weeks we shared Ivan’s story at school and at home and became closer because of our shared reading experience. Parents would stop me in the hall or lunch room and thank me for giving them the opportunity to read with their 4th or 5th grader again; something they hadn’t done since their children learned how to read by themselves. Students would carry their treasured copy of Ivan around, read it at the lunch table, take it to recess, and talk to each other about the characters in the book. We shared favorite quotes, learned about the real Ivan who inspired the story, tweeted pictures, and even met Katherine Applegate at a local reading festival. We cautiously spoke about the moments that made us laugh, cry, and get angry as we didn’t want to spoil any parts for those who might not be where we were in the book. Our culminating event was a school reading pep rally where 5th grade students developed reading cheers, a teacher dressed as our mascot, classes brought banners to the gym celebration, and we got to Skype with the gorilla zookeeper at our local zoo. My mission was complete. Parents were asking when the next One Book One School program would start. Students were coming to the library to find the next book that was “maybe something like The One and Only Ivan… I really loved that book!” This one book, this one story, this one gorilla, had captured our hearts and reminded us of the tender moments that sharing a story together can create. We started talking about other books we were reading and looking forward to reading. We had found our spark again.
Karyn Lewis has worked in public schools for seventeen years, and is currently the librarian at a middle school in Katy, Texas. She has also taught second, third, and fifth grades, and was an elementary librarian for 4 years, including during the #onebookoneschool program. She is passionate about connecting readers to books and authors. You can find her on Twitter as @ktlewis14.