April 20

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Omar Rising and Reading Aloud by Aisha Saeed

Since childhood, I’ve loved losing myself in stories. Every weekend my parents would cart my brothers and I to our local library and we’d haul home as many books as we could carry. There’s something special about grabbing a good book and diving into a different world all without leaving the comforts of your home. There’s also something incredibly special when you lose yourself in a story as a shared experience as well.

One of my fondest memories growing up are the moments that I was read aloud to whether by my parents or my classroom teachers. In particular, I remember how my second grade teacher, Ms. Nemoynten, motivated all of us to clean up, stack our chairs, and pack our bookbags promptly, so we could have time at day’s end for a read aloud. I loved how she made different voices for each character, and how her tone would rise and fall along with the suspense of the story she was sharing. Each of us were experiencing the story not only ourselves, but collectively as a community.

Years later, I became a second grade teacher and followed in Ms. Nemonyten’s footsteps. Each afternoon, I watched my own students eagerly pack up their desks to gather at the rug to hear the latest installment of the novel we’d chosen to read together. There are a variety of reading levels in any given classroom, and having a chance for every child to access a story in the same way at the same time was not only a magical experience, but a practical way to instill a love of books in all kids regardless of where they were in reading proficiency.

Given my love for read alouds, it was incredibly moving when Amal Unbound– my middle grade novel about a twelve-year-old girl and her quest for education and freedom– was picked as a Global Read Aloud in 2018. Teachers from around the world read Amal’s stories to their children. They created extension activities and connected with like-minded classrooms around the world. To this day, Amal’s story is read-aloud in classrooms all over the world and I can’t put into words how much it means to me to know that a story I wrote is that magical moment for students out there.

When my newest middle grade novel, Omar Rising– a novel about a boy heading off on scholarship to a boarding school to realize his dreams– came out earlier this year, I remembered the joy and engagement that had come with Amal Unbound read alouds. Knowing how much educators have been through these past few years during the pandemic, the Penguin Young Readers School & Library Team and myself had the idea to do a four-week read aloud for Omar this May with a ready-made reading schedule, videos with extension activities, and myself reading aloud the first week of the read aloud! While these resources will be up for years to come, during May 2022, classrooms wanted to engage with me on Twitter using the hashtag #OmarReadAloud, I will be answering questions as well replying to questions from my author email address (aishasaeed writes at gmail dot com).

Reading aloud is such an important tool to improve literacy and a love of reading. It can also bring about important shared conversations. I hope Omar Rising and his story of activism and community can bring about such conversations and be a source of togetherness among all classrooms participating. If you’d like to learn more about it and join in, CHECK IT OUT HERE. I hope that Omar Rising will be a joyful community-filled pathway to conclude the end of the 2021-2022 school year!

Aisha Saeed is an award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of books for children. Her middle grade novel Amal Unbound (Penguin) received multiple starred reviews and was a Global Read Aloud for 2018. Her picture book, Bilal Cooks Daal (Simon and Schuster) received an APALA honor. Aisha is also a founding member of the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books™.  She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her family.