One School, One Book

Leslie Hawkins -- August 7th, 2017

I was delighted to receive a text message today from one of my oldest friends asking if I’d read the YA novel Every Day by David Levithan. Joey and I have been talking books since we bonded over our love for Harriet the Spy in grade school, so random texts about what we’re reading aren’t that unusual. I was surprised, however, that he was reading a young adult novel. He teaches advanced high school English and in the past has been notoriously snobby about even his students reading YA. This has been a point of contention, as you might well imagine given my chosen vocation. The reason Joey started reading Every Day is that it had been chosen for a One School, One Book summer read. It’s the third such text chosen by the school, he tells me, and the first one he will actually read. “The premise is very Woolfian,” he tells me. “A few pages in and I love it.”

Comparisons to Virginia Woolf aside, it does seem a wonderful choice for a school-wide read, as the main character inhabits many different bodies and, therefore, experiences life from many different perspectives, never really belonging. What a great opportunity for one character to resonate with many readers in a large and diverse student body and to encourage empathy and spark conversation.

It can be challenging, though, to find just the right text. Just last week a longtime customer called looking for help coming up with a One School, One Book title for her K-4 elementary school. Caryn is the media coordinator and driving force behind the program, which her school does every spring. One of the challenges, of course, is the wide range of reading levels. Caryn always strives to pick something that is accessible and appealing to a wide age range, that isn’t too long, and that works well as a read-aloud for the younger kids to enjoy with their parents. Last year’s pick was The Small Adventures of Popeye and Elvis by Barbara O’Connor, a sweet and funny summer adventure story set in the rural South.

Another challenge Caryn faces is that, by and large, the student body in her very rural school lags behind grade level in reading. She’s also learned the hard way that very few parents really buy in to the One School One Book program — as in, most of the parents aren’t really active readers themselves and it’s difficult to get them to commit to reading an entire book at home with or to their children. (Heartbreaking, I know.) After a cumulative few hours discussing options with me on the phone and in the bookstore (plus who knows how many hours on her own researching and deliberating), she’s considering The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate for the 3rd and 4th graders with the picture book adaptation Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla for the K-2 students. Technically not “One Book,” but still a way for everyone to share the same story, and if it takes choosing a book that can be read in one setting to get more parents on board, well… all any of can do is try to make a little more progress, inch a little closer to our goals. Every day.

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