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Communities of Readers

May 17, 2013
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Our mission (and sometimes, mania) is to build home libraries for kids who need books by sending home 12 books before summer break. We hope that this will improve literacy and foster a lifelong love of reading. But we also aim to play a part in sparking conversations about books and to build communities of book lovers.

Teacher Carrie Gelson wrote an inspiring piece for the Nerdy Book Club about a book club she created at school so that she could remain a part of her students’ reading lives, even after they left her classroom. The ways we can create communities of readers are limitless, but it is vitally important that our schools strive to foster such communities.

In addition to building home libraries, we also have another project we dream about and advocate for, one that we hope schools will adopt and run with. We call it our Bookshelf Project. In a nutshell, it boils down to this: an honor system bookshelf that is freely and openly accessible to all students in a school in a high traffic area of the school. We supply a set of books, which will be maintained and replenished by the school.

Here is what a bookshelf can mean to a school: regardless of how frequent library time is and regardless of who has lost library privileges, books are available all the time to all kids. If you need a book, you can borrow a book. If you want to keep it for a day, three weeks, all year, forever, so be it.

In the first school where we set up a bookshelf, students mobbed the shelf each day while waiting for the bus. Conversations about books sprang up between reluctant readers, kids recommended books to each other, kids got hooked on series and came back over and over for the next ones. The librarian sent students who had lost books and couldn’t check out books from the library out to the shelf. Children started donating books they were finished with to the shelf so they could share with friends. Some kids came to the shelf every single day.

It is a simple idea and one with tremendous potential. We could see a 4th grade class adopting the shelf and maintaining it, with reluctant readers becoming reading mentors to other students. We can imagine book reviews or recommendations, illustrations of favorite scenes, kid-written newsletters with suggestions from the shelf. There is no stigma about the shelf—everyone is gathering around it. There is no pressure at the shelf—kids can browse at their leisure. In schools where a high number of students lack books of their own, where classroom libraries are scant, or where library time is not once a week, the shelf is a valuable bridge to make sure all kids have access to books all the time. And it can help foster a community of readers for whom conversations about books are an everyday thing.

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