Two Sundays ago, I was anxiously waiting to meet with all of my classes to share a wonderful surprise: my school’s education foundation was funding an author Skype for them! I knew some reluctant readers wouldn’t see this as a wonderful surprise, but I wanted to make sure they understood what a truly amazing opportunity it would be for them. They would be speaking with not one, but two authors, and those two authors wrote the most popular book in their 9th grade class (and around the country), All American Boys. I book talked this title back when it first came out, but now I had 35 copies of it, so many students would be able to read it all at one time.
That Monday, I read an excerpt from All American Boys—the excerpt–and asked students who read it to share what they thought. I received smiles and nods in response. Students started checking out the book from my classroom library. Others had questions about what the Skype would be like. Would they get to ask the authors questions? Would they talk about just All American Boys, or some of the other books the authors wrote on their own? I responded with what they hoped, and a few more smiles appeared. The room was quiet though. Were they not excited? No. They just didn’t know what to expect.
Our upcoming Skype with Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely will be the first one my 9th graders participate in. They have never had the chance to speak to a published author, let alone two. Therefore, they don’t know that they are about to have an opportunity that other schools dream of having. One student even asked me privately, “But Ms. K, what do we ask them?” I could see her confusion and anxiety, and so I responded with, “Don’t worry. A few days before the Skype I will prepare you. We, as a class, will come up with questions together.” And prepare them I will. I want my 9th graders to feel comfortable and excited about this amazing opportunity, so we will discuss possible questions to ask, the book itself, watch a video interview with the two authors, and discuss anything they may be concerned about. I will do my best to help them view this Skype as an amazing opportunity, not just another assembly.
Thankfully, some of my 9th graders’ own mentors (11th and 12th graders) are helping me prepare them too! During one of my Freshmen Seminar classes last week, two male mentors came in to see how their 9th graders were doing (they check in with them once each month). We happened to be discussing the upcoming Skype, so they asked about the book. I told them about it, and they proceeded to share with the 9th graders how much they missed independent reading. They looked longingly around the room, seeing that I had hundreds of new titles since they were freshmen. Eventually, they asked to check out the book themselves, so I gave them a copy. They challenged my 9th graders to read the book, and they would come talk to them about it before the Skype. One student, who didn’t think he wanted to read All American Boys, decided to give it a try. That’s time well spent!
With the Skype not being until the beginning of March, I have the next few weeks to continue promoting the book and the authors. I even made a possible shirt for students to purchase (see below), since the students that have already read the book wanted to create something to wear to the Skype. With all this promotion, I hope students see this opportunity for what it really is: a chance to see how reading can change their world, and the world around them.