Building Reading Excitement — Kwame Alexander Has the Right Idea

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A few weeks ago I received a link to sign up for Kwame Alexander’s Solo launch team. My students and I ADORE Kwame’s books and I crossed my fingers that I would be one of the 400 chosen to receive an ARC of the book.

Lucky me! I got an email last week that the book was on the way and all I had to do was share the book and promote Solo across my social media platforms. Both of the tasks Blink YA books asked for are a natural part of book love for me.

Excitement built as I waited for the book to arrive. On the Solo Launch Facebook page, people were starting to share joyful pictures of the book’s arrival. I found myself rushing home in the afternoons in search of my neighborhood UPS truck or a package on the doorstep. I chatted online with other Solo launch teachers about the book and other Kwame books.

Yesterday afternoon the book arrived. I tore open the package and fanned through the pages. It felt like my birthday and summer vacation rolled into one. My husband and son could now stop listening to me talk about the book and Kwame 🙂

Kwame and Blink YA did a wonderful job building excitement for the new release. Across the country, 400 teachers/book lovers with healthy social media presences were busy talking up the August release.

The launch got me thinking about how we build this level of excitement for our student readers. Mock Newburys, Battle of the Books, The Global Read Aloud and other community book projects have the right idea. In addition, to book talking, we need to give students a chance to anticipate a great read.

This year I taught sixth grade English and during one of our novel units, students were given the choice of 40 historical fiction titles. Our middle school has 450 sixth graders so we did not have an endless supply of every title. After a week of book talking and speed dating books, students filled out a Google form with their top 4 choices. A lot great conversations happened during that week — students recommended books to other students, friends picking a title or two they wanted to read together and more.

One of my most reluctant readers decided Gary Paulsen’s Woods Runner was the only book he wanted to read. We had 30 copies for the whole grade and it was a popular choice. I heard this student talk about the book in the halls and he asked several times when the “winners” would be announced.

“I won?!” he marveled as I handed him the new copy of Gary Paulsen’s fast-paced historical fiction tale. “I never win,” he added. He sat down in the reading corner and immediately opened the cover.

That book changed the student’s reading year. He regularly asked for new titles and talked about books with his friends.  Action-packed historical fiction,  graphic novels and mysteries were his favorite. He did not want particularly long books but he grew confident in articulating what he looked for in a book.

Winning is a good feeling. When I was chosen for the Solo book launch my strong interest in the new release turned into tangible anticipation. “Winning” a copy of a limited novel for a novel unit opened the door to reading for one student.

Next year I plan to be more intentional in building anticipation for books. I will launch book clubs, incorporate more student voice in classroom library purchases and talk up new titles before they arrive to build excitement for reading. I will talk to my students about larger community reading projects to spark interest.

My hope for next year is each of my 8th grade students will feel as lucky as I did yesterday when the bright read cover of Kwame Alexander’s Solo slipped out of the UPS package.

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