Today is our third and final post featuring interviews with 6 ProjectLIT Chapters Leaders! Check out Part 1 for introductions and to learn how how they run a ProjectLIT Book Club. Yesterday (Part 2) was all about student leadership, community involvement, and that BIG question – how to get the books! Today, Part 3 will look at future plans, favorite books, and advice to new ProjectLIT chapter leaders.
What other challenges did you face?
Kimiko: The other challenge was getting full sets of books for every book club meeting instead of having only 5-6 of each book. So, I decided to rotate my full sets into my curriculum so all students had an opportunity to read them.
Ashleigh: Looking back I would really like to have enlisted another adult to help with some of the stuff students couldn’t do, whether it was going shopping for breakfast food, reminding staff about meetings, helping kids with side projects. Also scheduling is just always tough, Saturdays were great for so many parents but often times things come up last minute and it’s a little hard for middle schoolers to be on top of getting themselves where they need to go.
Lindsey: It’s difficult to pick a time for the meetings that works best for everyone. I found that more students could attend before school than after school. I wish more of my faculty could attend and get involved. They were often occupied with meetings, so it was unfortunate that they missed out on connecting with students in this way.
Mary: Since our first meeting was open to everyone in the school, but the winning book was geared toward middle schoolers, we had mostly sixth graders at the meeting. I’m hoping to increase HS participation next year with the meeting being exclusively for them, and strong student leadership.
Jessica: I was challenged with resistance from some parents and teachers based on the books we were reading. It is hard and you will have to have uncomfortable conversations about them. It was hard and I was very stressed, but coming out the other end, it was absolutely worth it. The conversations those kids had about the books and the depth of knowledge I know they walked away with will encourage me to keep doing this forever. It is inspiring.
Erika: Smaller numbers than I would have liked, mostly due to having to meet after school rather than during the school day.
What were some of your students’ favorite books last year?
Ashleigh: An easier question would be what were books they didn’t love!? In conversations with my leaders – three come up a lot though. They obviously loved Jason Reynolds’ Track series (we read both Ghost and Patina), students also loved Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton, and finally I think many of my and my students’ favorite conversations came from Refugee by Alan Gratz.
Lindsey: Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes was not only a favorite ProjectLIT book, but it ranked in the top 10 circulations for my school library. My students were born post-9/11, and they have lots of curiosity about it, and they want to understand it. They also loved Refugee by Alan Gratz. We’ve hosted Alan Gratz at our school, and he continues to be a favorite author of theirs. This book captured their attention and helped them empathize with the refugees today. Our community guest for this particular ProjectLIT meeting, Abdikadir Ali, shared his story of growing up in a refugee camp in Kenya for 10 years of his life. Students were captivated by his story.
What book are you most excited about reading with students this upcoming year?
Ashleigh: Many of my students have already read Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes because she came to our school through a free program with Open Book Foundation (SHOUTOUT TO THEM!) so I think that will be incredible to share and reflect upon how important it is for us to bear witness. Kids also are so excited to get to Sunny by Jason Reynolds – and many have already jumped straight into that book. I’m really stoked for them to read that because I think it masterfully captures the inner working of so many middle school munchkins who are sometimes simultaneously dealing with such weighty issues but also acknowledging their need to be silly and be themselves. Finally, I think Amal Unbound will be huge in the same way Refugee was this year – I love Project LIT books because once we’ve hooked kids on stories where they are seen and heard – they get so much more into books that offer windows (shouts to Rudine Sims Bishop!) into worlds they are unfamiliar with.
Lindsey: This is a tough question to answer. I’m really looking forward to what we’re doing with Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed. It’s a Global Read Aloud selection and a ProjetLIT selection, so we will read that book in October, and I’m excited to highlight this book in a variety of ways with my students.
Mary: For MS, I am really excited about I am Alfonso Jones, Ghost Boys, and The First Rule of Punk. For HS, I LOVED Odd One Out by Nic Stone, and I’m super amped about Trevor Noah’s book -my adult educator book club (also started by Ashleigh Rose!) read it and it’s such a great book for discussion. We’ll be doing Wishtree for our first MS meeting, and The Poet X (my favorite YA maybe of all time) for our first HS meeting, then students will vote on all the other selections. Can’t wait to see what they pick!
Jessica: My students are very excited to read Rebound by Kwame Alexander since The Crossover was such a huge hit. I cannot wait to read The Parker Inheritance with them. That book had it all and I know that they will devour it!
Erika: Ghost Boys by Jewel Parker Rhodes
What are you going to do differently with ProjectLIT this year?
Kimiko: This year I will start to contact local business early in regards to donating food and donating books to our club.
Ashleigh: I’m looking to find more and more ways to have kids take the helm. One of my huge takeaways was that student leadership matters so much more than things being perfect. I have loved watching kids share their love of books, the ideas they care about, and to watch them realize that all these adults and peers are fully invested in hearing their voice. The more they can take up space – the better! I’m also going to try to partner with some local organizations around our school or the local public library since we don’t have a school library.
Lindsey: This year is about growing our book club not only in our school but in our community. Two students attended the ProjectLIT Summit with me, and they are on fire and have lots of great ideas to make our club even better. We are going to have a planning meeting to kick off our year, and send the community invites way in advance. We hope that by giving our guests even more notice, they will have more time to read the book. I also continue to work on book access for my students. Several school librarians in my district and I have discussed each purchasing a class set to share with each other.
Mary: I am excited about helping students reach out to community organizations for support (like breakfast!). I also hope to connect to other chapters this year, I think kids would love that.
Jessica: More student involvement, more students in more grades (since I teach 8th grade, we were heavy on 8th graders last year), do more with elementary schools, especially our feeder schools!
Erika: I’m not going to put a measure of success on myself. Having students (and others) show up and engage is success in itself.
What advice do you have for new ProjectLIT Chapter Leaders or for those thinking about launching a chapter in their community?
Kimiko: Start small, be organized, partner with some local organizations, try to write some grants, have fun, and relax.
Ashleigh: I would say to just dive in. Get a few books, get a few kids, and run a book club! We’ve got so many resources and brains already in this who are here to support and help out wherever they can. Also, create a structure and plan and just follow it. I almost think it is easier to do eight clubs, than four, because you get in the groove of it. Once we had done two – my kids ran it all mostly themselves because it happened like clockwork every month.
Lindsey: Jump in! There are so many ideas and resources from other chapter leaders. Search #projectlitchat and #projectlitbookclub for ideas. Focus on doing what works for your students and you. Involve your students as much as you can and don’t worry about it being perfect. The goal is simple- have fun and help kids love reading.
Mary: It won’t be perfect the first time around, but just jump in and do it!! Let the kids lead the way, and don’t be afraid to reach out to others and connect with educators doing it successfully! Everyone is super kind and willing to share.
Jessica: Just jump in! It will be scary, but it works! Also, don’t be afraid to start small. Just recruit your own students at first and then grow it out. The community will grow!
Erika: Do your research first. Learn what we’re about. Read the information. Snoop around/participate in the chats. Truly consider if Project LIT Community is for you and the school community you serve, because it’s not for everyone.
What are you reading right now?
Kimiko: I am currently reading Children Of Blood And Bone.
Ashleigh: I love summer because it gives me the brainspace to dive into nonfiction more than during the school year. I just finished Being the Change by Sara K Ahmed and I am SO excited to head back to work on Thursday of this week armed with her call to action and amazing ideas for implementing and cultivating lasting socially conscious conversations and anti-bias communities. Also, I highly suggest Why Won’t You Apologize by Harriet Lerner. Took away tons for my adult life and for school. On my drives I am listening to Projekt 1065 by Alan Gratz (talk about a historical fiction/research mastermind) and I just started an ARC of Odd One Out by Nic Stone because she’s honestly the coolest person alive right now!
Mary: I recently finished Speak: The Graphic Novel and was totally rocked. Currently reading Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram. The Parker Inheritance and Rebound are on my nightstand, too!
Jessica: Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner
Erika: Currently reading Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro and Tight (advance copy) by Torrey Maldonado
Thanks again to Kimiko, Ashleigh, Lindsey, Mary, Jessica, and Erika for taking time out of the summer and back-to-school planning to answer my questions! If you have more questions about ProjectLIT, please let us know!