Launching a Community Book Club & a Conversation with Harper and Maggie: Books Between, Episode 62

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!


Hi everyone! And welcome to Books Between – a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect kids between 8-12 to incredible stories. I believe in the power of books to bring communities together. And my goal is to help you connect your children and your community with fantastic books and share inspiring conversations with the people who make that magic happen.

I’m your host, Corrina Allen – a mom of a 9 and 11 year old, a 5th grade teacher in Central New York, and glad to be back with you after a short hiatus to focus on school and supporting some local candidates in the mid-term elections! Before this year, I had NEVER done any phone banking or canvassing, but after being inspired by so many of YOU – I knew I had to get off my bum and get to work.

This is episode #62 and Today’s show is all about promoting literacy in your community.  First, I’ll share some advice about launching a community book club based on my experience starting a ProjectLIT Book Club at my school. And then I’ll share a conversation with Harper & Maggie, two young girls who’ve launched Books & a Blanket – an organization to promote literacy and well-being among young children in need.

Before we get started, I have a BIG announcement that I am delighted to tell you about!  For the whole month of December, Annaliese Avery and Jarrett Lerner and myself fromDs2bST1XcAABnFm MGBookVillage are teaming up with Lorie Barber and Erin Varley to bring you #HappyPottermas – a month-long celebration of all things Harry Potter! There will be daily Twitter prompts and all the 9pm EST Monday night #MGBookChat topics throughout December will be all about Harry Potter! And…. I’ve got some special guests lined up for the December episodes of the podcast to talk about the Wizarding World.  And I would love to feature YOU on the show as well. So if you have THOUGHTS about Hogwarts, Snape, the books vs. the movies. If you have OPINIONS you want to share – I really, really want to hear what you have to say!  So, if you are interested in being featured on this podcast, just check out the link posted in the show notes, and I can’t wait to hear from you!

Main Topic – Launching a Community Book Club

This week I’m sharing some things I’ve learned about launching a community book club based on my experiences starting a ProjectLIT Book Club at my school. But whatever type of book club you might already have going or are considering starting – whether that’s a ProjectLIT club or not – I think you’ll get some good ideas from today’s discussion.  And – just know that every document I mention (flyers, surveys, discussion guides, etc…) are all available for you to download right in the show notes and on this episode’s post at And all of them are editable so you can download and adjust them however you need.

Today I’ll be talking about the difference between ProjectLIT and other traditional community book clubs, including the pros and cons of each. Then I’ll share some ideas about how to prepare to launch your club, some ideas about how to decide what books to read and how to get copies of those books, how to get students and the wider community involved and excited, and then I’ll get into some specifics about planning meetings and hosting a community-wide book celebration.

That’s a lot to cover! So let’s dig right in!

What is the difference between a traditional book club with community involvement and a ProjectLIT Community Book Club – and what are the pros and cons of each?

ProjectLIT is a grassroots literacy movement with community book club chapters all over the country. As of this week, there are now 592 chapters. Their goal is to increase access to culturally relevant books and promote a love of reading in our schools and communities. Each spring the ProjectLIT team consults with chapter leaders and announces a list of 20 books from middle grade to YA that include topics that will generate lots of discussion and bring awareness to issues in our society. Since this is the second year, there are now 40 books to choose from. The books feature characters from a wide variety of backgrounds and are usually #ownvoices – written by authors who share the marginalized identity of the main character. For example, some ProjectLIT books are Amina’s Voice by Hena Kahn and Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Some of the YA choices are Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime and Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. ProjectLIT is all about bringing together a community to discuss the big ideas put forth in these booksand to encourage students to take a leadership role in planning community meetings and doing community service projects to promote literacy. It’s beyond just a book club that might meet to read and discuss books.  If you want to know more about ProjectLIT, their founder, Jarred Amato was a guest on this podcast on episode 54. So, if you are bb54featureconsidering whether or not to launch a more traditional book club in your school or to be a ProjectLIT chapter, here are some pros and cons to keep in mind.


  • The book choices are more limited. There are about 20 middle grade titles to choose from and about 20 YA, but I found that the middle grade titles weren’t all the best fit for my club which is geared toward 4th and 5th graders. For example, the March graphic novels are listed as middle grade but I decided to not offer that as one of our choices since it seemed more like a middle school fit.  I’m really hoping that the book options next year will include some lower middle grade titles to expand the choices for elementary kids and to include a variety of reading levels for older students, too.
  • Many of the titles are newer so they are only available as hardcover which makes it financially challenging. And students are less familiar with them so you might need to do some book talks and sampling to get them really pumped about reading them.
  • If you advertise an event as ProjectLIT, it does need to be one of the approved titles. You can mix things up but it does make it more complicated. And if you are trying to make your book club ALSO connect with other things like Battle of the Books or March Book Madness, it is a little bit limiting in that way.


  • The book choices ARE amazing! Long Way Down, Amal Unbound, The First Rule of Punk, Ghost, The Parker Inheritance – truly – these are fabulous reads!!
  • Yes, they are new. But that also means that most kids haven’t already read them. I know when I’ve attempted book clubs with really popular books that have been out for awhile, some kids didn’t come because well – if they were interested in the book, they’d already read it. Newer books pull in those readers who will be literacy DhM7H6RV4AAXvH0-1leaders. Those kids who want to be on the cutting edge and draw in the rest of their peers and community with their excitement.
  • You have an amazing supportive community who are all working toward the same goals and really eager to help make your life easier by sharing ideas and resources. If you need discussion questions for Towers Falling – they are already done! There’s a wonderful Facebook group, a Sunday Twitter chat, and a weekly newsletter emailed to you. So, you are not in it alone. And because of that, there are great opportunities for clubs to collaborate and maybe Skype with other groups reading the same book to discuss beyond their community and to get ideas from each other.

How can I prepare my launch to make the book club successful?

Doing some work ahead of time can really help get your book club started off on the right foot and get some community behind you from the very beginning. One of the first things I did was to decide who I might strong-arm into, I mean…. invite to partner with me. In most schools there are at least a couple book lovers who would be down with helping out. At my school – that would be the amazing Kelly. So I emailed Kelly – who was totally excited about launching a club at our school!  Sometimes you just have to ask people. Then I emailed our local public librarian, the PTO, our principal, and let them know about the awesome new club for kids that was coming soon.

Then, I needed to decide how often we would meet, when, and where.  And that really depends on two main factors – time available at your school or library. And YOU!  Because honestly – you are the one who needs to be the main force in making this work. So just…decide and promote the heck out of it!  Since our school day starts early, a before school time was not going to work. So I decided to offer the club to 4th and 5th graders after school from 2:10 to 3:15. The reason I went with 3:15?  Because that’s the time that Drama Club and the Book Cooks let out so I decided to be consistent with them so parents wouldn’t be confused about pick-up times. I also decided to go with Thursdays to avoid those other club days as well.  Now, I will say – I’ve had to do some push back against getting sucked into meetings on Thursdays. But I am holding firm. I don’t want the job to get in the way of my actual work – expanding literacy and love of reading in my school. So if there is a meeting on a Thursday? I’m not going. I’m with the kids doing THAT important work.

The next thing to decide is how many books you want to read throughout the year and when you want to hold a community-wide celebration of those books. Again – this all depends on YOUR availability and how many books you think you can get.  Maybe you start small with just 4 books and 4 events. Maybe every other month works for you. Since I have no chill whatsoever, I decided to go for once a month but to use our first month of school to let everyone get settled and start promoting it, and then officially launch in October.  Kudos to ANYONE who can jump start something the first month of school – I just can’t quite manage the logistics of that. So – cut yourself some slack and give yourself a month head start.

After looking at the calendar and our school schedule, I decided that our community-wide celebrations would be the first Saturday of every month from 10am to 11:30am. I went with this for a few reasons –

  • Everyone seems to already have things in the evenings and I really wanted parents and adults to be able to come. Our school gets out at 2:10 – very few adults can make it at that time if we had after school events.
  • Sundays are often tough for some people in our community because of religious observances in the morning so I wanted to avoid any conflict there.
  • I wanted it to be early enough in the day so that it didn’t wreck people’s entire day. They can come, enjoy, and then have all the rest of Saturday do whatever they want.
  • The first weekend of the month tends to avoid most major holidays.

That being said – there is absolutely no possible way you can accommodate everyone’s schedule and avoid hockey tournaments and dance recitals and the plethora of other obligations people have. So – no worries!  If kids can’t come to the Thursday after school meetings, they are always welcome to just attend the celebration event! And if they can’t attend the community celebration, they are still welcomed wholeheartedly to the after school meetings. And if November doesn’t work out – come join us when your schedule frees up in the spring!  I really try to make it as socially and emotionally easy to join us as possible – whenever they can.

Okay – so once you’ve decided the meeting days and when your community book club celebrations will be – figure out a place to meet.  We meet in my classroom after school because I know that location will be available and I am not inconveniencing anyone else. And we meet in the school library for those Saturday celebrations. I had considered meeting at the local public library, but opted for the school library for a couple reasons – one, I am familiar with that space and have access to it so I can set up the night before. Perhaps you are noticing a theme here – make it as easy as possible for YOU. Also, I want the school and our library to be a literacy hub for the community.  And I wanted access to the technology in that space – Promethean Board and Chromebooks. And the public library didn’t have those options and the students and I were comfortable with our school’s space and technology.

Alright, so your prep phase should include the Who, When, and Where. Who – figuring out who will help you and who you will reach out to to let them know the amazingness that is coming. When you will meet with students and when you and those students will host the community book club celebration. And where -the location of these meetings.

How do you decide which books to read?

Picking awesome and interesting books are what’s really going to get people excited.  And I recommend letting kids have some ownership of that process. Kelly and I decided to pick the first book ourselves so we could do some work ahead of time to get copies and then have the kids vote on the other middle grade ProjectLIT choices.  You might decide to have the students pick from a list you provide or have them pick every other month so there is some variety but also honors student choice. We launched our book club with Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes. For us, this seemed like a good start for a few reasons. It was one of the books with an easier reading level and being in New York, our families have many personal stories about 9/11 that this book club would give them an opportunity to share. So I’d recommend picking a really high interest book to start that will get a lot of support in your community.

During our first after school meeting, I had the students do a book tasting of 15 ProjectLIT books that I thought would be a good fit for our 4th and 5th graders – Ghost Boys, The Wild Robot, Amal Unbound, Wonder, The Crossover, Rebound, Booked, Ghost, Patina, Sunny, The Parker Inheritance, The First Rule of Punk, Wishtree, and Refugee.  Perhaps you could give some choices that align with your goals and that ensure a variety of perspectives.  So – I had scrounged up multiple copies of each book and printed out evaluation forms. (Those are available to download right in the show notes!) Kids sat in groups of about 4 and examined and previewed about 3 books at a time.  Just like any other book tasting, I encouraged them to look at the cover, read the teaser material on the back cover or inside flaps, and read the first page. And I framed this for them as – don’t JUST think about what YOU like. Think about what books you like and what titles you think would be important and interesting for our community to discuss.  So – then they voted on their top choices. I had intended this to be done on a Google Form (which I will share with you) but our internet went down so we went old school and they wrote down their lists and we tallied them up. The seven books that got the most votes were The Wild Robot, Wonder, Amal Unbound, Ghost, Sunny, Wishtree, and The First Rule of Punk. And… I’m not gonna lie. I was a tad heartbroken that a certain book I really, really wanted to read with them didn’t quite make the cut. BUT – I had committed to honoring their choices. Also – Sunny was chosen but NOT book 2 of that series (Patina), so I just decided to go with it since each book can really stand on their own.

After that, I matched each book to a month – putting the two Jason Reynolds books (Ghost then Sunny after each other later in the year since their reading levels were more challenging) and timing Wishtree so our celebration would fall close to May 1st since that date plays a big part in the novel. So, as you schedule the books, think about what seasonal connections you might make and consider putting those more challenging books later on in the year. Also – some books will be available in softcover later in the year, so you might want to schedule those then to reduce costs.  Speaking of costs….

How do you get copies of the books?

This is the big challenge. Ideally, you want to gather enough copies for each student who wants to participate AND some extras for those in the community to borrow as well. (But that’s not always possible.) So, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Ask students to purchase the books themselves if they are able (I have this listed on our permission slip for each month’s club and having families that are willing and able to purchase books for their child helps free up funds to get books for other kids)
  2. Ask the PTO/PTA for funding – our PTO actually approached ME to attend a meeting and share the goals of the club.  Not only did I get more families interested in joining by talking to their folks, they gave us $250 for books! So definitely seek out your PTO!
  3. Take advantage of Scholastic points and perhaps ask teachers in your building to donate some copies. Not all of our books were available through Scholastic, but we had several members of the staff donate copies of Towers Falling because it was only $4!
  4. Try doing a Donors Choose project!
  5. Apply for grants! Right now, Kelly and I have a grant submitted that would totally cover the cost of the remaining books – so cross your fingers for us!
  6. Ask local businesses and organizations for support! Our local Lions Club is really receptive to opportunities to support the schools. And those local businesses and organizations might be EVEN MORE into it when you invite them to read the books with you and come to the book celebrations. I also make sure to thank all our donors by name during the meeting and you can also have a few “Sponsored by” flyers around as well.
  7. Collaborate with your school library and the local public library. They can often gather copies for you that kids and the community can check out.  The library right down the street from our school has a special display for our book club with our monthly flyer and the books stacked right underneath it available to check out.
  8. Start an Amazon Wishlist and share that link EVERYWHERE – in your email signature – in a newsletter – on social media… Ask friends to share it with their friends and family who might be looking for an opportunity to support a great cause.

How do you get students and the community to join your book club?

Alright – now that you’ve built something amazing and have everything organized and have a plan to get those books – you need to build that excitement so kids will come and continue coming!  And the community will read the books with you and come to the celebrations. Let’s start with the kids:

  • I think the single most effective thing we did was at the beginning of the year, Kelly and I went into all the 4th and 5th grade classrooms with a stack of the book options and gave a quick book talk of each one and passed them around for the kids to look at. And then we passed out the permission forms.  After that, I make a quick visit at the beginning of each month to do a quick chat about the upcoming book and pass out those permission slips so you know who is coming and if they need a copy of the book. (And an editable copy of that slip is right in the show notes for you to download.)
  • Wherever your school promotes events – on the morning announcements, in a newsletter, on a school calendar… get the club mentioned!  About once a week, I make an announcement reminding the kids to come to our weekly meeting AND reminding folks to come to the upcoming Saturday celebration. Our school also has a weekly news show – The Minoa Morning Messages – and some of our members made an appearance to promote the club and announce the next book.
  • Be visible! Last year I spent a lot more time in my classroom whenever I could but this year I am making more of an effort to hang out by the buses at dismissal and say hello to kids not in my class during lunch. I have been surprised by how many kids approach me during those casual times and ask about the book club or see me and suddenly remember their permission slip! If out of sight means out of mind, then you‘ve got to literally be in their sights. And each of those encounters builds interest and awareness among the other kids (and staff) who observe those conversations!

So – how about getting the staff and community to come to your celebrations?  That can be a bit trickier, but I do have some ideas for you:

  • Have the students invite them!  Each month, students help design an invitation and I print off a bunch of copies. Then we get some envelopes and personally invite every single member of the staff – not just classroom teachers, but secretaries, TAs, custodial staff, lunch monitors, the superintendent – everyone!  One student even Screen Shot 2018-11-25 at 11.57.50 PM.pngsnagged the mail carrier on his way in and handed him an invitation! I also give students multiple copies of the invitation – and the digital version for them to invite family members. We also branch out and invite folks at the town hall, the mayor, the fire chief. And based on their suggestions, I drive around and post flyers in areas they think would be a good idea – like the post office or the fire department or the local pizza shop.
  • Another way to get the staff involved is to email them and ask them to read the book and come to the celebration. And last month, we had some extra copies of Towers Falling, so some of the kids just walked around after school and asked the staff if they wanted to borrow the book and talked up how good it was. And of course, included an invitation tucked into the front cover.
  • Harness the power of social media! Our club has both a Twitter account (@ProjectLITMinoa) and an Instagram account (@ProjectLITMinoa) and are both nice places to showcase what the students are doing and share those awesome pictures of your events. And if you are on the social media platforms that parents and kids already use, it makes it easier for them to tag you and start to build awareness among the community. Have a social media presence also makes your club Google-able. You could also make a website, but that’s definitely an in-the-future step for us.
  • Make a display and put it in a high traffic area in your school! Last month, I finally realized I needed to make a display of some kind because people kept asking when the next book club was and what books we were reading next. So having one place they can look is really helpful both to be informative and to also serve as an advertisement!DsJMe6UVsAAH56p.jpg

How do you run the student book club meetings?

One thing that I did on a whim was to start our very first meeting with a quick get-to-know-you activity. I definitely didn’t know all the students and I’m certain they didn’t know each others’ names, so we did a quick round of “When the Cold Wind Blows”. Basically each kid takes a turn standing in the center of the circle and says their name and something about themselves. Like, “My name is Corrina and I like Harry Potter!” And if that applies to you, you stand up and move like the wind to another seat.  That went over so well, that each month, when we have a new mix of students, we start with a new ice breaker. During that first meeting, I pass out the reading schedule (and yup – that’s right online for you!), and we start reading together! Sometimes we listen to the audio book and sometimes Kelly and I take turns reading it out loud. For the meetings after that first one, we take the first 10-15 minutes to discuss the reading we did last week – talking about any confusing parts, big ideas, connections, questions, favorite parts, or favorite quotes… and then I read aloud or we listen to the audio book for the next 20 or so minutes. And the last 20-30 minutes is planning time. This is when the kids take care of invitations, come up with discussion questions, trivia questions, brainstorm new ideas together – and basically take care of all the things that come up when planning an event. After that, we pack up and I escort the crew down to the main hall to be picked up and take that opportunity to connect with parents and answer any questions. So basically, our after school book club meetings are discussion, read together, plan together.

How do you host a great community book club celebration?

Honestly, I wasn’t sure this was going to work out at ALL. The Saturday morning of our first event, two things happened that did not bode well.  First, despite the fact that I had requested the room through the proper channels and filled out all the school-required paperwork, the library was locked and NO ONE with the key was available. Okay – so we just relocated to my room, and I scrambled to get the space organized. Second – several of the kids and staff had volunteered to come in early at 9:30 to help me set up and it was 9:50 and NO ONE was there but ME. And I thought – well…. I’ll just hang out here and grade papers and eat the cider and muffins I brought myself. But – then…. EVERYONE showed up!! And our final count was over 40 people and it was an amazing event!  So – here is the schedule we followed.

  • First – ask for some volunteers to bring in drinks and snacks. We had cocoa (a BIG hit!), cider, donuts, and muffins. Kelly and I brought in some and parents had volunteered to supply snacks and drinks, too.
  • When people arrived from 10:00 – 10:20, there was a sign-in sheet, and we had an Screen Shot 2018-11-26 at 12.01.28 AM.pngactivity set up at each table for them to complete when they came in. For Towers Falling, we supplied big pieces of paper and markers, and had people create their own Social Units diagram. For our next read, The Wild Robot, we’re planning on a build-your-own-robot craft. I think having something fun to do for the first 15 minutes as people arrive is a good idea since families want to get a snack and everyone wants to chat anyway.
  • From 10:20-10:30 I welcome everyone, give a brief introduction – go through the agenda, explain what ProjectLIT book clubs are all about, show pictures of the book club in action that I’ve been taking throughout the past month, and give thanks to the organizations and donors and volunteers that have helped us out. It’s a quick power point, and I’ll drop a link to that in the show notes if you want to use it for your events.  Also, as each person arrives, we hand them a half-sheet copy of the agenda with an exit survey stapled to the back to we can get some feedback.Screen Shot 2018-11-26 at 12.00.33 AMScreen Shot 2018-11-26 at 12.00.26 AM
  • From 10:30-10:50 is Group Discussion time!  Students pass out a discussion guide with six questions they’ve developed.  And each group takes about twenty minutes to chat about the book! These could be general questions like, what character could you relate to the most or what scene stood out to you? Or they might be specific to the novel, like “Why do you think Dejá’s father didn’t want her to learn about 9/11?”  For this particular book, we also asked the adults in each group to share where they were on 9/11 and what were their experiences and feelings on that day.Screen Shot 2018-11-25 at 11.59.19 PM.png
  • From 10:50-11:15 is trivia! I created an online quiz based on the trivia questions that the kids made using the website Kahoot – which was lots of fun!  You do need access to a device though, so traditional trivia is fine, too!  We had everyone break up into teams of no more than 6 and then the top team each won a prize of a full-sized Hershey’s Bar, the second place team each got a Hershey’s mini, and the 3rd place team each got a Hershey’s kiss. That trivia game and those little prizes were such a HUGE hit – and the competition was quite fierce!  I’ll drop a link to that Kahoot if you want to check it out.
  • From 11:15 – 11:20 – We drew prizes!  We were lucky enough to have some community members and parents donate books and a few small gift cards to Barnes & Noble and a local yogurt shop. So at the beginning of the meeting, we had a student in charge of passing out tickets and then we just drew names at the end of the meeting.
  • From 11:20 – 11:30 is cleanup!

A few things I would change – we forgot to explicitly ask people to fill out the surveys and return them to us. Oops! And I forgot to take a big group picture! Next time, I’d also make sure that at least one of the book club kids were seated at each group. We also didn’t get DrHDC6pU4AA_-9kas many community members who weren’t directly connected to the school as I had hoped. So, we are going to keep reaching out! And our next steps are to do more community service events like book drives and to find ways for the students to be literacy advocates in other ways in our community.

So, overall – it was REALLY successful and a TON of fun! Our new principal came – even though he hadn’t technically started until the following week! We had almost all the book club kids come with at least one family member – including bringing older siblings who were former students which was wonderful!  About six staff members came, including one with her new baby.

I was truly overcome with the passion and excitement and generosity that our community showed. And really – all I did was provide an outlet and an opportunity for kids and the community to express their passion for reading and literacy.

I know, if you decide to start a community book club in your school, you won’t regret it!   And if you have any questions at all, I’d be happy to chat more with you. You can email me at or reach out on Twitter or Instagram at the handle @Books_Between. And if you have some suggestions or tips about how to run a successful community book club – I’d love to share your ideas so we can all learn from each other!

Maggie & Harper from Books and a Blanket – Interview Outlinebooks_and_a_blanket_1_blog.jpg

Our special guests this week are sisters Maggie & Harper – founders of Books and a Blanket!  We talk about the origins of their project, their favorite books, and how you can help them promote literacy and well-being among young children in need.

Take a listen…

Books & a Blanket

What is Books and a Blanket and how did it get started?

How has Books and a Blanket changed from when you first came up with the idea?

How do you get all the books and blankets? And do you accept both used and new?

What are your plans for the future of Books and a Blanket?

How do you decide who gets them?

If our listeners wanted to get involved and help you out, what could they do?

Your Reading Life

One of the goals of this podcast is to help educators and librarians and parents inspire kids to read more and connect them with amazing books.  Did you have a special teacher or librarian who helped foster your reading life?

We have a lot of teachers and librarians listening. What is something you want them to know?

What is something you wish teachers did MORE of?

What is something you wish teachers did LESS of?

What are some of your all-time favorite books?

What have you been reading lately that you’ve liked?


Books & a Blanket website –

Books & a Blanket on Twitter

Books & Authors We Chatted About:


Mr. Lemoncello’s Library (Chris Grabenstein)

The Penderwicks (Jeanne Birdsall)

Penderwicks at Last (Jeanne Birdsall)

The Harry Potter series (J.K. Rowling)

The Hunt for Red October (Tom Clancy)

The Mysterious Benedict Society (Trenton Lee Stewart)

The Candymakers (Wendy Mass)

Nevermoor (Jessica Townsend)

The Land of Stories (Chris Colfer)

Rick Riordan

Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)

Artemis Fowl (Eoin Colfer)


Okay, that wraps up our show this week!  I hope you’ll head over to to help support a great cause.

And remember to check out #HappyPottermas throughout December for some magical fun.

If you have a question about how to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love or a suggestion about a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Books Between is a proud member of the Lady Pod Squad and the Education Podcast Network. This network features podcasts for educators, created by educators. For more great content visit

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at And, if you are liking the show, please leave us some love on iTunes or Stitcher so others can discover us as well.

Thanks and see you soon!  Bye!


Corrina Allen is a 5th grade teacher in Central New York and mom of two energetic tween girls. She is passionate about helping kids discover who they are as readers.

Corrina is the host of Books Between – a podcast to help teachers, parents, and librarians connect children between 8 and 12 to books they’ll love.

Find her on Twitter at @corrinaaallen or Instagram at @Corrina_Allen.



Spotlight on ProjectLIT: Part 3

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. logoYesterday (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. 

If you want to know more about ProjectLIT – follow them on Twitter @ProjectLITComm and if you are ready to apply to become a chapter leader, the form is right here!

~ Corrina

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?

Kimiko: Towers Falling, A Long Walk To Water, March, Ghost, Patina, Long Way Down, The Hate You Give, All American Boys

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.

Mary: Kids LOVE Ghost by Jason Reynolds and The Crossover & Booked by Kwame Alexander. I’m so excited to see their reactions to the new set of books!

Jessica: The Crossover by Kwame Alexander was by far the most attended and most well-liked book from last year. A close second was Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes.

Erika: Wonder

What book are you most excited about reading with students this upcoming year?

Kimiko: Pride, On The Come Up

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!

Lindsey: I’m reading an advanced copy of Grenade by Alan Gratz, and I also just started Front Desk by Kelly Yang.

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!






Spotlight on ProjectLIT: Part 2

logoToday I am excited to continue the conversation with ProjectLIT Chapters Leaders Kimiko, Ashleigh, Lindsey, Mary, Jessica, and Erika.  Yesterday, they shared how they run a ProjectLIT Book Club. And today (Part 2 ) is all about student leadership, community involvement, and that BIG question – how to get the books! Part 3 will look at future plans, favorite books, and advice to new ProjectLIT chapter leaders. 

If you want to know more about ProjectLIT – follow them on Twitter @ProjectLITComm and if you are ready to apply to become a chapter leader, the form is right here!

~ Corrina

One of the things that I love about ProjectLIT is that it empowers students to take leadership roles. How did students contribute to the planning and running of your ProjectLIT Book Club?

Kimiko: Students contribute to the planning and running of our ProjectLIT Book Club by creating the questions for the meetings.

Ashleigh: Although it didn’t happen from the jump, I was so impressed with how my kids stepped up to the plate more and more every time. Our LIT Leaders did the following things:

– Worked collaboratively on Google Docs to create our Discussion Questions.

– Submitted Trivia questions on Google Forms to me.

– Set up and helped break down every meeting.

– Shared invitations and created reminders on Instagram and throughout the school.

– Reached out to authors. (Jewell Parker Rhodes sent us an ARC of Ghost Boys from an Instagram message!)

– Sending updates and reminder emails via mailchimp!

– Wrote a Donors Choose grant for our book club for the MARCH BOOK 1 meeting.

– Wrote thank you notes to donors.

– Divided up roles for Saturday meetings to lead everyone in the different parts of our meeting.

– Hyped the book with friends and adults. (There’s nothing like a kid gently shaming their teachers for not reading a good book!)

– Probably a ton of stuff I am forgetting!

Lindsey: My students enjoy having roles in ProjectLIT. Our roles are: Greeter/ Sign-In helper, makerspace helper, trivia question writers, and discussion question writers. We have a Google Classroom, and students can share their trivia questions, discussion questions with me ahead of time. This year, our first meeting will center on planning our year. We need to pick a book for each month and send out invites to our community.

Mary: So our ProjectLIT chapter was born of my student library club. Right when I got to my school I formed a library club – our student clubs meeting during lunch. To determine our first book, we did a school wide book madness competition (like March Madness) so students had choice and ownership from the jump -the library club helped to facilitate this big time!  I chose the books for the book madness competition based on two things, first if they were ProjectLIT selections, and second if they met my school’s guidelines that I co-created with my principal. When we were narrowing votes down to the final two, Ghost was losing against The Witch Boy by one vote, which threw me into a moral crisis over whether or not I should doctor the vote. It felt weird that Witch Boy wasn’t a ProjectLIT book. In the end I went with student votes all the way, which is how we landed on The Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus. Around the same time I started advertising for next year’s ProjectLIT selections with this bulletin board. I think it’s important for chapters to stick to the books on the list (from last year and this year) and my students are already reading and excited about voting for next year’s books. In May, I sent a google form sign up to all students that indicated when planning meetings would be held (they were at the same time as library club). At the planning meetings a lot went down! Students submitted trivia questions as well as discussion questions. One student organized our amazing logo, and other students worked on a powerpoint presentation that would guide the meeting. At our last planning meeting (three days before the event) we divvied up day-of jobs, like setting up breakfast, manning the sign in table, and introducing various portions of the meeting. Honestly Ashleigh’s powerpoints were the best guide.

Jessica: I love that, too! It is always about empowering students and allowing them to use their voice. Last year being our first year, I did a lot of the work (not all!). This year, I plan to utilize the students more and have a  couple of student leaders in place to run the book clubs. I want to take a more secondary role and really let them run with it. Last year, students created all the questions and trivia questions and each student would run a discussion at a table. This year, I plan to have my two student leaders run the entire book club! I am excited to see how it unfolds.

How have you engaged your community in the ProjectLIT Book Clubs? Did you get community members and other adults to read the books and attend?

Kimiko: We gave a copy to community members and some students read the books with their parents. I also invited them to attend an author visit so they could enjoy a Q &A session.

Ashleigh: A lot of parents, staff, friends, and family attended. Usually they saw the Instagram or MailChimp email reminders or were reminded enough by an important child in their life to come with!

Lindsey: We had amazing guests from our community throughout the year: our public librarians, police officers, representatives from Graceworks, Habitat for Humanity, Blood:Water Mission, Fisk University, GoNoodle, Catholic Charities, and the coach of Belmont University’s Men’s Basketball team. Sometimes, our community guests did not have time to read the book, so knowing that, I shifted how we involved our community guests, and I gave them time to share their work and service in our community, so that my students could understand the needs that exist and how they can help.

Mary: We had a few parents and one other teacher at our first meeting, so this is a big area of growth for me!! I’m hoping as we have more meetings and more kids get involved people start paying more attention and joining us!

Jessica: This is definitely an area I would like to improve, but we did have many community members participate last year. A lot of them were teachers and district level employees, but I also spoke to the retired teacher’s association and our Rotary Club to recruit other members. This year, I plan to ask members of the city council and city staff as well as parents to participate.

Erika: Our school has several community partnerships, so I asked the person who manages those relationships to share our Project LIT info with them and she did. We received book donations as a result.

Did your ProjectLIT chapter do any service learning projects last year? If so, how did it go?

Kimiko: Yes, we partnered with Book First Chicago. They donated over 300 books and we packaged and distributed them to students at the end of the year to prevent the “summer slide”.

Ashleigh: Not yet! But we’ve got some stuff in the works!

Lindsey: We had a Little Free Library built for our campus in honor of our principal, who retired. A student’s grandfather built it. We felt it was important to establish this library on our campus first, and then next year, we will put one elsewhere in our community. We held a book drive for Book ‘Em, which is a non-profit in Nashville that gives books to Title I schools and to organizations like the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs, Habitat for Humanity. Some of these books went to classroom libraries at our reading partner school, Glenn Enhanced Option Elementary. My students gave 3,000 books!

Mary: Not yet!

Jessica: YES! This is such a great part of Project LIT. Students need to understand that giving back to the community is a vital part of supporting where you live. Last year, we were able to get a Little Free Library donated, which we painted. Unfortunately, we were unable to obtain the needed permits before school let out, so we will be “planting” the library this coming fall. We also hosted a book drive in which we collected over 2,000 books! The books are being used to supply new teachers with classroom libraries and to fill our Little Free Library. This summer, we have gone to our school district’s lunches in the park and passed out free books to all the kids in attendance. Next year, we plan to connect with some elementary schools and do some book giveaways and read-alouds with younger kids in addition to continuing what we did last year.

Erika: No, but hopefully this year.

Alright – here’s the BIG question! How did you get books for the kids?

Kimiko: I bought them, created a donors choose, ordered books from First Book, or used my scholastic points to get books.

Ashleigh: Ha the big question indeed. I was very motivated to make sure every kid and/or family member could take home and keep our books and begin building their own LIT Libraries at home! So many parents came up to me to say how excited they were to keep the books to share with younger kids when they were able to read them!

I did three major things:

  1. Applied for a Culture Champion Grant through my school. This funded a lot of our purchases.
  2. Bought as many books as I could from lower cost sites – mostly First Book Marketplace and some Scholastic sales.
  3. My students wrote a Donors Choose Project grant to get funding for one of our more expensive books as well as prizes for trivia winners.

Lindsey: This is the hardest part for me. My district has extremely strict rules on fundraising, so the best I could do was buy as many copies for the school library that I could. I had approximately 10 copies of each book in the library. Also, at our book fairs, I created ProjectLIT displays and encouraged people to buy a book for ProjectLIT. Many of my students bought their own copies either in print or in e-book form. I would also buy ProjectLIT books and give away these books throughout the year. It always put a smile on my face to see a student attend a book club because they’d won a copy of the book.

Mary: Luckily we had several copies of the books already through the book madness competition, which was funded by the school. When students signed up to participated, they indicated the following on our google form:

Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 11.29.23 PM

The loaners were either purchased by the school or donated by families.

Jessica: Persistence! (seriously!) You will be denied for many grants, but you have to keep applying and keep asking for money in order to secure the books. Just keep at it. Get your community involved, too!  Here is how I got my books:

  1. My principal is seriously amazing and committed to buying 2 of the titles last year and this year. He is also buying a few (not class sets) of each of the titles for our classroom libraries.
  2. Apply for grants! Any and ALL grants! Look for local grants as those are sometimes easier to secure since not as many people will be applying for them, but don’t discount the big ones, Keep at it!
  3. Ask local businesses to donate to you! Some have donated money, but a lot have donated goods (food for the book club, tickets/goodies as raffle prizes, etc.).
  4. Talk to the local library and ask them to help you publicize your cause. You never know who might read it and give you books or money!

Erika: see above; also, I’m a librarian, so having books in the collection was also helpful. And we have an outstanding partnership with our public library, so students could also borrow titles that way.

 Stop back tomorrow for Part 3 to learn about their future plans, favorite books from last year, and advice to new ProjectLIT chapter leaders!






Spotlight on ProjectLIT: Part 1

Today I am excited to welcome five fantastic educators to #MGBookVillage!  Last week I had the opportunity to chat with ProjectLIT founder Jarred Amato on the Books Between podcast (check out that episode here) and was eager to learn more.  While I was at NerdCampMI, I met Kimiko, Ashleigh, and Lindsey who lead a great session on ProjectLIT and connected me with other ProjectLIT Chapter Leaders working with middle gradelogo students. I am so grateful to each of these educators who took time out their summer to answer my questions about their experiences with ProjectLIT.  I hope you find their answers as helpful as I have.  Their responses were so thoughtful and in depth that I decided to break this feature into three parts:  Part 1 will focus on introductions and how to run a ProjectLIT Book Club. Part 2 is all about student leadership, community involvement, and that BIG question – how to get the books! Part 3 looks at future plans, favorite books, and advice to new ProjectLIT chapter leaders. 

After reading these responses, I’m super excited to launch a ProjectLIT Book Club at my school next year!  If you want to know more about ProjectLIT – follow them on Twitter @ProjectLITComm and if you are ready to apply to become a chapter leader, the form is right here!

~ Corrina

Please tell us about yourself!  

My name is Kimiko Pettis. I am 6th-8th grade ELA teacher from Chicago, Il. I have been teaching for 11 years in Chicago Public Schools. [You can follow Kimiko on Twitter @kcpteachertips]


Ashleigh: Hi all! My name is Ashleigh Rose and I am a middle school teacher in Southeast Washington, DC. I am the site leader from @projectlitAIM at KIPP DC: AIM Academy in Anacostia! I’ve been teaching in DC for the last seven years. This year, I am leaving five years teaching 6th grade ELA to transition to teaching 7th and 8th grade Writing next year! [You can follow Ashleigh on Twitter @betweenmargins]


Lindsey: I’ve been a middle school librarian for the past 15 years, and previously, I was a 7th grade language arts teacher. I share lessons and ideas for school libraries on my blog, Library Stile, and recently, I’ve started assisting authors with school visits. I’m the Advocacy Chair for the Tennessee Association of School Librarians. I’ve enjoyed meeting with Tennessee’s gubernatorial candidates, representatives, and senators this year and talking with them about the value of school libraries. I am also Vice-President of SE-YA, which is the Southeastern Young Adult Book Festival. Connecting kids with the authors they love is the best! My home life is equally busy with 4 sons and 5 pets. I do manage to sleep. And read. I read more than I sleep. [You can follow Lindsey on Twitter @LindsKAnderson]


Mary: Hi! I’m Mary Thomas, a middle and high school librarian at a charter school in Washington DC. Before becoming a school librarian, I taught upper elementary school (4th & 5th). I actually transitioned to my new school and role in the early Spring, and have the unique opportunity to build a library collection & program from scratch! My school has a space and empty shelves, and I’m working hard to create a library! It is basically my dream job. [You can follow Mary on Twitter @msmarythomas]


Jessica: My name is Jessica Lingenfelter. I am entering my 21st year of teaching this year. I have a bachelor’s degree from The University of Arizona in English and a Master’s degree in Education with an emphasis on Reading from The University of La Verne.I taught high school English, Reading, and ELD (English Language Development) for 15 years. I decided to move to junior high and currently teach 8th grade English and I LOVE IT! I love junior high kids so much and am sad I didn’t make the switch sooner! I love to read and share my passion with my students. It is so exciting to me to see the reading spark illuminated in kids. I am Harry Potter obsessed (yes, my classroom is Harry Potter themed!).  In my free time, if I am not reading, I am spending it with my family. I am married to a wonderful husband of 20 years who is an Educational Director at the district office level, and we have two children: Sarah, 17 and Ben, 11. [You can follow Jessica on Twitter @jessicatiara7]


Erika: I’m a secondary librarian in Nashville, TN. I currently work in a middle school that serves grades 5-8. [You can follow Erika on Twitter at @erikaslong]

How did you hear about the ProjectLITCommunity?

Kimiko: I found out about this PLN when I was searching for literacy chats during the 2016-2017 school year.

Ashleigh: I saw a lot of what Jarred was doing on Twitter. I actually reached out to him to ask him some questions and we hopped on the phone that weekend to talk more about Project LIT in March of 2017.

Lindsey: I noticed Jarred Amato’s posts on Twitter during the 2016-2017 school year. Here was  this amazing high school English teacher in a neighboring school district making things happen in his school community! He was getting his high school students not only involved and excited about books, but they were solving the problem of book deserts together. How could they provide more access to books in their community and how could they get more culturally relevant, high quality books to kids in the community? I loved the enthusiasm radiating out of this corner of Nashville!

Mary: I am fortunate to have the best friends, one of whom is Ashleigh Rose, another Project Lit leader here in DC. She invited me to attend one of her meetings, I think the first one I made it to was for March by John Lewis. After that I was sold!

Jessica: I heard about Project LIT through Twitter. I saw the application come out and jumped on it immediately.  I am so glad to have found Project LIT! The community of educators is amazing and supportive and inspiring.

Erika: I heard about Project LIT Community via Twitter. I actually followed Jarred’s posts and read his blog throughout the year. Toward the end of their first year of Project LIT as a class, I asked Jarred if he and a few students would mind if I interviewed them for a piece I wanted to write for The Horn Book and they obliged.

What made you decide to start a ProjectLIT Book Club in your school?

Kimiko: I was so impressed by the actions of Jarred Amato’s students in regards to community outreach and their desire to increase diverse literature in their school that I wanted to sign up immediately. I completed an application and went straight to Barnes and Noble to purchase books. My goal was to provide students with compelling literature that would reignite their passion for reading, increase their desire to learn about diverse cultures, and help them discuss controversial topics.

Ashleigh: Project LIT for me was a way to formalize and amplify the work and the passion that my students and I were already working daily to cultivate in our classroom. I have always tried to make it my mission to get books into kids hands that represented their lived realities and that they loved and then to give them the space to choose those books, read those books, reach out to authors, and share those books during independent reading in class.  For far too long I had struggled to find books that spoke to and saw my kids as real people who exist with real day-to-day lives. I remember the day I finished When I Was The Greatest by Jason Reynolds in 2014 and stormed into my now principal’s office like “THIS IS IT, I FOUND WHAT I’VE BEEN SEARCHING FOR, IT’S THIS.”  When I found Project LIT, I realized this was just a supportive community trying to spread that thing that I’d found and that my kids (read: students) were falling in love with in books. Authors like Jason Reynolds, Angie Thomas, Representative John Lewis, Jacqueline Woodson, Renee Watson, Sharon Draper, Nic Stone, and Jewell Parker Rhodes were already doing this work for kids and Project LIT was just showing what happens when you encourage communities and conversations around those texts. I wanted to share that with as many kids, staff, and families as I could. I also felt like there was not always space for kids to have opportunities for authentic leadership or sharing their talents and passions in our curriculum. Project LIT was a way to create those opportunities to amplify student voice and leadership in our school. I had no idea how much kids would take it and run with it!

Lindsey: I am always looking for opportunities for my students to connect with books in a meaningful way. ProjectLIT provides the opportunity for my students and I to explore a variety of perspectives and to build empathy. My school is 89% caucasian, and in the South, and as much as I can, I want to showcase and highlight books that help my students see the stories of everyone in the world, past and present, so that they celebrate diversity. My school is often thought of as existing in a “bubble,” so it’s important that we break out of that bubble and seek to understand what’s going on in our world and be part of meaningful conversations that will help my students have a broader perspective of our world. I also love the service component of ProjectLIT, and I knew my students would accept the challenge of working to eliminate book deserts.   

Mary: When I started as a librarian at my current school I knew I wanted to offer robust reading programming. After my experiences observing Ashleigh’s chapter meetings and talking with her about the program I knew Project LIT would be a natural fit for my school. With limited time left in the school year, I wanted to try to squeeze one meeting in before summer, and it worked!  

Jessica: I am a pretty spontaneous person and usually jump in head first to try new things. When I saw the application for a chapter leader come out, I jumped at it and haven’t looked back! I knew that starting a student-led book club would only create stronger readers and better critical thinkers! And what better way to get students hooked on books? It was a no-brainer to start this club!

Erika: I wanted to start a Project LIT Book Club in my school as a way to encourage a love of reading while providing access to timely and relevant literature I know students would enjoy and be willing to engage in discussion around.

How often does your ProjectLIT Book Club meet? And where do you meet?

Kimiko: We meet in my classroom usually during second period if I am trying to connect with an author via Skype otherwise we meet during my last period.

Ashleigh: There are two elements to Project LIT at AIM. First, Project LIT is an extra curricular activity – though I encourage kids to read the books during independent reading time in class. This year we met two times a week after school on Tuesdays and Fridays. My kids started calling themselves “LIT Leaders” that attended the Tuesday and Friday meetings where we would listen to the audiobook, discuss big ideas, begin to write discussion and trivia questions, send out Instagram updates, and engage in other bookish pursuits. We also hosted eight full book club meetings this year. These were held on Saturday mornings in our school cafeteria from 10:00 – 11:30 and any students, staff, family members, friends, or other community members were invited. We’re trying a summer meet up at a local park this Saturday, too!

Lindsey: We meet once a month before school for 45 minutes. We have Power Mondays, which are late start days that allow the teachers to be involved in meetings and professional development activities, but the majority of students are at school, hanging out in the gym or cafeteria. We meet in the library.

Mary: So right now the plan is for our middle school and high school groups to meet every other month. Secretly I’m hoping that the student leadership really takes off and they push me to help them organize monthly meetings at both levels! For our first (and only) meeting we met in our school’s theater, which is a big open space that’s sort of akin to a cafeteria.

Jessica: Last school year, our Project LIT chapter met a total of 5 times. We hold our book clubs at 7:30am in our multi-purpose room.

Erika: Because I was new and still getting to know my school and students, and for other logistical reasons, we only hosted two book clubs this year.

What happens at those meetings?

Kimiko: At the meetings we talk about author’s writing style, character relationships, the ending, some students propose questions to guide our discussions.

Ashleigh: We started with just time to hang out and enjoy breakfast for about thirty minutes. Students then took over the reins to lead us in the following activities:

  1. Welcome Message or Ice Breaker
  2. Full Group Circle where everyone shared one big takeaway from the book.
  3. Small Group Discussions
  4. Trivia
  5. Book talk and hand out the next book!

Sometimes we added in another activity here or there – but that was the gist of it.

Lindsey: Here’s a typical meeting:

  • Sign-In- A student is in charge of greeting everyone and making sure students and community guests sign in.
  • Makerspace- We like to have something that kids and guests can work on while we’re waiting for everyone to arrive. We did a book page craft, and we shared our social units with TOWERS FALLING, for example. This allowed kids to engage right away and I find that they overcome shyness or social anxiety when they have a makerspace activity. They began talking about the book while they were working and the meeting hadn’t even officially started yet. It was fun to hear these casual conversations about the books.
  • Introductions- We officially start the meeting, introduce ourselves quickly, and a student introduces our community guests.
  • Trivia- We have 10 trivia questions about the book. We use Google Slides to display the questions/ answers. I like to start with trivia because it can be a fun ice breaker.
  • Discussion- We post a list of discussion questions, and the kids select the questions they want to talk about and drive the conversation.
  • Community Guest share- Our guests share about the work they do in our community to help others and how this connects to our reading.
  • Commercial for the next meeting- There’s a quick book talk for the next book and the meeting info is shared.

Mary: I took the agenda for our meetings directly from Ashleigh and the Project Lit leader resources. Here it is -I put the times on there because it helps me & the students manage time during the meeting!

8:00 – 8:20am: Breakfast & Sign In

8:20 – 8:25am: Ice-Breaker

8:25 – 8:35am:  Full Group Circle

8:35 – 8:50am: Small Group Discussion

8:50 – 9:10am:  Trivia!

9:10am:  Group Photo! & Clean up

9:23am:   Head to 2nd period

Jessica: We talk and EAT! I think that the fellowship is a big part of Project LIT. I like to give a lot of time for students and community members to discuss both about the book and about themselves! In general, our schedule is usually something like this:

First 10 minutes: get food, talk, find your seat, get acquainted, etc

20 minutes: Discuss the book! The students at the table lead the discussion based on questions they created

10 minutes: Trivia (it’s a fierce battle!!). It is so much fun!

Last 10 minutes: Raffle drawings, wrap up, more food, discussion, go to class 🙂

Erika: We followed the Project LIT agenda for book clubs–discussion and trivia questions.

Stop back tomorrow for Part 2 to learn how ProjectLIT empowers students to take leadership roles, how each chapter leader engaged their community and worked on including service learning projects, and advice about how to get the books!






ProjectLIT w/ Jarred Amato: Books Between, Episode 54

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!


Hi everyone and welcome to the Books Between Podcast! I believe in the power of books to help spark deep conversations and help us think through the big ideas in life. My goal is to help you connect kids between 8-12 with those amazing books and share inspiring conversations with the authors and educators who make that magic happen.

I’m your host, Corrina Allen – a mom of two, a 5th grade teacher, and still a bit tired from our trip to the beach yesterday!

This is Episode #54 and today I’m sharing a conversation with Jarred Amato – a high school English teacher and founder of the ProjectLIT Community.

Perhaps like you, I kept hearing about this thing called ProjectLIT and I kept bumping into conversations on Twitter about it. And I since I had questions and definitely wanted to know more – I figured you might as well.  Some disclosure – after chatting with Jarred and after learning more from a wonderful session at NerdCamp last week ( a big thank you to Kimiko, Ashleigh, and Lindsey) , I have decided to start a ProjectLIT Book Club at my school this year for 4th and 5th graders. And promptly bought a shirt and a tank and cup and a hat… because, well – like I told Jarred – I have no chill!

Alright – take a listen!

Jarred Amato – Interview Outline

Welcome to the podcast! Can you take a minute to introduce yourself to our listeners?amato.jpg


What is ProjectLIT and how did it get started?

What does a chapter do?

How are the books selected?

What are the books for the 2018-19 school year?

If someone wanted to start a ProjectLit Chapter in their own community, what would they need to know? And what would they need to do?


One of the things that makes ProjectLITstand out as more than just a book club, is the focus on service projects to increase book access in the school and community.   What are some examples of projects that chapters have been doing?

Did I see you also have a Twitter Chat?  

Tell me about the ProjectLIT Summit!

What are your plans for the future of ProjectLIT?


Your Reading Life

One of the goals of this podcast is to help educators and librarians and parents inspire kids to read more and connect them with amazing books.  Did you have a special teacher or librarian who helped foster your reading life as a child?

What were some of your most influential reads growing up?

What have you been reading lately that you’ve liked?

Jarred’s website –

Jarred on Twitter

ProjectLIT on Twitter

ProjectLIT Chapter Leader Application

#ProjectLITChat Twitter Chat

ProjectLIT swag:

David’s ending to Long Way Down

Dollar General Grant Programs

Donors Choose


Books & Authors We Chatted About:


Goosebumps Series

Matt Christopher books

The Color of Water (James McBride)

Darius the Great is Not Okay (Adib Khorram)

Hope Nation (Rose Brock)



2018-19 ProjectLIT Middle Grade Book Club Selections

Ghost Boys (Jewell Parker Rhodes)

Sunny (Jason Reynolds)

I am Alfonso Jones (Tony Medina)

Amal Unbound (Aisha Saeed)

Rebound (Kwame Alexander)

Like Vanessa (Tami Charles)

The Stars Beneath Our Feet (David Barclay Moore)

Time Bomb (Joelle Charbonneau)

Wishtree (Katherine Applegate)

Amina’s Voice (Hena Khan)

The First Rule of Punk (Celia C. Perez)

The Parker Inheritance (Varian Johnson)


2018-19 ProjectLIT Young Adult Book Club Selections

The Poet X (Elizabeth Acevedo)

When I Was the Greatest (Jason Reynolds)

Born a Crime (Trevor Noah)

Speak (Laurie Halse Anderson)

Tradition (Brenden Kiely)

The 57 Bus (Dashka Slater)

Allegedly (Tiffany Jackson)

Odd One Out (Nic Stone)

Pride (Ibi Zoboi)

Children of Blood and Bone (Tomi Adeyemi)

I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter (Erika L. Sanchez)

Dread Nation (Justina Ireland)

On the Come Up (Angie Thomas)


Alright, that wraps up our show this week!

If you have a question about how to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love or a suggestion about a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Books Between is a proud member of the Education Podcast Network. This network EPN_badgefeatures podcasts for educators, created by educators. For more great content visit

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at And, if you are liking the show, please leave us some love on iTunes or Stitcher so others can discover us as well.

Thanks and see you soon!  Bye!


Corrina Allen is a 5th grade teacher in Central New York and mom of two energetic tween girls. She is passionate about helping kids discover who they are as readers.

Corrina is the host of Books Between – a podcast to help teachers, parents, and librarians connect children between 8 and 12 to books they’ll love.

Find her on Twitter at @corrinaaallen or Instagram at @Corrina_Allen.