Saugatuck Elementary School in Westport, CT, celebrated Read Across America Day on March 2, as the kickoff to their second annual One Book, One School initiative. During a suspenseful school-wide assembly, principal Beth Messler raced in to the auditorium filled with more than 500 students, then unwrapped a package containing this year’s selection, Appleblossom the Possum (Dial, 2015) by Holly Goldberg Sloan. She held it triumphantly over her head to cheers and whoops; the unveiling was followed by a Readers Theater skit performed by members of the faculty. It introduced the first two chapters of the story, which is about possums making their way in the world, with Appleblossom, the youngest marsupial, left in a perilous position.
The book, described in a School Library Journal review as an “intensely satisfying and humorous tale that makes possums seem utterly adorable,” will be read by students and their families, aided by staff mystery readers who pre-recorded chapters from the book.
Messler is a strong advocate for the program. “We believe in developing readers inside and outside of school,” she told School Library Journal. “Discussing stories, characters, and themes are all important elements of growing strong readers, and reading aloud is an integral part of this.”
Rae Anne Locke, the school’s library media specialist, is the coordinator of the event. She works closely with a committee consisting of the principal, the literacy coaches, PTA representatives, and classroom teachers. “It is truly collaborative,” says Locke, a 2012 winner of the “I Love My Librarian” award.
The families and staff all received copies of the book courtesy of PTA fundraising. “Any time you have a program that provides a shared experience for everyone in the entire school community…everyone from the custodians, secretaries, nurses, parents, teachers, and paraprofessionals, and students, that is a unifying and meaningful experience. It is fundraising well-invested,” says Jodi Harris, PTA co-president.
“This event is about our families connecting over a read-aloud of the book at home with exciting connections at school,” Locke told School Library Journal. “There is a schedule of chapters to be read aloud each night for three weeks, then we connect the book to school trivia questions, art activities, and an online discussion board for all grades to respond to through open-ended questions.”
Sheela Bhatia, a parent of a third and fourth grader, is enthusiastic about the One Book One School program. She feels that it gives an opportunity to promote family bonding. “We read cuddled up on the bed,” says Bhatia. “It gives families a structure for reading aloud, an impetus to do more reading together. Today, with family life filled with sports and other activities, it is nice to stop, take a breath, and read together.”
Sloan was delighted to learn that her book was chosen. “The idea of focusing a group around a single book creates a single conversation with many voices,” Sloan wrote in an email. “The book is about families. And a school is a family.”
Last year was Saugatuck Elementary’s first year participating in One Book, One School; they selected Kenny and The Dragon (S&S, 2008) by Tony DiTerlizzi. He sent a personal video message on the program’s last day.
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