Kwame Alexander, Follett Launch 'Bookfest' Classroom Book Clubs

The new classroom book club program for grades 38 includes the titles, educator and discussion guides, and access to a podcast hosted by Alexander.

Newbery Medalwinning author Kwame Alexander went to Follett with an idea that had been “ruminating” for a while.

“As much as I love writing books, and as much as I love getting my books in the kids’ hands, I can only write so many,” he says.

Kids and teachers were always emailing him to ask when the next book was coming.

“My love is writing books,” said Alexander. “My mission is to create opportunities for other writers to be able to shine and share their views, their ideas, their understandings, [and] their imaginations with the world. So it seemed like the smartest thing to do—instead of trying to kill myself and write a whole bunch of books—was to shine a light on other people who were writing.”

Partnering with Follett, Alexander has launched Kwame Alexander Bookfest, a classroom book club collection for grades 38. The multimedia program includes the books, educator guides, discussion guides, and access to a podcast where Alexander speaks with some of the authors included on the booklists.

Alexander curated the lists of titles with the help of educators, literacy experts, and fellow writers.

“As smart and as cool as I think I am…there’s people who are smarter and way cooler than me, and I listened to them during this process,” he says laughing.

Alexander wanted to create book club lists for K12 but was convinced to narrow it down a bit by people at Follett. This age group just made sense, says Britten Follett, CEO of Follett Content Solutions.

“That's where the biggest need is,” says Follett. “It's that moment in time where students either fall in love with literature or fall in love with something else. Our goals are to get kids to fall in love with these books and want to come back to either the classroom library or the physical library to read the next one by this new author that they discovered through the book club.”

The goal is to not only connect young readers with authors and books, but with one another. Kids play cards in the library, shoot baskets in the gym, hand out at lunch, says Alexander, “How about we create an environment where kids can collaborate around a book? We create a community of literature. We can get the same results, which is ultimately to help kids connect with each other and to become better human beings, to be more empathetic. We think of Bookfest as some kids hanging out at the amusement park. It just so happens that the amusement park is books—books that are going to help them imagine a better world.”

The timing couldn’t be better, according to Follett.

“It also is so important as we're emerging from pandemic, and students are struggling to develop those social-emotional skills, interpersonal skills that they lost during the time just doing screen time,” says Follett. “This is an opportunity for kids to talk about books. And if two kids read the same book, and they find something in common associated with that book, they can build that relationship from there. Never in our history has there been a more important time to have kids connect with each other.”

They will feel a connection to Alexander, too, she predicts.

“Students love to hear from Kwame himself, and it's almost as if his voice is coming through every piece in the collection,” says Follett.

That is particularly true of the podcast.

“I got to laugh it up and interrogate and get behind-the-scenes with some of my friends and favorite writers,” Alexander says of the episodes that include conversations with Kekla Magoon, Jason Reynolds, Cece Bell, Jasmine Warga, and Pablo Cartaya, among others.

“We got inside their lives and sort of found out some interesting stories about them,” Alexander says. “Ultimately, yeah, we want to read the books, but we want to know about who made the books, we want to know what went into you making this book. Who are you? What do you like to eat? What kind of car do you drive? You know, all these questions we get on our school visits.”

A classroom book club may not be a new idea, but Alexander wants to do it a new way.

“I like to think we're taking what's been done in the past, and we're remixing it,” he says. “We're giving a new set of eyes. We’re giving it a fresh approach. We're offering a podcast that goes along with the book club. We’re understanding the connection between reading and writing. So that once your kids are reading and they're excited about it, we're going to take the next leap. We're going to give them tools and resources to then begin to respond to that literature, to that excitement, through writing. We're doing some new things to an age-old idea, and I like to think that this is going to be the coolest book club and classroom library ever.”

Read the full press release from Follett below.


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Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (, @karayorio) is senior news editor at School Library Journal.

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