This year Aldine ISD is partnering with Gulf Coast Reads to take part in a simultaneous reading initiative set for October. The GCR and its partners selected the critically acclaimed novel “Remember Ben Clayton” by Stephen Harrigan for the month-long event.
Cindy Buchanan stated that one of the goals of the event is to develop a culture of reading with not only students but also adults. Buchanan is the program director of library media services.
“The book is not a young adult book,” said Buchanan. “Meaning there aren’t any teenagers in the book. We felt we could better target the book to adults. We want to get folks talking about books and enjoying the interactive experience we hope to provide.
“’Remember Ben Clayton’ is a book for anyone, young and old, that enjoys historical fiction. Harrigan’s plot takes place in Texas just after World War I.”
Buchanan added that campus information literacy specialists (librarians) are encouraging teachers and school leaders to take part. They are also welcoming students who are interested in reading the book. Participants at each campus will meet in a one-time event at to discuss the book.
“We want to get folks talking about books and reading,” said Buchanan. “This event will turn the solitary act of reading into a social event. And word of mouth is the number one way to recommend books and reading.
“If students and staff members see participants enjoying the book, then they will likely be curious about the book. They will see it as something worth reading.”
According to Buchanan, the groups that collaborated with GCR spent a year selecting the book. Information literacy specialists Connie Barber and Dorothy Allen worked together. They developed ideas to make the reading initiative experience both interactive and fun. Barber works at MacArthur High School while Allen works at MacArthur Ninth Grade School. Gulf Coast Reads added their PowerPoint presentation to the organization’s website. Librarians outside the district as well as information literacy specialists within AISD can use the presentation get ideas for their campus events.
“Once we read the book, we discovered or rediscovered things,” said Barber. “I discovered for example that during WWI, there were food rations. I found a recipe for strawberry shortcake from that period using the available ingredients folks had. And I discovered the poem ‘In Flanders Field’ written by John McCrae. In his poem he described how poppies grew around the graves of the fallen.”
“I found myself looking up battles of the Western Front in 1918,” said Allen. “I also read about battles, battlefields and memorials that pay tribute to the Americans who fought and died along the front. We both found ways to connect the book with literature, history, art, and geography. There are also several centennial events around the Houston area that would be interesting to folks.”
Both ladies are already working with staff at their campuses. Barber is also working with a group of retirees from MacArthur High School and has at least three students already reading the book. Allen has 11 staff members who are reading the book. Allen and Barber also encourage parents to join them in October.
Barber and Allen have shared their ideas with information literacy specialists across the district. Other partners with GCR have also contributed ideas and links on the GCR website.
Buchanan said this is the first districtwide simultaneous reading initiative that is targeting adults. And this is the first time the district is working the Gulf Coast Reads.
Gulf Coast Reads and its partners held their last preparation meeting in September. Partners included many libraries within the Harris County Public Library System and college libraries. Other than Aldine ISD, Houston ISD is the only other public school district participating. Partners who attended the last meeting received a special treat. Author Stephen Harrigan video-chatted with the group to show his appreciation.
“Thank you for choosing my book,” said Harrigan. “And thank you for working on this reading initiative. It means a lot. I know this takes a lot of work to put together.”
Buchanan couldn’t agree more.
“I hope that staff members at the campuses support the reading initiative this month,” said Buchanan. “The information literacy specialists have worked hard to make the experience interactive and fun.
“How do you discover the joy of reading? It starts by finding amazing books and we think ‘Remember Ben Clayton’ is a great pick. Discussing a book is a great way to make reading fun. It is a great way to motivate yourself to read and to get deeper into a book. And it is a great way to get young and old interested in reading.”
To find out if your campus is participating or about events planned, contact your campus information literacy specialist. Participants in the GCR initiative will be able to attend other events to meet Harrigan who is planning to make several appearances in the Houston area.
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