Hundreds of Aldine ISD students read the same book this fall. They all took part in the Read It Forward (RIF) program this fall. Reading the RIF book is not mandatory. Instead students read for pleasure.
Read It Forward is a local literacy initiative. Information literacy specialists (ILSs) saturated the campuses with copies of book selected for students. They left extra copies in various spots of the schools and in the library. If students find or pick up a RIF book, they give it a read. They then forward the book to the next person to enjoy.
The books aren’t library books. Students don’t need to check them out. They keep forwarding the book to someone they feel will enjoy it. After students finish reading the book, they visit the library to sign an “I read the RIF book” emblem. The library staff adds their names to a roster of students who will have the opportunity to meet the author.
Aldine was among the school districts in Texas that took part. Intermediate, middle and high school campuses took part. High school students (Grades 9-12) read Unwind by Neal Shusterman. The intermediate students had a choice between two books: Hurricane by Rodman Philbrick and The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage. Both are on the 2015-16 Texas Bluebonnet Award list.
Middle school students The Great Green Heist (2014) by Varian Johnson as the RIF book this year. Publishers Weekly named The Great Green Heist Best Summer Book of 2014. Kirkus praised the novel in its review.
Johnson recently completed a “tour” of AISD. Over a three-day period, he visited nine middle school campuses. Before getting into his discussion of the book, he got to know the students a little bit. Johnson also gave a little backstory about how and why he got into writing. Students learned that Johnson thanks his parents for giving him an early love of reading. From a young age, his mom read to him. As he grew older, he discovered many favorite authors including Judy Blume.
In college he majored in engineering. To this day, he works as an engineer designing bridges. But early on, he found himself writing short descriptions that turned into ideas.
Then he hit a brick wall. His books had done well, but he wanted to do something different. Johnson wanted to see more characters that looked like him. He wanted more diversity.
He also found himself looking back at what inspired him. Johnson remembered a favorite book, The Westing Game (1978) by Ellen Raskin. The Newberry Medal winner is a story about an eccentric millionaire who loves games. The story is full of twists.
He also had a love of science fiction. He admitted that he was a Trekkie by showing the students he could do Spock’s Vulcan salute. The various Star Trek series and movies fascinated him. He also was drawn to great heist stories. The masterminds in heist movies were cool, smart and sophisticated. But he realized that there weren’t many minorities represented in the “lead” roles.
That is when he set out to right a heist story. And he hit a brick wall again. He had never written a story about a heist. Much less a story full of plots, turns, twists and “gotcha” moments. It took several years to write The Great Green Heist.
Johnson gave students an idea of what writing and publishing is like. The process involves editors, copyeditors and others. Johnson asked the students how many of them edited their own work. Several students admitted that they didn’t. Johnson pointed back to the screen. He told students that the parts highlighted in yellow were the “good parts.” Everything else showed edits. The students couldn’t believe it. There were few yellow areas.
“Authors have the concept or idea of their story,” said Johnson. “They put these ideas down on paper or their laptop. But just like anyone else, authors need help in ensuring the grammar is correct. Authors need help ensuring that what we say ‘here’ is the same ‘there.’ Writing and publishing is a collaborative process. Everyone has the same goal. We all want to give the public the best story.“
Before he ended his talk, he answered students’ questions. For example, he still works full-time as an engineer. He also showed students the cover to the sequel of the Jackson Green series, To Catch a Thief. As soon as he said that it would be available January 2016, many students exclaimed, “Yes!”
To close the event, Johnson signed the students’ copy of his book. And he encouraged students to read and write.
“Read It Forward is a way for peers to make book recommendations,” said Buchanan. “If the reader likes the book, they recommend it to a friend. And then that person forwards it to another.
“The program is a great way to get students talking about a book or books as well as instill a love of reading. That is what the research shows us. We hope to introduce them to amazing books. And we hope to help them discover the joy of reading.
“I thank all the ILSs, teacher and staff for helping make this year’s event a success. I thank Varian Johnson for visiting with students. I have to also thank the students for taking part. Most students read the books on their own free time. That tells you how much they liked the books.“
Librarians will select the RIF book for the next fall in Spring 2016.
Director of Written Communication & Spanish Media
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