Picture books. Who doesn’t remember looking at a favorite picture book over and over until it became worn and tattered? Who doesn’t love sharing favorite picture books now with those eager little readers as they delight over the colors and drawings that come together to tell a story? To celebrate National Picture Book Month, we’re sharing an article from our archives by Jennifer Kelley Reed about creating a successful picture book celebration at your school.
Picture Book Month is “an international literacy initiative that celebrates the print picture book during the month of November” (http://picturebookmonth.com/). The initiative affords libraries, schools, and literacy organizations the opportunity to promote the power of the picture book. Our school has participated for the last five years, and each year we have been building on our experiences, extending the reach of the activities from the library to the classroom to students’ homes. Our most recent celebration was a success on many fronts—it reminded K-5 students about the richness, information, and enjoyment of picture books, boosted library circulation, and strengthened the connection from our school to students’ families.
Individualizing Student Experiences
In our latest observance, the celebration lasted for the entire month of November, and we focused activities on students’ individual connections with picture books. Students in grades three through five challenged themselves to read a specific number of picture books from one of three “neighborhoods” in the library: biographies, picture books, or nonfiction. They were encouraged to set realistic goals for themselves, and to keep in mind that they weren’t in competition with other students, but instead enjoying the opportunity to explore and read books in a neighborhood they didn’t often frequent. It was clear that students heard the message, with some committing to read ten books, while others committed to fifty.
For the students in grades one and two, we focused on a nonfiction Picture Book Month challenge. For the month of November, I had more students than ever before coming to the library to exchange books, sharing what they were learning while reading, and marking the numbers on their challenge sheets. (This video on my blog shows the state of the library in the midst of Picture Book Month: http://reederama.blogspot.com/2014/11/what-does-school-library-in-midst-of.html.)
Was Picture Book Month successful? Given how empty the shelves were, I think so! That we nearly tripled our circulation statistics from the same time period the previous year speaks volumes. The circulation statistics in the challenge areas all rose, the most dramatic being picture books from the “P” neighborhood, but nonfiction circulation doubled, and biographies rose as well. As important as the circulation statistics are, it was the formative assessments that were my measure of success—for example, the second graders who shared their new knowledge with me via posters. Reading nonfiction was good for their brains—and mine. We all learned new facts. (Did you know penguins drink the salt water from the ocean, and then separate the salt and spit it back out?)
Connecting Back Home
Events like Picture Book Month can lead to learning outcomes at school, but these events can also foster home–school connections by strengthening parent involvement in the library program. Classroom teachers and families quickly rallied behind this initiative, but it was the parents who ensured its success. The parents demonstrated an impressive amount of support in two ways. First, they encouraged, supported, and joined in the reading of picture books at home. I heard frequently of the empty state of bookshelves at home (they were all getting read) and the “emergency runs” to the public library to get more books. They were answering their children’s enthusiasm with their own. Students were sent in with canvas bags and bigger backpacks to carry the large book stacks home.
For our school, a vibrant and valuable parent volunteer program builds this home–school connection further. Just as important as the time spent supporting reading at home was the parents’ commitment to keeping the library in a condition where students could browse. We circulated over 6,000 books in 30 days and I needed as much help as possible circulating and reshelving books. Parent volunteers take on various tasks, from one-time projects that they can do at home, such as creating signage, to shelf reading at regular intervals. There is also a sign-up sheet for volunteers for each class period. Taking advantage of the few minutes of transition time when teachers arrive to pick up their students allowed for face-to-face updates and explanations with teachers. Promotion and outreach with parents occurred in much the same manner. Quiet moments between classes were the perfect opportunity to talk up the event and generate enthusiasm and support.
Picture Book Month showed me how much parents have taken ownership of our library program. They reached out to me to offer additional assistance, like this parent who said,
“Hi Mrs. Reed, I hope all is well with you. I would like to come tomorrow to help for a couple of hours with the books. Do you still need any help? If yes I can come right after the star assembly tomorrow morning. Please let me know. I would love to come.”
Some parents spread the word to each other that help was needed, much like this parent did:
“Good morning, and a quick shout out about the school library. If you have 10 minutes at any point in the day to help check in and shelve books it would be greatly appreciated. It truly takes a minute to learn and the amazing Mrs. Reed can point you in the right direction! I’ve been helping in the library on and off for 10 years now and I have never seen the shelves so bare. After drop off / before pick ups or other times during school day would be a great help! Thank you!!”
Communicating and Building Relationships with Families
Given that not all parents are able to volunteer in the library, communication ensures that all parents feel included and invested, whether events are shared via web presence like a blog or webpage or through newsletters and e-mails. On my blog, Reederama, I write about the happenings in the library, including the books we read, the projects the students produce, and the events in the library. I know that the parents read the blog because they come in talking about it. It was also reaffirming to see the parents rally behind my EduBlog Awards nomination. Reederama started out as an advocacy tool, but quickly became a conversation between the families and me, and with other people passionate about children’s literature and school libraries.
Along with the blog, our library Web page is a source of information, updates, projects, and resources. A periodic e-mail blast goes out to the parents reminding them of all that can be found on the Web page. Newsletter postings and e-mails through the classroom teacher or PTO round out the outreach efforts. Staff and families received repeated promotions for the event on the school news conference. Several countdown e-mails were sent along with weekly updates once November began.
To build strong relationships, I recommend being accessible to your parents. I see our program as a resource for the school community as a whole, not just the students. Parents often stop by to get advice and borrow books. I have been known to send a parent home with a book stack to lure a reluctant reader. I am also happy to answer e-mails and put together lists for parents that way. Each fall, the PTO sponsors a book fair, during which there is a Pajama Party Read Aloud from 6:00-8:00 pm.The parents asked me to help generate excitement by promoting a box decoration contest, which had the students decorating shoeboxes in a theme, genre, or focus on an author/illustrator. I also pull books for the read aloud— always a scary stories room, usually a poetry room, and we alternate between picture book biographies and funny stories room. I am fortunate to have parent volunteers who are not only wonderful, but also really dedicated.
As a lone person in the library, it is easy for me to forget to ask for help. Thankfully, the PTO Presidents check in often and are always there to offer help— from jumping in to fill a void to sending off a quick e-mail blast or newsletter post like this:
“The books are overflowing! The books are overflowing! The Picture Book Challenge was amazingly successful but now the books are returning. Please help by shelving 10 books— or however many you have time for—any time (or as often as you can!) during the next few weeks. Ms. Reed and the M-R students will be very grateful!”
The parents’ involvement in and support of the library program are instrumental in its success. From the parent whose schedule doesn’t allow for volunteer time during the school day but who reads at home, to the parent who manages to find a little time each week to stop into the library to help, their efforts add up. I think the parents know how much I value their commitment to the library program and how each bit helps.
Being a Weaver of Webs
The library program is the natural vehicle to engage parental involvement in literacy-based, school community-wide events. As librarians, we have the infrastructure in place: access to all the students, contact with parent volunteers who are advocates and supporters, and organizational skills. We are natural-born weavers. We see and make connections with people, between people, with books and resources, and between books and resources. In this instance, November included many events to weave together: Picture Book Month, the book fair and pajama read aloud, and a visit from author Kevin Hawkes. The home–school connection can be the glue that keeps the web strong. It all starts with student engagement and ownership of the library program. Add to this a vibrant parent volunteer program and consistent outreach and communication and you have a solid foundation for home–school collaboration. Taking the time to establish relationships and to be a resource partner will cement connection.
Jennifer Kelley Reed, MLIS, is a teacher librarian at Mason-Rice Elementary School in Newton, MA. Jennifer received her master’s degree in library and information science from Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts. You can follow Jennifer on Twitter @libraryreeder or visit her blog at www.reederama.blogpost.com