If you have had a child at Harrison Middle School (HMS) in the last six years, you may have heard of a program called, “One Book, One School” introduced by Merry Stuhr, the HMS librarian. The idea is that the entire middle school (grades 5 to 8) read the same book at the same time. The culminating event is a visit by the author.
The first step is to choose the book, which is generally done in the spring. Merry meets with staff members in Language Arts to select a book that will provoke deep, thoughtful discussion. Then Merry contacts the author to find out if a visit can be arranged. This year, “The Night Divided” was the book that was chosen and we were lucky enough to have the author, Jennifer Nielsen, available to visit in November.
An announcement is made to the students at the beginning of the school year with the name of the book and the author. This year, Jennifer Nielsen sent a video to Harrison Middle School telling the students how excited she was to be part of the program and that she would be visiting to discuss the book in person. The students were looking forward to getting started!
The teachers read the book aloud to the students over the course of several weeks. In this way, all of the students in the school are at the same point. Studies have shown that reading aloud to students helps them to listen better and longer, improves their vocabulary, makes them feel more positive about books and learning, and much more. Throughout the story, students are broken up into mixed grade groups with older grades leading the younger grades in meaningful discussions about the book.
After everyone has finished, it is time for the author visit. I am a huge Jennifer Nielsen fan and was lucky enough to receive an invitation from Merry to hear her speak to the students. Merry packed up 50 boxes of books and moved all of her shelves to transform the library into an amphitheater that would hold an entire grade. Jennifer presented to each grade throughout the day, tailoring her discussion to make it appropriate for the age group in her audience.
Wow. It was absolutely incredible to see. Jennifer is a born story teller and wove fascinating historical facts into cliffhanger tales of survival. Over 100 kids per presentation sat in rapt attention as she raised ethical questions and challenged them to reach for higher goals and break down walls.
When I saw my daughter Lila (who is in fifth grade) after school, she and her friends were talking animatedly about the presentation and the book. One of her friends was already half-way through another book by the same author. When Lila got home, she wanted to start writing down ideas for her own stories. One Book, One School is a program that is offered every other year at HMS so most students will have the experience twice during their middle school years. Merry funds the program through an event that she created called the Literary Gala. The Literary Gala is a celebration of reading that includes a Poetry Deli, Book Fair, Book Art, Silent Auction, Refreshments and more. The Gala takes place every fall at HMS.