Librarian Creates Culture of Reading

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When 14-year educator Ann-Marie Kalin took over as librarian at the middle school four years ago, students didn’t always seem too enthusiastic about borrowing books for recreational reading. Ms. Kalin, however, had a plan to change that and transform the library into one of the most popular places in the school.

With inspiration from the National Endowment of the Arts’ Big Read program, she got to work, creating a Big Read program that has middle school students constantly yearning for new books to read.

The program, now in its second year, works like this: Ms. Kalin selects a contemporary book that she believes students can relate to. She then secures as many copies of the book as possible, including hard copies, e-copies and audio versions, and challenges students, teachers and administrators to read the book within a certain time frame. Those who read the selected book are encouraged to discuss it with one another and promote it to those who haven’t yet read it.  

The results, she reports, have been amazing, with students asking to be put on the waiting list for the chosen books and checking out other books that Ms. Kalin recommends in the meantime.

“Circulation has gone up tremendously, even tripling,” Ms. Kalin said.

To further promote the program, Ms. Kalin offers raffle prizes to staff and students who read the selected book and brings in the authors of the works to speak with students. She does her own promotion of the program as well through a “Big Read” wall and by visiting the classrooms to speak with students about the books. In addition, she recruits incoming fifth-graders to start reading the selected books before they enter the middle school.

“We are trying to create a culture of reading,” Ms. Kalin said. “And it doesn’t matter how the book is read. We even have teachers reading these entire books to their classes.”

A large part of the Big Read’s popularity has to do with book selection. While the book’s message is a determining factor, Ms. Kalin said her literary selections are also guided by listening to the students about their likes and dislikes.

For example, one of the first books Ms. Kalin selected was “Wonder” by R. J. Palacio, which weaves a message of kindness through a storyline about a boy born with a facial deformity that prevents him from attending mainstream school.

Eighth-grader Katie Loscalzo said this book was one of her favorites. “He was judged by his appearance, and that happens a lot in real life,” she said.

The students have also been challenged to read Sharon Draper’s “Out of My Mind,” which tells the story of an 11-year-old who can’t walk or talk, but has a photographic memory.

“I really liked the character in this book because even though she had limits, she was able to push beyond them,” said seventh-grader William Wells.

Eighth-grader Tarika Mane said that of the books offered, “A Tale of Dark and Grimm” by Adam Gidwitz was her favorite – mostly because it is fiction and pulls all the Grimm fairy tales into one story, but also because she had the opportunity to meet the author when Ms. Kalin invited him to speak to students.

“The One and Only Ivan” by Katherine Applegate was also popular among students, including seventh-grader Julia Marsala. “I am not a big fan of reading, but I do like the books that Ms. Kalin recommends, like ‘The One and Only Ivan,’ which I can relate to,” she said.

Forthcoming literature includes books by Brian Heinz, who will visit the school in January to teach several writer’s workshops. Other books that will turn up on the Big Read include Kate Milford’s “Greenglass House” and Holly Goldberg Sloan’s “Counting by 7s.”