By Elizabeth Muster
When I was hired as F.T. Burns Middle School’s library media specialist in the spring of 2016, one of my first tasks was to decide whether to continue the One School, One Book program that the librarian before me had implemented.
If you are unfamiliar with this initiative, readtothem.org is a great place to start, but basically every student and staff member reads the same book at the same time. Our past selections have included Ben Mikaelson’s “Touching Spirit Bear,” Margaret McMullen’s “How I Found the Strong,” Rick Riordan’s “The Lightning Thief,” Cynthia Lord’s “Rules,” Tony Abbott’s “Firegirl,” Sean Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens,” and Gary Paulsen’s “Woodsrunner” and “Road Trip.”
According to a SurveyMonkey poll, 75 percent of our faculty supported the program’s continuation because it fosters literacy and community throughout our school of 835 6th-, 7th- and 8th-graders. Choosing a book with a valuable central theme that appeals to the majority of our students – who cover the Lexile scale – can be extremely difficult, but I knew just the book I would recommend.
A month earlier, one of my 6th-grade English language arts students had enthusiastically handed me her copy of “Saving Wonder” by Mary Knight. One afternoon during spring break, I opened the first chapter titled “C” for “conundrum” and didn’t stop until the last chapter, “Y” for “yes.” In each chapter, the main character, Curley Hines, is given a word by his grandpa to study for two weeks. Some of the words are simple and straightforward, while other are more complex and cause Curley to examine both the word’s meaning and his life’s purpose as he and his best friend (maybe girlfriend) Jules protest against a coal mining company wanting to level the top of Red Hawk Mountain. The characters were relatable, the descriptions of the Appalachians of Eastern Kentucky were beautiful and the themes were relevant to my middle school students.
Over the summer, I formed a committee of eight teachers from across content areas and grade levels to help me make the final selection and to create a One Book, One School reading schedule. Besides “Saving Wonder,” we also read a science fiction young adult choice and an autobiography. We decided on “Saving Wonder” because it strongly correlated with our schoolwide leadership theme for the 2016-17 school year: “Stand.” Also, the length and the reading level were suitable for our students and our time frame.
Choosing a book can be a difficult decision to make, because the goals of the program must be weighed against loss of instructional time. We determined that teachers from every content area would read aloud a chapter a day to students, rotating through our six class periods over the course of four weeks.
Next, I emailed author Mary Knight through her website and introduced her to our school, our program and myself. The author could not have been more supportive or enthusiastic, and she put me in contact with Michelle Campbell of Scholastic books. With our bulk order and an author-visit discount, the price of each book came in just under the $5 One Book fee we collected from students at the beginning of the school year.
Knight developed questions for teachers to implement in leadership classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Plus, she shared a project with us that all students participated in during their practical arts classes upon completion of the novel. Every student decorated a paper plate with pictures hand-drawn, cut from magazines or printed from the computer representing what he or she stands for. On the back, students wrote a corresponding poem. Many of these now adorn the windows of our library media center.
The One-Book reading quickly engaged students, faculty and staff throughout our school. One of my 7th-grade library workers read his copy of the book the day he received it. During designated reading times, I strolled the halls finding students listening intently to their teachers reading aloud or engaging in discussions. “Saving Wonder” became part of our schoolwide culture, as custodians and lunchroom staff received copies as well.
The author visit served as our culminating activity for the One Book, One School program. Students attended hour-long sessions during their language arts classes, allowing Knight to address groups of approximately 150 students. For the first 20 minutes, she shared a PowerPoint about the power of words and what “Saving Wonder” stands for. It correlated perfectly with our schoolwide theme. At the end, she signed books for students. A few still proudly carry their autographed copies in their trappers.
Knight stayed for two days to allow for breaks between presentations. On the second day, 25 students and a few faculty members ate lunch in the library with her for a more personal setting. These students were my library workers, members of the library leadership team and contestants for a “Saving Wonder” writing contest sponsored by the writing leadership team. During her time in Owensboro, Knight also presented at the Daviess County Public Library and ate dinner with aspiring writers.
The author visit garnered great press coverage for our school, but the enthusiasm of our students and the respect they showed Knight was the best part of all. If you would like more details on our One School, One Book program at F.T. Burns Middle School, you may email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on “Saving Wonder,” Mary Knight and her author visits, visit Scholastic.com.
First as an English language arts teacher and now as the library media specialist, Elizabeth Muster has shared her love of literature with the students of F.T. Burns Middle School in Daviess County for 15 years. She also enjoys reading to her 14-month-old daughter, Maddie Grace, and writing for Owensboro Living and Owensboro Parent magazines.