For 23 years, the Horace Mann School in the Bronx, NY, has hosted our Book Day, a day each spring when the school community — students, faculty, parents, and alumni — along with a host of guest speakers turn our attention to exploring the issues and themes raised in a single book. Classes in our Upper Division for our 740 students and 150 faculty members are cancelled for the day so that students and faculty can give their full attention to the day’s proceedings. The day is an exploration of one work through interdisciplinary workshops, discussions, art and theater pieces, and larger assemblies. This year the school is tackling the very raw emotions and personal narrative in Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. Books in recent years have included Chris Bojhalian’s novel of the Armenian Genocide, The Sandcastle Girls; E.L. Doctorow’s The March; Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and Oliver Sacks’ work, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. All of the students in the Upper Division have read Coates’ book and teachers have been incorporating the title into their curriculum throughout the year.
In several of the past Book Days we were able to invite the author of the selection to join us for the day. Last year, Chris Bohjalian, along with the director of the upcoming movie of “The Sandcastle Girls,” joined us for the whole day to discuss the Armenian Genocide and other genocides in the 20th and 21st centuries. In 2009 Ann Patchett joined us to discuss her novel Bel Canto and started us off on a day-long adventure exploring terrorism, translation, hostage crises, the diplomacy of chess, and a wide variety of other topics. In 2008, E. L. Doctorow joined us for a brilliant exploration of life at the turn of the century in the United States in Ragtime; he was supposed to join us for The March in 2015 but he fell ill and historian Eric Foner stepped in to take his place. In 2007 we read both plays that comprise Angels in America, and we were joined by Tony Kushner as our keynote speaker for the event. In 2004 Tim O’Brien joined us as the keynote speaker for the opening assembly for his book The Things They Carried, and Walter Cronkite and Reuven Frank, former president of NBC Nightly News during the Vietnam War — and both grandparents of students at Horace Mann –, joined us at the closing assembly to discuss the role of the media during war.
Book Day consists of an opening assembly at 8:45 in which a student musical or acting piece is followed by a keynote speaker. This year we are being joined by Dr. Jelani Cobb for the keynote address. Dr. Cobb is a regular contributor to The New Yorker and was featured recently in the Academy Award-nominated documentary feature, “The 13th.” The assembly is followed by four breakout sessions, which are 55 minutes in length, with an hour lunch breaking up the day. The workshops run up to the closing assembly at 3:00. This year’s closing assembly will feature an original rap song about Between the World and Me; students in our HM Stomp dance troupe; and one of our own alumni from the Class of 2008 — Chidi Akusobi — reflecting on his American Dream and the journey he has traveled from arriving in the U.S. as a two-year-old from Nigeria through his recent work in epidemiology and infectious diseases.
Here is a link to this year’s Book Day — Between the World and Me. And think about how you might be able to bring a program like Book Day to your own school. This year’s AISL Summer Institute, hosted by Horace Mann School, will focus on this idea of “one school, one book.” The dates of the Summer Institute are June 27-29, with the check in on the evening of June 27, followed by two full days of program planning and sessions on the nuts and bolts of putting together a similar type day that makes sense for your school.
To register for the Summer Institute, please click on this link. You’ll find the full schedule of the day and what to expect to get from the two days of workshops and discussions. If you have any questions about the Summer Institute, please feel free to email me at Caroline_Bartels@horacemann.org.