One School, One Book – fingers crossed and breath held

[Correction: I originally credited one of the guides linked in this post to Amy Voorhees. The guide was actually created by Nancy Florio. So sorry for the error!]

The summer before I arrived at this school, someone made an attempt to start an all-school summer reading initiative. It did not work out. I don’t really know the details, but from what I gleaned in the aftermath, the book wasn’t chosen carefully enough, buy-in wasn’t built…I’m not sure what else happened. All I know is that there were boxes of unused copies of the book in my library storage room and a clear “don’t try this again anytime soon” vibe coming from pretty much everyone. So, I didn’t. Until now.

Thanks to a graduate of the class of 2021, we are launching One School, One Book for summer 2022. Brenna spent her senior year conducting research on books that are and are not typically assigned to students in independent schools through their English sources. She did this for her Honors Statistics Research course, one of our six capstone courses for seniors. She concluded not only that many voices are underrepresented in high school English courses, but that some types of stories may be better experienced outside of class and within different kinds of reading communities. In the end, she proposed One School, One Book (OSOB) as a new way the school can engage students and community members in reading experiences that act as mirrors for some, windows for others, and (we hope) provide an opportunity for community-building around literature.

Her proposal was approved, she graduated, and then it became time for me to make this happen. Eeks! For those of you who do this regularly, you rock. So far, it’s a bigger undertaking than I imagined, but it’s so much fun. While we’re experiencing a few novice hiccups, things are chugging along. We started by consulting the ALA guide and this excellent one from Nancy Florio at an AISL Summer Institute (thanks, Nancy!). We then set out to create our book selection committee, which consists of twenty-two members – a combination of current students, alumnae, teachers, staff, and parents. We drafted a mission statement:

One School, One Book (OSOB) brings the Flintridge Sacred Heart community together – students, faculty, staff, alums, and parents – to share a reading experience that amplifies the voices and experiences of  mis- or underrepresented individuals and groups. It is an opportunity to discuss stories that may diverge from our own lived experiences, as well as to find our own stories in the books we read. One School, One Book  is designed to engage our minds collectively, to exercise our compassionate hearts, and to open our arms to diverse and inclusive perspectives. 

Then we started talking about books. In the beginning, we created a list of thirty-eight books (curated by library staff and some committee members). After reviewing synopses and book reviews, we narrowed our list to five titles that the committee would read over the course of about two months. They were all YA titles, since we wanted to keep the books suitable for all students grades nine to twelve, and since we wanted the protagonist to be in that age range. We were sensitive to the length of the books and our students’ other summer reading and homework obligations, so books over 325 pages were excluded (a difficult choice!). And then, we read.

Committee members submitted written feedback as they read, but the best discussion came from the zooms we held during those two months. It was so much fun to talk with these amazing readers about the books in such detail. Would the story resonate with our community? What would our students gain from reading each book? What community engagement opportunities would there be? How will we create excitement around whichever title we choose? This has been, so far, my favorite part of the process.

Did I worry at one point that we wouldn’t agree on a book and that we’d have to delay another year and that the entire thing would crumble before we’d even really started? YES! Our entire committee agreed that if that happened, it would be ok. We’d try again next year with another batch of books. We wouldn’t be discouraged.

We voted, and though not everyone was head over heels about the same titles, we did have a clear majority winner. This summer, our One School, One Book selection is Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram. We are so stupidly excited about this book! It may seem odd to have chosen a book about a boy for an all-girls school, but it’s actually a great fit. Darius is a fantastic kid, for one. And a book about a boy may ensure that none of our students feel completely spotlit by our selection, which some of the other books may have done. Darius includes important storylines about friendship, family connections, depression, intergenerational communication, and living with multiple identities (not all of which feel ‘right’ all the time). It also includes soccer, tea, Star Trek, and lots of other topics that we can design activities and events around for the fall.

Now that we’ve chosen the book, it’s time to really get down to business. This is where novice hiccups will probably show up the most. We’re going for local bookseller sponsors, parent involvement, faculty buy-in, student buy-in, and the participation of our entire community. Will this effort flop like the one more than a decade ago? I really don’t think so (fingers crossed and knock on wood). We’ve been thoughtful and thorough so far, I believe. We have a great team assembled, I know. We are flexible. We are ok with some novice hiccups.  If this all works out, we’ll have an annual program in place that was started because of a student’s capstone project, which is pretty cool. 

So wish us luck! And for those of you who’ve done this before, please send advice !

3 thoughts on “One School, One Book – fingers crossed and breath held

  1. This is such a great undertaking! I am impressed by all the work that goes into it and hope all your efforts pay off!

  2. Well, well done on work to date, Nora – what a thoughtful and timely process you’ve navigated, with so many rich discussions along the way! And I love how it’s all grounded in student research!

    Kudos on the excellent book choice – Darius is sure to resonate with so many students (be sure to have multiple copies of the sequel as there’s sure to be demand!)

    This is ve y

    • Love that the revival of this program was initiated by a student, now recent alum! Seems like you have a very flexible mindset and attitude when it comes to the rollout of this “pilot” program. No doubt that your passion for the program is palpable to students. Good luck!

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