Building Relationships through The Gift of Story – an AASL Town Hall event

I’ve been sitting on this news for a few weeks, and I am SO EXCITED to share it with you!

You’re Invited to join Courtney Pentland, AASL President, and John Schu for a conversation about his book on May 7th from 6:00-7:00 pm CST.

When ALA president, Emily Drabinski, gifted AASL with some of her president’s initiative funds for a youth-focused initiative, I thought deeply about what could do the most good across the country. I wanted to make sure that whatever I picked was inclusive so that any school librarian, in any state, would be able to benefit.

As this was whirling around my brain, I was also thinking about how to build relationships with school librarians in my area that were outside of my district. I thought, what’s more fun than a book club?

Sylvia Knight Norton, AASL’s executive director, asked if I was going to do this on a national level. I thought, well that might be fun! And, then it hit me. We should do a nationwide book club event! 

One of the best ways to build relationships with others is to gather in conversation about something you are passionate about. I thought – This could be a truly meaningful way for school librarians from all of the United States to connect with each other! 

Then, the realistic side of my brain said, but how are you actually going to pull that off? What book would we read? How would people get a copy? Should we do an author visit with it to make it even more exciting? (This is what I do with my high schoolers 🙂)

And, then it hit me. (Imagine a lightbulb turning on over my head) – What if we use the money gifted to AASL to make the book event happen?! And, since 2020, all school librarians have been invited to join AASL Town Halls to come together to discuss a wide range of topics. A virtual Town Hall would be a great place for a book conversation to take place!

We would want to make sure the book would be something that would improve our work with learners in our schools, districts, etc. to ensure it was youth-focused. So, while there are tons of really awesome fiction books to choose from, it would be difficult to pick something that would appeal PK-12. Plus, I wanted to find something that was more about school librarian practice than a specific title our students might read. And, I wanted it to be uplifting and inspirational…

So, what book could we read that fit all of these criteria? And, how would people get copies? More pondering ensued.

Something brought my thoughts back to November when I attended the Tennessee Association of School Librarians conference as part of my AASL leadership visits to AASL Chapters. While there I was able to meet in person for the first time Mr. John Schu. If you don’t know who he is, just google him. If school libraries had rockstars, he would be one of them for sure.

A few years ago, Mr. Schu wrote a book called The Gift of Story. From the heart on the cover to the heart shared throughout its pages, this is a professional book that exudes joy. The back cover asserts – “When we share our hearts through story, we inspire others to think more deeply about their own hearts and how stories connect us all…Mr. Schu invites readers to consider literacy beyond its academic benefits, highlighting the ways story speaks to our hearts and brings us together.”

Plus, this is a professional book that isn’t too long, is visually engaging, and can appeal to school librarians at any level, in any type of school environment. It seemed perfect!

Just one catch, I needed to make sure Mr. Schu was interested and available. He’s a busy guy. Again, if you know anything about him, you will not be surprised that he was 100% on board with this idea. AND, he just so happened to have an opening in his calendar on the day we wanted to do the book conversation AND his publisher had just sent him a reader’s study guide for the book. I told him that this must be kismet, because all the pieces fell into place so easily.

Now we just needed to figure out what to do about getting the books to people. 

I wanted to make sure that books went to people who had a financial need and would not be able to purchase one themselves.

  • If you already have a copy, YEAH YOU! And, please, if you are able, buy your own copy and leave the freebies for those who cannot.
  • Only AASL members are eligible to apply for a free copy and must do so between March 4 and March 11, 2024
  • 100 “winners” will be randomly drawn. Both winners and those who were not randomly selected will be notified via email.

*Our sincere apologies, but we cannot mail out free copies to folks outside of the U.S.

NOTE:  Everyone who would like to be part of the conversation must register for the Town Hall. And, anyone who would like to apply for a free book, will need to do so through a separate link that will require them to log into ALA Connect. You can find more information here:

There is also a link to the book’s website that includes the study guide link if you’d like to use that while reading the book.

And, even more logistics. Where would we get the books? How would they get mailed out to everyone? Well, I love a good independent bookstore, and we have a great one where I live, so I reached out, and they said they could help us! So, thank you to The Bookworm in Omaha, NE for helping us purchase and mail out books to our lucky 100 “winners.”

I am beyond thrilled that we are able to provide this opportunity through the generosity of ALA President Emily Drabinski’s gift, the generosity of Mr. Schu’s gift of his time, and the support of my local bookstore. 

Happy Reading everyone! And, I hope I will see you for this Town Hall Book Conversation on Tuesday May 7th at 6:00 PM CST.

p.s. Some of the book titles you will read about in the book are not the brand-newest, but I am hoping the group that joins us on May 7th can help us add even more titles to our toolboxes in addition to those included in the book.


Author: Courtney Pentland, AASL President 2023-2024

Categories: Community/Teacher Collaboration

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.