“Dang. They’ve got some good books here!”
We don’t always eavesdrop on student conversations. But our ears perk up when we hear compliments about our collection here at the Butler Traditional High library in Louisville, Kentucky. And we do a happy dance—in our heads, of course—every time a student checks out one of our four featured ReadWokeButler book club selections.
Happy dancing in 2020? Not so much. As Covid picked up speed, our school district transitioned to remote learning for most of the year, and the local police killing of Breonna Taylor sparked months of protests as our city grappled with issues of social justice and racial equity. But a new year brought new hope and had us brainstorming how our library could help students heal and engage. Enter ReadWokeButler.
A Little Help from (Generous) Friends
With support from the AASL Inspire Special Event Grant sponsored by Marney Welmers, we launched our year-long initiative that features book clubs, reading incentives, and a ReadWokeButler celebration finale. Inspired by Read Woke founder Cicely Lewis—who encourages her students to read books that “challenge a social norm; give voice to the voiceless; provide information about a group that has been disenfranchised; seek to challenge the status quo; and include a protagonist from an underrepresented or oppressed group”—we began to build our initiative around a theme alert to diversity and inclusion: Diversify your reading experience to promote treating others with dignity and respect.
Choosing four good reads for our book club was our next fun, but difficult, task—so many good books to consider! We finally decided on Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas, We Are Not from Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez, Almost American Girl by Robin Ha, and Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam. We felt this foursome represented diverse points-of-view, would appeal to a wide audience, had true-to-life characters, and, frankly, we couldn’t put them down. As we combed our shelves, noting additional culturally responsive material to offer students, the unthinkable happened. The good unthinkable. We received a generous grant from Snapdragon Book Foundation to purchase a slew of new Read Woke books to fill our displays and round out our collection.
With a new school year just weeks away, we devised a reading incentive: the more books you read, the more prizes you can win. We also worked with our district’s materials and productions department to design marketing materials: a logo (great for t-shirts), posters, postcards, and bookmarks. We placed our new book orders, planned our bookstore-vibe book displays, and created a promotional video for teachers to show in their classrooms.
On the first day of school, we threw open the library’s big double doors and hoped our students would be as excited about ReadWokeButler as we are.
She Said, He Said, They Said… This
“How many can we check out at a time?”
“Can I come to all the book club meetings?”
“This library looks like a bookstore!”
“I’m taking pictures of the covers to remember which ones I want next!”
The reaction to ReadWokeButler from our students has been worthy of a happy dance. One student who has a Haitian grandparent was excited to check out Dear Haiti, Love Alaine by Maika Moulite. When she told us her other grandparent was from the Dominican Republic, we introduced her to Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo. Another student—a graphic novel enthusiast—couldn’t wait to take home When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed. The student explained her parents immigrated to our community from Somalia and, like the characters in the novel, spent time in a refugee camp in Kenya. When the student returned the book, she said she and her mom talked about life in a refugee camp and what scenes in the book rang true. Students seeing themselves and their families reflected in ReadWokeButler books speaks volumes. Pun intended.
We’ve Only Just Begun
As I write this blog, we are two weeks away from our first book club event featuring Concrete Rose. Thirty-five students have already checked it out and plan to attend the meeting. During the class change this morning, one student was reading her copy while precariously navigating the crowded hallway. She glanced up to duck into the library. “Are you liking it?” I asked. “I’m already on page 102!” she called out, and resumed her read-walking.
We are so thankful for our ReadWokeButler learning community “partners” (that is how we think of them): AASL and Marney Welmers, Snapdragon Book Foundation, and, of course, Cicely Lewis. With their support and inspiration, ReadWokeButler aims to empower students to start difficult conversations, respect other cultures and points-of-view, and promote positive change. We invite others to take our seeds and grow their own initiatives so we can all heal, grow stronger, and build more compassionate, empathetic communities.