Inspiring Avid Readers with the AASL Inspire Special Event Grant

It doesn’t take much to make me happy, and one of the things that brings me great joy is helping students become avid readers. According to, “Avid usually means very eager or enthusiastic. If you’re an avid reader, it means you read as much as you can, whenever you can.” This definition and example are exactly what I am striving for in my role as school librarian at Yorkville Middle School (YMS) in Yorkville, IL. When AASL promoted the Inspire Special Event Grant applications last year, I decided to apply so that I could plan some new programming to inspire my students to become avid readers. Winning the Inspire Special Event Grant is helping us (me and my assistant) do a bigger and bolder push to get kids reading. We decided to promote books with pictures all year long with the theme “Animate Your Reading: Read Books with Pictures!”

Working with my incredible library paraprofessional, Julie Gartung, we regularly promote reading with book fairs, reading clubs like Avid Readers and Comic Book Crew, and try to entice students with in-school programming like blind book dates and thematic book talks. Over the years, I’ve noticed that the part of our collection that looks the worse is also the most used section. Graphic novels, comic books, and manga move quickly among the students. However, there is a large population of students who don’t find books exciting and who have been led to believe that reading books with lots of pictures and images isn’t valuable when they reach our school for 7th grade. I want to change these perceptions and help move more students into that beloved realm of avid readers.

Since starting at YMS in the fall of 2007, we’ve grown our collection of graphic titles to include more than 900 physical books and more than 400 single-issue comic books. We’ve also grown our picture book collection to include more than 300 titles. Using Follet eBooks, Capstone Interactive books, and Sora, our students have access to even more titles from anywhere with an Internet connection given that we are a 1 to 1 school with Chromebooks. My plan for the grant included spending district book funds on increasing our graphic and picture book collections, while planning programming that would inspire students to read and love books with pictures. The first program was planned as a result of the grant was an in-person author visit for my school community, to be held at the local public library. I value my position on the Yorkville Public Library Board and was eager to collaborate with children’s librarian Jennette Weiss to make it a big event. It was intended as a kick-off to the summer reading program we run at the school each summer. The author, a graphic novelist, was coming to Chicago as part of her participation in the ALA Annual Conference. When the conference didn’t happen in person, the visit didn’t happen either. We quickly pivoted and used our speaker funds on summer reading prizes, encouraging students to complete as many rows of bingo on our Graphic Novel Bingo sheet. We purchased multiple copies of every title on our bingo sheets and added them to the Sora platform. I bought bingo balls and held bingo each week via Zoom for the students who signed up for the camp. We mailed every camper who signed up their own bingo sheet and stickers at the beginning of the summer. We set up a weekly book swap outside one of the elementary schools and waited for kids to come and swap books and choose prizes. We celebrated the readers who joined us for summer reading with an ice cream social in the park at the end.

There are more inspiring events planned for the school year and a prize for every student who can finish an entire bingo sheet. In November, we will be hosting our Virtual Family Reading Night, featuring a bookmark-making contest, book giveaways to student attendees, raffles, and a special guest speaker. A local cartoonist and comic book author will be joining the call to answer questions about his work and choose our bookmark winner! The grant is a gift that helps support giveaways like Graphic Novel Bingo t-shirts. I hope that a bus full of students will get to wear these t-shirts on our last event. We hope to use our remaining funds to cover the cost of bussing our new crew of avid readers to C2E2, the Comic and Entertainment Expo held in Chicago each spring. With COVID-19, no in-person events are certain, but I know that winning the AASL Inspire Special Event Grant has helped me support and inspire new avid readers, and we will pivot to make any changes needed to celebrate their inclusion into the best club!

Work Cited:

“Avid – Dictionary Definition.” (accessed October 5, 2020).

Author: Wamecca Rodriguez

Categories: Awards Spotlight, Community

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