We’re so excited here at the Texas Book Festival to expand our Reading Rock Stars youth literacy program to another Texas city this year—Dallas! It’s been quite the ride putting it all together. Since Dallas is the city our co-founder, Laura Bush, calls home, she’s been an important part of the process of selecting the school and will be joining us there to present her latest book for children, Our Great Big Backyard.
Our Outreach Coordinator, Lea, is here to tell us more about what all goes into building a Reading Rock Stars school partnership.
Finding a school:
There’s a lot that goes into finding a school to partner with for our Reading Rock Stars program. Do they have a librarian? Is the school leader open to exploring new programs? Is there capacity? What is the need in the community? Reading Rock Stars, while a fantastic program that gets books into the hands of kids, often asks a lot of time-strapped teachers and librarians: they work hard to get their students excited with decorations and contests while implementing unique Texas Book Festival curriculum for each author and book.
I partnered with the Laura Bush Foundation for America’s Libraries to find a school that was up for the challenge in an area that needed books. We looked for former recipients of the Laura Bush Foundation for America’s Libraries grant and for librarians who were trying new things to get their students excited about reading.
The stars aligned for Reading Rock Stars Dallas with Thomas Tolbert Elementary. Lead by Principal LaKeisha Smith, Tolbert serves a diverse community of students. 57% of Tolbert’s students identify as Hispanic, 41% as African American and 2% as other. 95% of students receive free or reduced priced lunch and 39% have Limited English Proficiency. Tolbert’s librarian, Angela Morris-Watts has been tirelessly dedicated to curating a collection of books that are culturally relevant and that kids cannot wait to read.
For Dallas, I wanted the authors to reflect the school population, while also providing a platform to talk about a relevant theme as a school. What came of my intention is a Reading Rock Stars day about community. Each grade level has been given the opportunity to talk and read about different types of community: the one where you live, the one where you and animals live, and then the one you share as a country.
James Luna is a veteran Reading Rock Star. His bilingual book, The Place Where You Live, introduces the concept of community to kindergarten and first graders through describing different things that happen, “Here in the place you live.” Students spend two months leading up to his visit learning about different jobs in their communities and building dioramas of their neighborhoods.
Hena Khan, Amina’s Voice
Hena Khan’s book Amina’s Voice introduces the concept of the community of the United States of America. The main character, Amina, and her best friend, Soojin, struggle with what makes them American. Is it a name? Is it the food that they eat? When Soojin decides to change her name to something more “American”, students are faced with the question of what makes someone an American? I won’t give anything away, but readers see what a strong community does when faced with tragedy. Classes spent time talking about what makes their school community strong and supportive while delving into the concept of identity.
Former First Lady Laura Bush wrote a wonderful book about family and “our great big backyard” with her daughter, Jenna Bush Hager. In the story, a family is heading on a road trip to some of our country’s national parks that the eldest daughter is not excited about. As she gets to spend more time with her family and the great outdoors she ends up having a great time. The main character learns about her family and brings back her newly found love of nature to her community of friends. Students were able to learn about the parks’ different ecosystem communities while also experiencing time outside and with each other.
I am so excited that we’re bringing Reading Rock Stars into Dallas. There’s nothing better than the look on a child’s face when an author hands them their very own signed copy of a book. I’m looking forward to sharing pictures with you and continuing to expand programming across Texas!