Reading Rock Stars Dallas-Fort Worth

It’s finally time for Reading Rock Stars Dallas-Fort Worth!

We’re so excited to return to Thomas Tolbert Elementary in Dallas on February 8, and also thrilled to announce we will be visiting Rosemont Elementary in Fort Worth on February 9 for the first time!

Whenever we bring a new school into the Reading Rock Stars family, we look for schools which are passionate about reading and ready for the exciting challenge of hosting three author visits in one day. Schools apply for the program, highlighting how their team plans to get their students excited to meet authors, and how they want to use Reading Rock Stars to start new reading initiatives.

In conjunction with Reading Rock Stars, Rosemont Elementary is launching their “Celebrity Readers” program. Members of the community will visit classrooms to read their favorite books and speak to students about why they love to read. The team at Texas Book Festival is happy to provide the very first celebrity readers (and Rock Stars): Vanessa Brantley-Newton, Roda Ahmed, and John August! Vanessa Brantley-Newton and Roda Ahmed will also visit Thomas Tolbert Elementary with veteran Reading Rock Stars author Mac Barnett, who will visit with 4th and 5th grade.

Learn more about our Reading Rock Stars authors and check out their books below!


Born and raised in Boulder, Colorado, John August earned a degree in journalism from Drake University and an MFA in film from USC. As a screenwriter, his credits include Big FishCharlie’s AngelsCharlie and the Chocolate FactoryCorpse Bride, and Frankenweenie. His books include Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire.In addition to his film career, he hosts a popular weekly podcast, Scriptnotes, with Craig Mazin. He also created the Writer Emergency Pack, an educational storytelling tool that was distributed to over 2,000 classrooms in partnership with nonprofit literacy groups like 826LA and NaNoWriMo. John and his family live in Los Angeles.

John’s book: Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire 


Roda Ahmed is a Norwegian author and columnist born in Hargeisa, Somalia. Roda is the bestselling author of Forberedelsen (The Preparations). Mae Among the Stars is her first children’s book. She speaks five languages: Somali, Arabic, Norwegian, English, and French. Roda lives in LA with her husband and two children.

Roda’s book: Mae Among the Stars 


Vanessa Brantley-Newton is a self-taught illustrator, doll maker, and crafter who studied fashion illustration at FIT and children’s book illustration at the School of Visual Arts in New York.  She is the author and illustrator of Let Freedom Sing and Don’t Let Auntie Mabel Bless the Table and has illustrated numerous children’s books including Mary Had A Little Glam by Tammi Sauer, One Love and  Vanessa currently makes her nest in Charlotte, North Carolina with her husband, daughter, and cat.


Vanessa’s book: Grandma’s Purse 



Mac Barnett is a New York Times-bestselling author whose books for children have sold more than one million copies in the United States and have been translated into over 30 languages. His picture books include two Caldecott-Honor-winning collaborations with Jon Klassen: Sam & Dave Dig a Hole, which also won the E.B White Read-Aloud Award, and Extra Yarn, which won both the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award and the E.B. White Read-Aloud Award. Leo: A Ghost Story, illustrated by Christian Robinson, and The Skunk, illustrated by Patrick McDonnell, were named two of the Ten Best Illustrated Books of 2015 by The New York Times. Mac’s novels include the Brixton Brothers mysteries and  The Terrible Two series. He lives in Oakland, California.

Mac’s book: The Terrible Two Go Wild 








Announcing Reading Rock Stars in Dallas

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.


The authors:

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, The Place Where You Live

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.





Laura Bush, Our Great Big Backyard 

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!

Reading Rock Stars Makes a Difference

“This has truly been the most amazing experience we have EVER had at our school. It is such an inspiring event for the students AND the teachers/staff. The best part of the program is the excitement for reading that it gives the students. The free books are great but if they aren’t excited about reading then the books won’t get read. We will never forget what the Texas Book Festival and Reading Rock Stars has done for our school, students and community. THANK YOU!” – Librarian at Smith Elementary

Reading Rock Stars brings books and authors to Title I elementary schools in Austin, Dallas, Houston, and the Rio Grande Valley. The selected Reading Rock Stars Title I schools have an average student population with 90% low-income rate, 50% English Language Learners, and in Austin only 45% have books at home. Supporting public education through literature is our way of supporting Texas children and the communities we live in, and Reading Rock Stars continues because of the generous support from those who believe in the impact of books.

What happens during one super fun day with a student’s new favorite author?

Amazing children’s authors like Juana Medina, Wade Smith, Jon Scieszka, Monica Brown, and Carmen Tafolla love the program, and put all their enthusiasm, talent, and conviction into each and every presentation.

RRS author collage

Every student at the school gets a signed, hardcover copy of the author’s book, given to them by the author. During Reading Rock Stars in Houston, every single kindergartner hugged author Donna Janell Bowman after she gave them a copy of “Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness.”

RRS authors giving books

The kids get to take that book home, take off the book jacket, write their name in the book, and share it with their siblings. This may be the very first book of their own, or even the first book in their home. A 2010 study by the World Inequality Study found that, “Regardless of how many books the family already has, each addition to a home library helps the children get a little farther in school,” they report. “But the gains are not equally great across the entire range. Having books in the home has a greater impact on children from the least-educated families. It is at the bottom, where books are rare, that each additional book matters most.”

RRS kids with books

The Texas Book Festival commits to each school for three years, so the libraries receive sets of all the books, the students build their own personal libraries, and the excitement for books and learning is set in motion. Reading Rock Stars is made possible through the tireless work of school librarians, teachers, and volunteers. We are able to buy books and secure phenomenal children’s authors through the financial support of donors.