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Tools of the Trade: Resources to Stage a Read-In

Are you thinking of hosting an African American Read-In in your classroom or school this month? Consider incorporating some of the activities my librarian and I have planned.African-American-Read-banner2018.jpg

Author Readings: Start with a reading by one or more African American authors in order to expose students to the rich and varied voices behind the texts. If you don’t have the funding or ability to host a live reading, use the next best thing – video. These are the resources I plan to tap in order to share readings with my students this month:

National Book Awards Readings – Each year the night before the National Book Awards Ceremony the finalists gather to read from their nominated books. This site contains video footage of these readings for the past six years and is a great resource to use in order to expose your students to many great books and authors. Some of the African American readers over the past few years include Jesmyn Ward reading Sing Unburied Sing and Salvage the Bones, Jason Reynolds reading Ghost, Angela Johnson reading Brown Girl Dreaming, and John Lewis discussing March Book 3.The Library of Congress Videos – This resource offers a plethora of videos featuring authors engaged in discussions, interviews, presentations, readings, etc. The user-friendly search feature makes it easy to type in the name of an author and browse through the available videos. A few of the highlights include an interview with Angie Thomas discussing The Hate U Give and a presentation by Poets Dolores Kendrick and Evie Shockley reading and discussing the works of Langston Hughes. I plan to show my students the less than two minute video of Kwame Alexander poetically arguing for the value of reading:

What is the value in breathing?
What is the value in eating?
What is the value in love?
Like there are some things in life that we just
need to sustain ourselves.
To find out who we are, what we’re made of.
How to get to, you know, where we want to be in this world.
Reading allows us, you know, to figure out what’s possible.
You know, to be able to imagine, you know, a new,
a better different a kind of world for ourselves.
We don’t just, you know sort of learn out of a vacuum.
The mind of an adult begins in the imagination of a child.
Where does that imagination come from?
It comes from reading, it comes from books.
Words and sounds and leaps and bounds
rhythms, rhymes, poetry,
fiction, non-fiction
how to, self-help
Like books are, books are treasure maps,
and I think when we start the book, it’s sort of like finding the map.
And by time we get to that last page,
we have, you know, we found the treasure.
We’ve reached the end.
And so now what?
Well of course you know, you can never have too much treasure.
And so you want more.
You want to discover and rediscover,
and that’s what books do.
They get you hooked. A good book gets you hooked.
And it turns you on to another book.

YouTube is also a great resource for finding authors reading and discussing their works. A few to look for include a three minute video of Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers talking about the inspirations for their picture book We Are America, Kwame Alexander reading and explaining an excerpt from his poetic YA novel Crossoverand Sharon Draper explaining the inspiration behind her historical fiction novel Stella by Starlight.

Book Flood Investigation – After our students listen to a few African American writers read and discuss their novels, we plan to immerse them in their books. Luckily my school library is wealthy with texts written by African American authors, so it will be easy to cover the tables with poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. As students browse the titles, we will invite them to post their observations or discoveries (recurring motifs, memorable language, title recommendations, etc.) on a graffiti wall.

If you are light on resources, you can direct your students towards investigating titles through some of the following online outlets:

BookRiot.com – This site is a collection of varied writings (lists, reviews, commentary, etc.) about books. The writing is engaging and often humorous. They have a young adult tab, which offers regularly updated posts about high interest books for teens. Some of the recent posts that comment on writing by African American authors include #AngieThomasAppreciationRoundup, Beyond the Bestsellers: What to Read After the Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, 3 on a YA Theme: Teens of Color on a YA Cover, and 3 on a YA Theme: Verse Novels for Black Poetry Day. The blog also includes a tab for picture books and has a recent post titled 25 Picture Books for African American History Month, which adds to last year’s post on the 100 best books for the month. Additionally, the site offers engaging videos and podcasts. A helpful one posted this month is a seven minute video titled My Book Picks for Black History Month.

Listopia on Goodreads – Goodreads offers a list titled African American Books for Teens. The list is organized by the number of votes a book received. Some of the titles on the list include The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake, Copper Sun by Sharon Draper, and Monster by Walter Dean Myers. By clicking on any of the titles, students can view a summary, reader created reviews, and book quotes.

Stacked Books – This blog reviews current and popular books and has a recurring feature titled “So You Want to Read YA.” I regularly check in with reviews and posts in order to stay on top of what is new and popular in YA writing. A post from 2015 that can help you immerse your students in YA writing by African American authors is Black Girls Matter: a YA Reading List. This post includes brief descriptions and reviews of books such as Flygirl by Sherri  L. Smith and Kendra by Coe Booth. This blog also posts a yearly “round-up” dedicated to books with covers that feature teens of color. This year’s list includes books by authors such as Dhonielle Clayton, Tomi Adeyemi, and Jay Coles.

Read Around – End with a read around in which students select texts that are particularly interesting to them (hopefully they will borrow and read the book!). Give students a minute or two to preview the first page of the book and invite them each to read out loud from their selected texts for a few moments. The read around enables students to continue to hear the writing of African American writers, encourages them to engage deeper with the texts, and allows them to put their own voices and interpretations into the readings. By the end of the read-in students will have had a worthwhile and engaging literacy experience. How are you using literature to celebrate African American History Month with your students?


Kelly VirginKelly Virgin teaches English for the Kennett Consolidated School District and has been a PAWLP fellow since 2010.  She is a proud bookworm and loves sharing her passion for reading and writing with her students. Through PAWLP, she facilitates the Strategies for Teaching Literature course in the spring and the Grammar Matters course in the summer.

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