The New Classroom Book Club Program for Grade 3 Students–8 includes titles, educator and discussion guides, and access to a podcast hosted by Alexander.
Newbery Medal–Winning author Kwame Alexander went to Follett with an idea that had been “ruminating” for a while.
“As much as I love writing books and as much as I love getting my books into the hands of children, I can only write so many of them,” he says.
Kids and teachers were always emailing him asking when the next book was coming.
“My love is to write books,” said Alexander. “My mission is to create opportunities for other writers to shine and share their views, ideas, understandings, [and] their imagination with the world. So it seemed like the smartest thing to do — instead of trying to kill myself and write a whole bunch of books — was to spotlight other people who were writing.
In partnership with Follett, Alexander launched Kwame Alexander Bookfest, a collection of classroom book clubs for 3rd graders–8. The multimedia program includes the books, teaching guides, discussion guides and access to a podcast where Alexander speaks with some of the authors on the book listings.
Alexander curated the title lists with the help of educators, literacy experts, and other writers.
“As smart and as cool as I think…there are people who are smarter and way cooler than me, and I listened to them during this process,” he laughs.
Alexander wanted to create book club lists for K–12 but was convinced to scale it down a bit by the folks at Follett. This age group made sense, says Britten Follett, CEO of Follett Content Solutions.
“That’s where we need it the most,” Follett said. “It’s that moment in time when students fall in love with literature or fall in love with something else. Our goals are to have children fall in love with these books and want to come back to the classroom library or the physical library to read the next one by that new author they discovered through the book club.
The goal is not only to connect young readers with authors and books, but also with each other. Kids play cards in the library, shoot hoops in the gym, hand out at lunch, says Alexander, “What if we create an environment where kids can collaborate around a book? We’re creating a literature community. We can achieve the same results, which is to help kids connect with each other and become better human beings, be more empathetic We think of Bookfest like kids hanging out at the park. It turns out that the amusement park is about books, books that will help them imagine a better world.
The timing couldn’t be better, according to Follett.
“It’s also so important as we come out of a pandemic and students struggle to develop those social-emotional skills, those interpersonal skills that they’ve lost through screen time,” Follett says. “It’s an opportunity for children to talk about books. And if two kids read the same book and they find something in common associated with that book, they can build that relationship from there. Never in our history has there been a more important time for children to connect with each other.
They will also feel a connection to Alexander, she predicts.
“Students love hearing about Kwame himself, and it’s almost as if his voice comes through every piece in the collection,” says Follett.
This is especially true of the podcast.
“Gotta laugh, quiz and go behind the scenes with some of my favorite friends and writers,” Alexander says of the episodes which include conversations with Kekla Magoon, Jason Reynolds, Cece Bell, Jasmine Warga and Pablo Cartaya. , among others.
“We walked into their lives and kind of discovered some interesting stories about them,” Alexander says. “At the end of the day, yes, we want to read the books, but we want to know who made the books, we want to know what made you do this book. Who are you? What do you like to eat? What kind of car do you drive? You know, all those questions we get when we visit schools.
A classroom book club may not be a new idea, but Alexander wants to do it in a new way.
“I like to think we’re taking what’s been done in the past and remixing it,” he says. “We give a new pair of eyes. We give it a new approach. We offer a podcast that accompanies the book club. We understand the connection between reading and writing. So, once your kids have read and are excited, we’ll move on to the next step. We’re going to give them tools and resources to start responding to this literature, to this excitement, through writing. We’re doing new things to an age-old idea, and I like to think it’s going to be the coolest book club and classroom library ever.
Read Follett’s full press release below.