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One-a-day books connect students to deeper themes 

How a picture book a day can build literacy muscle

Forest Hills — Ada Elementary second-grader Gauri Pareek already knows how important an eraser can be. She learned by listening to two picture books, Linus the Little Yellow Pencil and Eraser. Her teacher, Stacy Anderson, read them aloud to the class as part of a daily practice known as ClassroomBookADay

“The lessons in them are the same,” Gauri notices. “Be kind and never give up.” 

And she added: “‘Linus’ was funny and full of jokes.”

Big idea learning is part of ClassroomBookADay’s philosophy. While students may learn that books have similar characters, what is more important are the deeper themes that run through and across book choices.

The program, created by Jillian Heise, is set up thematically, providing resource lists for themes like “kindness,” “rethinking how we define family,” and “refugees.” And its goals are straightforward: build classroom community, grow students’ thinking about text, develop deeper empathy, add joyful engagement to classrooms, and track the books read with visual displays.

‘When my students returned from a recent snow day break, many asked, ‘Do we get to read two today, to make up for the one we missed?’’

— teacher Kristin LaSage, Ada Elementary

Anderson has adapted the program to Ada Elementary’s school-wide themes such as growth mindset, gratitude and kindness, and she has collected many books over the years that include these themes. 

But the most impactful read-aloud may not be one on her shelf, but one that a student brings in from her/his own home collection, she noted: “Kids will find books at home (that align with our themes) that they bring in for us to read. When it all clicks like that, it’s a beautiful thing.”

Second-grade students are inspired to follow their dreams as they listen to teacher Kristin LaSage read ‘Balloons Over Broadway’ by Melissa Sweet, about the inventor of the first balloons used in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (courtesy)

Themes Create Meaning

Students soon learn that a book about, say, a pig is not really about a pig. Instead, the message of the book may be about kindness. She encourages students to be aware of how their experiences are similar to the books’ themes, and she asks questions as she reads to help them dig deeper. That’s why she uses ClassroomBookADay right after recess. 

“It brings us back into community,” Anderson says. “The students are so invested in it and don’t want to miss a day.” 

Danielle Dudley, who teaches Ada Elementary third-graders, also finds the picture book program valuable. A biography she read to her students helped connect them to their own reading and writing as well as to the theme of gratitude. She worried that there would be a stigma against picture books with her older chapter-book readers, but she didn’t find this to be the case: “(Students) love to be read to,” she says.

Second-grade teacher Kristin LaSage trained both Anderson and Dudley on how to use the program. Because ClassroomBookADay is so responsive to current events, student interest and school themes, the training consisted merely of LaSage’s colleagues watching her conduct a 10-minute session with students. Both students and teachers were hooked, and the classrooms now regularly swap books that they discover meet a need, interest, or concern of students. 

Building Community

LaSage has an extra-large collection to choose from. She started buying children’s books at thrift and book stores as soon as she decided to be a teacher eight years ago. She also uses the Kent District Library to supplement her collection.

Each Friday, she displays all five books read during the week, and her second-graders vote on their favorite. This one ends up on a special bookshelf for students to access as they’d like the next week.

‘Be kind and never give up.’

— Second-grader Gauri Pareek

LaSage also communicates the name, author and illustrator to parents through her weekly classroom newsletter, extending the stories into homes. Sometimes, students will visit the local library with their families — and choose that very classroom favorite for at-home reading. 

She says that building a community where everyone is accepted and heard is a big part of ClassroomBookADay. It’s a joyful time and a little comforting, too, like listening to a bedtime story at home. 

But it is more than that, says LaSage: “My goal is to bring awareness to students that there is a big world out there where people live their lives every day. Diversity and inclusion is my passion.”

Teacher Danielle Dudley visually tracks the books students listen to each day
Teacher Danielle Dudley visually tracks the books students listen to each day
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Carol Lautenbach
Carol Lautenbach
Carol Jasperse Lautenbach served in many roles during her 29 years in Godfrey-Lee Public Schools, most recently as assistant superintendent for teaching and learning design, a role she retired from in 2021. She is co-author of “Making Schools Work: Bringing the science of learning to joyful classroom practice” and has written for The Alan Review, The Rapidian, and Midwest Living. She was honored to be appointed to Governor Gretchen Whitmer's 2021 Student Recovery Advisory Council’s Innovation and Redesign subcommittee. Carol is inspired by the students, educators, families, community partners, cultural institutions, and philanthropists who work together to design and build joyful, equitable learning communities.

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