Reading Woke: Creating a Diverse Books Program for Students

Last fall, we attended the School Library Journal Leadership Summit in Brooklyn, N.Y. The theme of the conference was “Make Good Trouble.” During that whirlwind weekend of learning, we attended a breakout session with Cicely Lewis, the school librarian who started the movement known as Read Woke.

According to an article Ms. Lewis wrote for School Library Journal, woke books:

  • challenge a social norm
  • give voice to the voiceless
  • provide information about a group that has been disenfranchised
  • seek to challenge the status quo
  • have a protagonist from an underrepresented or oppressed group
Read Woke Logo
Read Woke, a school reading challenge created by Cicely Lewis, inspired Calvert County Public Schools to hold a diverse books program.

Read Woke CCPS

As we talked on the train ride home, we decided to take what Ms. Lewis had created and bring it to our district — and this spring, our middle and high school students are participating in Read Woke CCPS (Calvert County Public Schools). This will take place in April thanks to Ms. Lewis’ willingness to share her experience and invite other school districts across the world to join in reading and discussing woke books.

As the brainstorming continued, we realized that the experience of reading diverse books should extend beyond our secondary school students and invite our youngest students into the world of diverse literature. Thus, a World of Words was born.

World of Words is a programming partnership between our school libraries, the English Language Arts department in our school district and our public library. This is the story of how it came to be.

Creating World of Words

First, we approached our content supervisor for English Language Arts to see if the department would be interested in joining in a district-wide reading program to encourage students to read books that were windows into the world. The response? An immediate and resounding yes, followed by, “when can we meet to get started?” 

We also contacted the public library to see if they would be involved. Again, the answer was yes.

Just like that, World of Words was off and running. 

World of Words Logo
World of Words is a programming partnership that brought diverse books to Calvert County's youngest readers.

Book lists, logos and planning

The next step was to sit down with all of the elementary school librarians and discuss goals for the reading extravaganza and create a list of suggested book titles spanning genre and age. Molly Crumbley and Mary Brooke Fitzpatrick spearheaded that effort, coming up with book lists for K-2 and 3-5 respectively. 

We started with a crowdsourced list that was shared at the School Library Journal Leadership Summit. (The public library ordered the books highlighted in yellow; the middle school used the titles highlighted in green.) For our elementary school reading list, we asked librarians to come up with book titles in fiction, nonfiction, realistic fiction, picture books and other categories.

Artwork was created for the logo, and pins and bookmarks were ordered with our World of Words logo. This was important so everyone — school librarians, teachers, central office staff and public librarians —could help advertise the program.

Our public library, Calvert Library, ordered additional copies of the books from our suggested titles list so they would be readily available to families in our county. Additionally, the wonderful public librarians created a digital incentive program using Beanstack so families and students could digitally log the books they read. This allows students to enroll online and earn digital badges for the books they log in both the World of Words and Read Woke CCPS. (Because students in our district have public library cards, accessing the Beanstack platform is easy.) Community members are also being encouraged to participate through the public library and log the books they read.

Throughout World of Words, each elementary school librarian will give book talks using some of our suggested titles. Book displays and bulletin boards began showcasing the excitement for the programs.

For high school and middle school students, the librarians are working with English teachers to do some speed dating with diverse titles. Librarians are encouraging participation in Read Woke CCPS.

Also at the secondary level, school librarians will pursue roundtable discussions at the end of the Read Woke CCPS  and allow students to share with each other the titles they read. We plan to provide the students who participate in our panel with a Read Woke CCPS t-shirt.

Every elementary school in our district began participating in World of Words on April 1. On April 23, each school will participate in a celebration of reading in the classroom. This program is extra exciting because it brings together the school and public library, the school community and the public to join in an extraordinary celebration of diverse books and literature. We're excited to continue the world of Cicely Lewis and Read Woke at the secondary level and extend it to a younger generation with World of Words. It’s never too early to pick up a diverse book.

Additional resources