According to award winning author Neil Gaiman, “Reading fiction, reading for pleasure, is one of the most important things one can do ... Fiction builds empathy. Fiction is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed.”
One of my favorite things to do is to allow myself to get lost in a story. Do you know that feeling? When you are so immersed in the world that the author is building for you that you feel a little dazed when you return to real life. In the age of Netflix and YouTube, it seems like too often our students forget that they can find that feeling in a book.
One of the ways that we try to remind students of that feeling is by bringing authors to campus. Over the last few years, we have had several different authors visit our school to talk about their books, their journey to becoming writers, and the importance of reading. A few weeks ago, Brendan Kiely came to GSB to talk about two of his recent novels, All American Boys and Tradition. These timely novels prompted some good conversation, and students have come to the library to check out his books to read.
As a part of our summer reading program, students are invited to propose books that their classmates will read and come together to discuss. Giving the students the choice of what books to read in the summer is so important. Two years ago, Neal Shusterman visited in the spring and got students excited about his Scythe series. That summer, Scythe was our most popular summer book choice, and this past summer, we had another two groups choose to read the sequel, Thunderhead. It is so rewarding to see students find books that they are excited to read! My goal is to create lifelong readers, so every positive reading experience that a student has helps him or her get closer to that reality.
Another way we get upper school students engaging with books is through the Reading Buddies program. This club is one of the most popular in the upper school. The students volunteer to spend half an hour every other week reading to a lower school student. The Big Buddies have been asking weekly when the first time they get to go to read is, and today is the big day. I can’t tell you how fun it is to see high school seniors looking through the pile of picture books and picking one out that they want to share with their first-grade buddy. And the moments that the Big and Little Buddies have while talking about the books—priceless.
We also encourage our students to take advantage of opportunities for reading in the larger community. For example, this weekend, the Morristown Festival of Books will bring many excellent authors to the area to discuss their books and have conversations with fellow writers. We have a display of books by the teen authors who are presenting, hoping that will entice students to check out the festival. In addition, two of our most loyal library patrons will have the opportunity to have lunch with author Emily X.R. Pan and members of our fencing team will get to meet Olympian Ibtihaj Muhammad.
If you have time on Saturday, I highly recommend heading to Morristown to find your next great read.