2nd Annual African American Read-In

After the success of last year’s African American Read-In event, we decided to host another during February’s Black History Month. African American Read-Ins are a chance to celebrate the contributions of African Americans to the arts, specifically books, poems, and other writings. We pulled all books from our library’s collection written by an African American and set them out on display. Students and teachers were invited to stop by for a snack and settle in to read during their free moments throughout the day. Some teachers even planned their class period around bringing the students to the library.

Over 20 students loved their choices so much they checked the books out, including choices like Long Way Down, Dear Martin, and The Rose That Grew from Concrete.

We also celebrated musicians by playing records from black artists. Duke Ellington, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Lauryn Hill, and Nat King Cole were some of the featured musicians, though the This is Soul record was a personal favorite. Kids also got the chance to learn about what a record player is and gain a brief history of the evolution of music – they just had to ask any of the teachers who were old enough to appreciate vinyl!

After a great day of reading and reflection, this is definitely an event we wish to continue.


5th Grade Researchers

We welcomed some little visitors to the library this week! Our 5th grade students made the trek over to our campus to do some research on arctic explorers. We set up 6 different computer stations to encourage students to use specific resources (databases, videos, pdfs, etc.) to answer questions about explorers. “According to Admiral Richard Byrd, what did he do on May 9, 1926?” is just one example. Students also learned about Barbara Hillary (first black woman to reach the North Pole), Robert Scott Falcon (leader of the Polar Plateau expedition), Lillimor Rachelew (one of the first women to reach Antarctica), Matthew Henson (first African-American arctic explorer), and Roald Amundsen (first to reach the South Pole). The 5th grade students got a feel for how our library is set up and what life might be like once they progress to 6th grade. We supplied additional books about animals and arctic life to provide some entertainment between stations. The students will now travel back to their campus to complete projects on the explorer of their choice. We’re excited about this new batch of researchers!

Escape the Library: Egypt Edition

Escape the Library: Egypt Edition was a success! As a way to introduce our 8th grade History students to their new research project on Egypt, we had a little fun with puzzles in the library. Students were broken into groups of 4-5 students, leaving us with 4 groups per class period. The groups were given the names Osiris, Set, Ra, and Horus named after the Egyptian gods of the underworld, war, sun, and sky.

Egypt Escape 15

Jars, Clues, Locks, and Tiles

Once in groups, students set off into their guarded room filled with 4 locked jars, scratch paper, a pencil, 3 hint cards, and an initial clue. Each lock required a bit of effort to find the key or the right number combination to open. From the start, students had to use the online catalog to locate a specific book on the shelf that held the physical key to their next locked jar. The second jar was bound with a number lock that opened with the correct year found in a particular World Book Online article about pyramid architect Imhotep. To unlock the next jar, students determined and transcribed the letter ‘B’ into a hieroglyph and presented it to their door’s guard. The guard provided a key to open the 3rd jar with one last clue.


Problem Solvers

Along the way, students discovered Bananagram tiles in their jars. With all jars open, students had to unscramble the tiles letters and run to their door’s guard with the final password (“sphinx,” “embalm,” “papyrus,” or “artifact”). If a team stumbled and got stuck, they were allowed 3 hints from their door guard – but this came at a cost. Every hint added 1 minute to their final time. With only 30 minutes to escape the library, the pressure mounted! In the end, every team escaped, with times ranging from 17 to 30 minutes.


Happy to Escape

Students learned 1) where to locate the online catalog, 2) what information to use in the catalog to locate a book, 3) how the library is set up, 4) where to locate online databases, and 5) how to use key terms to search a database. It was fun to take a step back and let the kids struggle a bit to figure out the clues then work together to succesfully solve the puzzles and escape!

NaNoWriMo Wrap Up

Through the month of November, the Zimmerman Library challenged Middle and Upper School students to stretch their writing horizons and participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). One of many library initiatives to encourage our students to read and write for the fun of it, NaNoWriMo dares students to write an entire novel in 30 days. The event happens every November and is a fun, web-based writing event where the challenge is to draft an entire novel in just 30 days. The program encourages writers to banish their inner critic, throw editing out the window, and let the joy of writing be their guide. The Zimmerman Library library hosted the Young Writers Program of NaNoWriMo, supplying our students with instructions, inspiration and a lot of support.


There is only one rule in this contest, write! After signing up through the Young Readers NaNoWriMo site, each student set their own goal for the length of their novel or story and could write about whatever topic they like. All of the work was done through the website which provides tools, timelines, and suggestions for the writers. We also provided topic cards for students needing a boost to get started and displayed a selection of books written in 30 days by professional authors (Night Circus, Fangirl, Cinder, Water for Elephants).

One 6th grade participant stated,

When I first came [to the library] I wasn’t really into books. I met some high schoolers and they gave me some suggestions of books to read and that got me into reading more and helped me find a book series I really liked, Of Poseidon and Of Triton by Anna Banks. Then this writers thing came up and I liked it because it seemed fun. I didn’t know what to do at first and then I thought of those books so I decided to write fan fiction based on them. My first goal was 2000 words but I completed that pretty quick so I’m going to write another story and try for 5000. Even though this contest is over and the time limit is up, I want to write a sequel. I think there’s still a lot to write about.

Another said,

I wrote a book about two teenager angels who don’t really like being angels that much so they decide to leave. Their parents think they are on a mission to help people but they really escaped to live in the real world. My book is just fiction, I came up with the idea. My goal was 2000 at first, but I accomplished that in the first two days so I changed mine to 5000 too. I still want to keep working on this same story even though the contest is over.

What a fun opportunity to get kids excited about reading and writing beyond what’s required in class!


What is the Upper School Read?

Upper School Read Day is an annual Severn School tradition that brings our community together to dive into relevant and often controversial topics in literature. This year we utilized a reading model where students chose from a list of faculty book recommendations. All Upper School faculty and students then read it over the summer and engaged discussion and/or a book related activity.

The Books

Faculty were prompted to nominate books with any of the following qualities:

  • Book that students want to read.US Read 17
  • Language that high school readers can understand.
  • Theme that touches upon Severn themes (character, conduct, scholarship, leadership, inclusion, globalism, sustainability).
  • Story that encourages an hour-long exploration of the book.
  • Book with many layers – interesting plot with deeper meaning revealed.
  • Plot that moves along.
  • Main character that inspires.
  • Book that appeals to different learning styles; one that lends itself to physical and intellectual exploration.

The final list included 16 fiction and non-fiction choices, spanning all genres including biography, fantasy, horror, realistic fiction, and memoir. Something for everyone!

The Day

Students were separated into groups based on the book they read, then faculty led them in fun discussion and activity. Activities ranged from a tea party for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to building a fire for A Walk in the Woods to bystander reenactments for All American Boys. Head librarian Mary Carrington observed, “I love seeing students step up to dig deeper into a conversation. At first they were reluctant, but after a while, we were sharing some complicated sentiments – and that was from freshman through seniors.”

What do we love about the US Read?

Each year the Upper School Read brings a new opportunity for students and teachers to explore their own interests and opinions while learning from each other. Ms. Carrington enjoyed the “Shift in the way I get to know our students – I met some very deep thinkers on US Read Day, and I don’t always get to see that when I work with students in the Library.” This day gives us the chance to:

  • Explore a book we might not have read.
  • Collaborate with students from another grade.
  • Interact with a teacher who we may never study with during our years at Severn.
  • Learn more about our teachers through their favorite books.
  • Learn without pressure or grades.

For a look back at previous Upper School Read days, check out the summaries on our library website.

African American Read-In 2017

In November 1989, the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English came together to set the first Sunday of February as a nationwide Read-In to promote diverse reading habits. Fast forward to February 2017, and libraries are still participating in African American Read-Ins. Librarians can choose any day in the month of February, and we at Severn decided on February 17th.


Collection of Books By African American Authors

Let’s Get to Reading

The event was open to any teacher, student, or staff member looking to read works by African American authors throughout the day. Poems, short stories, magazines, and novels were offered, featuring authors like Walter Dean Myers, Maya Angelou, Sharon Draper, and Langston Hughes. Some popular choices included Life Doesn’t Frighten Me At All, Twelve Rounds to Glory, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and MLK: Journey of a King. Students cozied up on bean bag chairs while snacking on cookies and listening to John Coltrane. Afterwards, they shared their readings in the forum, giving them the chance to discuss with peers.


Students Reading and Sharing Ideas in the Forum

Reflections from the Day

“One of the things librarians love to do is to help students find books they love. I heard a sixth grade plop down into a comfy chair this morning and exclaim “what a cool book!” If students don’t have the opportunity to sit and relax with a book of their choosing, they are on track to be an adult who does not enjoy reading later on. So this is part of our effort to help students become lifelong readers.” – Mary Coutts, Head Librarian

Students and teachers alike reveled in the chance to read something new and relax in the welcoming atmosphere of the library. We would certainly call the African American Read-In a success!


Library Decorations Included Poems, Author’s Last Names, and Quotations

Upper School Read Recap: Fahrenheit 451

What is the Upper School Read?

Upper School Read day is an annual Severn School tradition that brings our community together to dive into relevant and often controversial topics in literature. A committee of students and faculty choose a book for the read that inspires critical thought and reflection. All Upper School faculty and students then read it over the summer and participate in engaging workshops to investigate themes represented in the book. This year we read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and it was a huge success!

The Book

Themes represented in Fahrenheit 451 center around technology and censorship.  Bradbury said to his own biographer, “Fahrenheit 451 is less about Big Brother and more about Little Sister.” It’s as much about society’s lack of interest in reading and critical thought as it is about government control. Who is to blame, us or them? Most likely both. Some critique that Bradbury flip flops in his interpretation of his own work. But maybe that’s what good literature does. It grows and changes as our world does the same.

The Day

The day was shaped by exciting and thought provoking workshops where teachers and students explored topics in censorship and technology. The biggest hit was our 451 Scavenger Hunt where kids worked in groups to solve puzzles and find hidden banned books all the while holding onto a jump rope fire hose (use your imagination folks!).

Each year the Upper School Read brings a new opportunity for students and teachers to explore their own interests and opinions, while learning from each other. For a look back at previous Upper School Read days, check out the summaries on our library website.