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.
Faculty were prompted to nominate books with any of the following qualities:
- Book that students want to read.
- 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!
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.”
US boys build fire
US teacher with students who read The Fire Next Time
US teacher and US head with students who read Snow in August
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.
Paper Girls 1 starts innocently enough with a group of girls delivering newspapers in the ‘80s around Halloween time. Things quickly ramp up when they find a time/space machine, and zombies who aren’t actually dressed for the holiday start chasing them. Turns out the zombies are actually young people from the future travelling back in time to fight old people who also seem to be from the future. Somehow the chaos made me want to read on. The old people look more futuristic and seem to have bad intentions. Because the zombie teens and future old people both speak different made up languages, it’s a little hard to follow who is good and who is bad. Pair that with the trippy flashbacks and dream sequences, and I was left wondering what exactly happened. Solely out of confusion and an unresolved cliffhanger, the second volume is on my to-read list. Because of the language and complex story line, this might be better for high school students.
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
Banned or Challenged?
When someone feels that a book should not be read by others in a school or library, they can challenge the book and asked to have it removed. When that happens, librarians and school officials follow a procedure to decide whether or not that book should be removed. The book is actually banned when it has been removed. If a book is banned or challenged in one library, school, county or school district, that does not necessarily mean that it will be banned in other areas. Here at Severn, we don’t believe in the practice of banning books from our library, but some books have been challenged in the past.
A Shift in Why People Ban Books
For years, books have typically been banned or challenged for controversial language or sexual themes. But according to James LaRue, Director of the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, “there’s been a shift toward seeking to ban books focused on issues of diversity—things that are by or about people of color, or LGBT, or disabilities, or religious and cultural minorities.”
Why is this happening? Could it be that books that focus on diversity simply weren’t on the shelves before? And now that they are, they are subject to censorship? Which is worse?
How Can I Help?
Read banned books! Read diverse books! Start a conversation. Share stories of diversity in your own lives and encourage your friends to do the same. Speak up for what you believe is right. Talk to your parents! Talk to your teachers! Find out why these books are banned or challenged, then READ THEM and make your own choice.
Get thinking! Think about the difference between your personal choices or opinions and more general rules for everyone. Is it right for someone who doesn’t like ideas in a book to prevent other people from reading it? Why or why not?
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!
Chosen by a committee of teachers and students.
Which book would you save if you could only save one?
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 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.
We are excited to announce the Book Face Swap Contest winner, middle school student Daniel Berlin! Daniel took a different approach than we expected when we created this contest. He swapped the faces of people on the book cover using Adobe Photoshop Fix — so well in fact that we had to compare the original to see the swap! Take a close look, can you tell which is which?
Of course we have to give a shout out to everyone who participated. These were made using either Snapchat or Face Swap Booth. The swaps turned out a little freaky and a lot of fun! We even took a shot at it ourselves!
To celebrate National Poetry Month, Mrs. Coutts and Ms. Etchison have been rolling up their sleeves to get a little crafty, a little creative and very poetic with Middle School English classes!
There’s something heartwarming about a group of kids sitting on the floor and reading poetry. And even better than that is what grew out of those lessons! A poet-tree in full bloom with original and quoted works, black-out poetry inspired by poetic beauty already on the page … and hopefully some newfound love for the many types of poetry out there.
Come take a look! If you feel inspired, add a leaf to our poet-tree or create your own black-out poetry and we’ll post it!