World Read Aloud Day 2023
Last Wednesday, February 1, 2023, I took part in my debut WRAD, also known as World Read Aloud Day. Technically, it wasn’t my first, because I did read to a group on February 1, 2022, as part of my #KidsNeedMentors volunteer match at Grange Elementary School in Dundalk, MD. However, then I didn’t have my name on Kate Messner’s spreadsheet as a published author that teachers and librarians all over the world could invite to read aloud to their students and talk about the book.
I had originally planned to reserve five 20 minute slots, but I ended up volunteering for seven because it’s hard to say no. These included an international high school in Bermuda, a high school in Texas near Houston, a middle school in Texas near the high school, other middle schools in Cleveland, New York, and Pennsylvania, and an elementary school near Boston. These were all virtual visits that required working technology, and two had to be rescheduled because the technology didn’t work. But in the case of the elementary school, librarian Dr. Kip and I created a workaround that evoked the age of radio and garnered an enthusiastic response from the fifth graders. Maybe their questions were even more interesting and thoughtful because they could focus on the poetry and didn’t have visual distractions, like my Lego town in the background. After all, the audience continues to grow for podcasts and audiobooks. (But I had great questions from the seventh graders in Cleveland, so the Lego town wasn’t the distraction it might have been.)
I read Moonwalking to three of the schools and suggested a writing activity inspired by the poem “Speak Up” — a poem of contrasts between what JJ is told and what he can see or figure out himself. In fact, the poem begins with such a contrast, what his father tells him after JJ is so invisible in his classes that the teacher marks him absent even when he’s there:
“Son, you need to speak up,”
with a trace of the accent
he never lost
from the old country
Children should be seen and not heard.
Juniors and seniors from the high school near Houston heard the first scene in Torch, in which Pavol, Štepán, and Tomáš write the letter pleading for the repressive new government to lift the censorship and give amnesty to those arrested for resisting the Soviet invasion the previous year — and Pavol gets Tomáš to promise he’ll go to Prague with them to deliver the letter in person. They also asked great questions about my inspiration and research for the book, and if this was a subject I was interested in when I was in high school. The Author’s Note for Torch talks about my experiences in high school and what attracted me about communism at the time, before I met people who had suffered under those dictatorships. The teachers said that additional copies of the book beyond the Junior Library Guild edition were on their way, and I look forward to hearing what the students think when they read the whole thing!
I still need to reschedule one middle school and one high school, and I’m eager to present for WRAD next year. My appreciation goes out to prolific award-winning author Kate Messner, the creator of this international opportunity to share books and bring writers and readers together. I’m also grateful for all the librarians and teachers who invited me into their school and the students who welcomed me so warmly and enthusiastically.
Speaking of awards, both Moonwalking and Torch are sharing places on the 2023 Notable Books for a Global Society list, given by the Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group of the International Literacy Association to “25 outstanding trade books for enhancing student understanding of people and cultures throughout the world” published for K-12 in the previous year. I’ve always wanted to have a book on this list because this is my mission as an author, so I’m honored that this year I’m there for two of my books!