On November 25, 26 and 27th, the Bridge of Books Foundation asked Lakewood High School students for their opinions on reading and its impact on their lives.  We offered the 3rd round of our TEENS TALK BOOKS survey to all 1200 students.  Everyone who completed a survey will receive a free book of their choice from a list of 8 young adult books covering a wide range of subjects – from Crank by Ellen Hopkins to Ready Player One by Ernest Cline to A Rose that Grew in Concrete by Tupac Shakur.  Since it was only our 3rd round, we really had no idea what kind of numbers to expect.

I am happy to share that over three-fourths of the entire Lakewood High School student body completed the survey – 853 students in all!   

We are now in the process of reading every single survey.  We will select 15-20 “winners.”  These students, whose answers inspire us, will receive the additional book that they identified as wanting in the survey.  Our plan is to go to Lakewood at end of January to deliver ALL of these books!  Of course, we will share the winning books and all the statistics as well.

In the meantime, I am happy to share the insights and perspectives of the Lakewood High School English teacher who made this happen at his School.  Kevin and I have been working together for a few years now at various points to get books into the hands of his students.  

Happy Holidays! ~Abby Daly, Executive Director, Bridge of Books Foundation


Wait. This doesn’t make any sense.

Those were my first thoughts when Abby proposed to me her idea for this year’s Lakewood High School / Bridge of Books team-up. See, we had done some amazing stuff in the past – World Book Night, free boxes of books for every English teacher’s classroom. But this? This idea she had about giving every single student in the high school a book of his or her choice? Like I said, it didn’t make any sense. I mean it’s borderline crazy-talk. But hold on, Abby helped me make sense of it all. Really. All of it. She’s good like that.

She explained that every student would have to fill out a brief survey about their relationship with books and reading and why they read or why they don’t read and whether or not there are books in their home. I asked why and she explained – straight from her heart – that she cares deeply about these kids and the role reading plays in their lives. She knows that a true education can only take place when students understand what they’re reading AND love what they’re reading. A book that entertains its reader doesn’t necessarily preclude the educational value it holds. Starting to get it?

She then explained that students could pick from a selection of books – a very wide-ranging selection of books in my opinion – to keep! They could pick a book of poetry by Mr. Tupac Shakur or that deep, dark novel by Jay Asher titled, Thirteen Reasons Why. Or hey, how about a comic book about space pirates? Yeah, it’s all there. Plus five more! Because, and this is important to remember kids, reading is fun. Come on, you know at one point in history that was true. Reading. Is. Fun. It’s easy to forget that as an educator sometimes, you know. We read critically and analyze every word and figurative language device and point-of-view and adverb clause because that stuff is important. It is, I swear. But you know what else is important? Space pirates. Are you starting to get it yet?

Oh, and Abby wasn’t done. Fifteen students from the high school would be able to earn the privilege, she said, to choose a second book of their preference. They had to write about any book they wanted and why they’d read it if they had the chance. Abby would choose the fifteen best responses and purchase a copy of that second book for those students. Even more awesomeness.

So, then it was time to tell the kids.

Posters went up in the hallways. “Want to own this book?” they asked, “Just take a brief survey in your English class and Bridge of Books will give you a copy to take home!”  “Bridge of Books wants to know what you think about reading!” they declared.

And we announced the survey in the English classes. We talked about the books. We summarized the plots and read excerpts from Tupac and Asher and displayed artwork from the Serenity graphic novel. We sold the books to the students. And they bought in – eagerly. I heard students creating classroom libraries all on their own. “I’ll get this one and you get that one and then we’ll switch when we’re done.” Big plans. And I have no doubt they’ll follow through, because they were excited! About reading! I think you get it now.

It’s all about that excitement, you see. All of this is to help kids find that love for books again. All of it. To find that magic that may or may not sometimes get lost in the classroom. It’s about getting students excited to read!

And I’m pretty sure we’ve done it. The Bridge of Books survey absolutely generated a special kind of excitement around the high school. And while it may not have made sense to me in the beginning – I mean really, what kind of crazy person just gives away hundreds of books? – it all makes perfect sense now.

“Hey Walters! When are we getting those books? I HAVE to read that one about those space pirates!” See? Makes perfect sense.

Kevin A Walters

English Language Arts Teacher

Lakewood High School, NJ                                                                               

December 2013