Several years ago, I heard an interview on NPR about an organization called Teach for America (TFA). I was completely intrigued by the philosophy behind the whole program – getting bright, motivated young people on-the-ground, short-term, intensive training as a teacher, then sending them into some of the most at-risk schools in the country. Along with the countless traditional route teachers that we were already helping with books, I wanted to get Bridge of Books (BoB) involved as a resource for the TFA Corps Members in New Jersey.

Regardless of the route that these teachers took into the classroom, I quickly learned that they all faced and continue to face the same uphill battles. The list is endless: getting students engaged, getting them back on track, keeping them engaged, improving test scores and doing all of the above with an ever changing availability of resources – or lack thereof. How could they improve reading scores without ongoing access to relevant reading materials for their students?

I viewed BoB’s role as providing a resource – books – for these teachers and their students. Kids in the schools and agencies that BoB helped would have books to call their own, to read and re-read, to trade with their classmates and to discuss with their teachers. With feedback from students and educators around NJ, BoB could continue to refine and target the books in our donations.

Fast forward several years. BoB has had the pleasure of working with a multitude of TFA Corps Members in both Newark and Camden. We have created classroom lending libraries in high schools where none existed. We have purchased classroom sets for teachers and their students, so that no one would have to share a book and each student could mark their own book.

Sarra Schwartz, a former TFA High School English teacher in Newark, said the book donations she received for her class and high school were a windfall.

“A lot of my students have never lost themselves in a book before. For some of them just getting to pick out a book, getting to own a book is going to be their first experience of that,” she said.

Earlier this month, TFA reached out to ask BoB to help promote a campaign they are launching – “What’s the 1 book every NJ teen should read?” The campaign is designed to spark a grass-roots conversation around great books while opening up our schools to the wisdom of crowds. It runs from November 11th to December 16th and is open to everyone in the state of any age or background. Nominations will be narrowed through a two-stage voting process and the he top-voted title will be put in 53 schools. To participate, simply visit Everyone who enters will get a chance to win a Kindle.

The chance to win something is always exciting. What I find even more exciting is the chance to be part of a grass-roots statewide discussion about books and how people – of all ages, backgrounds and professions – view books. I have my favorite teen picks, but I’m excited to see what will be nominated.

I hope that kids will be excited, or at least intrigued, to see what titles their peers nominate. I hope that the eyes of educators will be opened to the possibility of using new titles to inspire and invigorate their students. I hope that families will start a discussion around what books to nominate and even read together. Whatever the winning title, I also hope that we all keep a list of the nominees for future use and as a reference point to keep the discussion going. I know I will – both to improve what we books we direct to teens through Bridge of Books and to offer my own children a wide variety of reading materials as they get older.

So, take a few minutes to visit Nominate the book you think every NJ teen should read. It’s your chance to make sure your voice is heard.