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NEA Celebrates 20 Years of Read Across America!

Learn about diverse books from this year’s 20th Anniversary Read Across America Calendar

For 20 years, the National Education Association has promoted reading across the nation in a Dr. Seuss birthday celebration! It’s traditionally celebrated on March 2, Dr. Seuss’s birthday, for a simple but important reason—Dr. Seuss’s skill with rhyme and whimsical use of nonsense makes his beloved books an effective tool for teaching young children the basic skills they need to be successful readers. When we celebrate Dr. Seuss and reading, we send a clear message to America’s children that reading is fun and important.

But this national celebration is not just about one day of reading fun. NEA’s Read Across America is about discovering the joys of reading and cultivating good reading habits that will last kids a lifetime. We’re building a nation of readers “never too old, too wacky, too wild to pick up a book and read with a child.”

NEA’s Read Across America program is especially important today. Over the past 20 years our classrooms have become broadly diverse, and educators need books that reflect the diversity of our classrooms and communities. We believe books should be mirrors and windows so our students can see themselves in the pages of the books they read. But just as important, we want them to be able to look into the lives of characters different from themselves to gain a better understanding of the similarities we all share.

Each year, NEA’s Read Across America program creates a colorful calendar of books and reading lesson ideas for our members, highlighted here. Join us as we celebrate children’s literature and work to cultivate good reading habits that will last a lifetime.

1. Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood
Written by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell and illustrated by Rafael López, this tale is shared through the eyes of a young girl but based on the work of artists Rafael and Candice López, who brought their neighbors together to turn community spaces into a canvas for creative collaboration. (HMH BOOKS FOR YOUNG READERS, 2016. ARTWORK USED WITH PERMISSION. MAYBESOMETHINGBEAUTIFUL.COM)

Engaging Readers

Get students thinking about how they can make a difference. Search the news for examples of kids helping others and discuss how and why their efforts made a difference. Ask students to share something—big or small—that they could do to help someone else. Based on their ideas and interests, encourage them to investigate possibilities for a class service project.

Titles to Try for Older Readers

  • What Elephants Know by Eric Dinerstein (Disney-Hyperion, 2016) is the story of Nandu, an orphaned boy who saves his community in southern Nepal by helping to establish an elephant breeding center.
  • Draw the Line by Laurent Linn (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2016) presents Adrian Piper, a gay teen who comes to realize that he can use his artistic talents to do more than just help himself cope when he witnesses a hate crime against another gay student.

2. Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh tells the story of how the calaveras—festive skeletons is synonymous with Mexico’s Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)—came to be. (ABRAMS, 2015. ARTWORK USED WITH PERMISSION. ABRAMSBOOKS.COM)

Engaging Readers

Help students recognize cultural influences all around them. Ask students what culture looks like and the purpose of culture. Have them research the origins of a Hispanic cultural tradition, looking for the influence of that tradition on American culture. Then get students to present their discoveries with classmates by bringing food, music, literature, and art to share.

Titles to Try for Older Readers

  • Yes! We Are Latinos: Poems and Prose About Latino Experience (Charlesbridge, 2016) written by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy and illustrated by David Diaz focuses on the diverse experiences of young Latinos living in the United States.
  • Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx by Sonia Manzano (Scholastic, 2015) is the poignant and powerful childhood memoir of the actress who grew up to play Maria on Sesame Street.

3. Thunder Boy Jr. written by Sherman Alexie and illustrated by Yuyi Morales explores the dilemma of Thunder Boy Jr. who wants a name all his own that celebrates who he is.

Engaging Readers

Get students thinking about the power of names. Have them research the naming rites and rituals of Native American cultures. Ask students to think about their own names, their pet names, or nicknames and how they got them. Have them compare and contrast their own experiences to what they learned about Native American naming customs.

Titles to Try for Older Readers

  • In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall III, illustrated by Jim Yellowhawk (Amulet Books, 2015) 11-year-old Jimmy learns about courage and sacrifice as he and his grandfather take a road trip that traces the history of the Lakota warrior Crazy Horse.
  • My Name is Not Easy written by Debby Dahl Edwardson (Skyscape, 2013) focuses on an Inupiaq Eskimo boy and those he meets when he and his brothers are sent away from home to attend a Catholic boarding school in the 1960s.

4. Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood and illustrated by Sally Wern Comport is a story of trash to triumph and offers a message of music, hope, and perseverance.

Engaging Readers

Have kids design and create original musical instruments out of items from the recycling bin. Start by investigating the science of sound and look at how different vibrating systems produce musical sounds. Let kids test available materials and sketch ideas for their instruments before they start building. After they build, strike up the band!

Titles to Try for Older Readers

  • Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly (Greenwillow Books, 2015) is about Apple, a Filipino American eighth-grader, who believes she can change her life by learning how to play the guitar.
  • Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson (Candlewick, 2015) is the true story of a city under siege and of Dmitri Shostakovich, who wrote a symphony to rally and commemorate his fellow citizens.

5. In Going Home, Coming Home by Truong Tran and illustrated by Ann Phong, a young girl discovers she can call two places home when she visits her grandmother in Vietnam.

Engaging Readers

Help students learn from their own families. Get students to discover family stories by having them interview an older relative, such as a grandparent or great aunt or uncle, who can share family memories. Have students craft open-ended questions that ask for descriptions of past celebrations, vacations, or milestones as well as simple biographical questions.

Titles to Try for Older Readers

  • Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar (Candlewick, 2016) explores 12-year-old Carol’s feelings about her family, heritage, and cultural roots after she spends a summer with her grandfather.
  • Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2015) follows the misadventures of Naila, who travels to Pakistan to visit family and discovers that her parents have promised her hand in marriage to a man she has never met.

6 . The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss has introduced generations of families to the joys of reading. Simple and silly, the repetition and rhyme of The Cat in the Hat both beg to be read aloud and encourage kids to read on their own, making it the ideal signature title for NEA’s Read Across America.


7. When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons written by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Julie Morstad celebrates the joys and beauty of spring, summer, fall, and winter in free verse.

Engaging Readers

Have students work together to write a group poem. Show students an object or an image and have them each write a phrase in response to what they see. Assemble the poem by having students read the lines they have each written one after another. Reassemble and edit the poem as many times as students like by changing the order lines are read. Or give small groups all the lines and see how many different poems emerge.

Titles to Try for Older Readers

  • Hypnotize a Tiger: Poems About Just About Everything by Calef Brown (Henry Holt and Co., 2015) is a bouncy collection of silliness that looks at everything from Catsup cats to UFOs to Royal Gravy.
  • A Fire In My Hands by Gary Soto (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2013) includes poems about universal human experiences and accompanying personal anecdotes about Soto’s life.

8. The Shadow Hero written by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew is a middle-grade graphic novel about the origins of the Green Turtle, the first Asian American superhero.

Engaging Readers

Help students understand that the terms Asian American and Asian Pacific American include a number of diverse cultures and peoples. Get students to challenge stereotypes and investigate who Asian Americans are. Have them create a world map that shows all the places from which Asian Americans hail, along with historic places in the U.S. where Asians and Pacific Islanders played a role in the heritage of the United States.

Other Titles to Try

  • A Piece of Home by Jeri Watts; illustrated Hyewon Yum (Candlewick, 2016) is a picture book about the trials and triumphs of a Korean family who start a new life in West Virginia.
  • Ink and Ashes by Valynne E. Maetani (Tu Books, 2015) is a riveting mystery that involves Claire Takata, a Japanese American teen living in Utah, who has just discovered her father was a member of the yakuza.

9. More-igami written by Dori Kleber and illustrated by G. Brian Karas shares how making origami became Joey’s passion.

Engaging Readers

Have students generate ideas for a passion project—something they want to know more about, learn how to do, or create. Guide them to resources and give them the time to develop their project and feel confident in their new knowledge so they can present their learning journey and products to peers and parents.

Titles to Try for Older Readers

  • Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson (Dial Books, 2015) is a graphic novel adventure about Astrid who discovers a passion for roller derby as she and her best friend grow apart.
  • The Boys in the Boat (Viking, 2015) by Daniel James Brown is the true story of nine working class boys who overcame adversity to win a gold medal in rowing at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

10. Pool by Jihyeon Lee is a wordless picture book that tells the story of a young swimmer who dives deep into his imagination while swimming in a crowded pool.

Engaging Readers

Pretending to be someone else activates imaginations and exercises language skills. Have students talk about the expression “walking in someone else’s shoes.” Ask students to think about how they can use their imaginations to learn about and understand the experiences of others. Have them generate a list of “shoes to walk in,” research related issues, and come up with ways they can communicate their new understanding.

Titles to Try for Older Readers

  • Words with Wings by Nikki Grimes (Wordsong, 2013) explains in verse how Gaby uses her imagination to help her cope with tough times at home and starting a new school.
  • In the Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (Doubleday, 2011) two student magicians are pitted in a battle of imagination at a mysterious circus that only appears at night.

11. School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex with pictures by Christian Robinson, explores the first day at Frederick Douglas School from the anxious school building’s point of view.

Engaging Readers

Get students thinking about what goes into designing a great school by having them create one themselves. Have them focus on STEM themes and the architectural design of their dream school or get their ideas on paper or video about school culture and what kind of learning opportunities they think are important.

Titles to Try for Older Readers

  • In Fish In a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2015), Ally’s new teacher helps her understand that everybody is smart in different ways.
  • Fight to Learn: The Struggle to Go to School by Laura Scandiffio (Annick Press, 2016) describes learning obstacles faced by children worldwide.

Edcommunities Groups

Collaborate with educators on this topic in the groups below.

Illinois Education Matters
Illinois Education Matters is a network for all practitioners in education - IEA members and non-members. This effort is designed to serve as a repository for professional development, tools, resources, and information on grants, conferences / workshops, etc. Imagine this as your one stop for all connections. If you have joined our group, please message me - letting me know that you joined. I do not get any information telling me you joined. Our membership is so large, it takes me forever to go through and see our new members. Thanks for your help. You can also join other active groups on edCommunities. Several IEA members are facilitators for edCommunities. Check out and join their groups, if interested. Mary Ann Rivera - Illinois ESPs Mary Jane Morris - Illinois Education Matters IEA Jillian Huber - Integrating Reading and Writing 9th-12th Jim Grimes - Higher Education Amy Kappele - Early Childhood Development & Education

Secondary Literacy
Do you want to inspire your students to think critically, to analyze works, and to use their imaginations on a daily basis? Do you want to explore ways you can integrate reading into writing curricula and writing into reading curricula in your high school classroom? Join us at the Integrating Reading and Writing 9th-12th group to share, explore, and discuss ways for teachers of all content areas to link these two important life skills together in order to help students get the most out of themselves every day.

School Integrated Pest Management
This group will provide information and resources for integrated pest management training and advice for all educators and school districts . Pest management is important, but often overlooked, part of school safety. Pests can cause stings and bites, and can trigger allergies. In addition, some pests pose health threats by spreading germs and filth. Un-managed pest problems can result in damage to school property, unsightly landscapes, and other unsafe conditions.


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Download the Read Across America 2017 Recommended Books Poster here (PDF).

Click here to download the 2018-19 Read Across America Resource Calendar and Poster!