#nzreadaloud: One Book to Connect Kiwi Kids

In 2014, New Zealand teacher Kerri Thompson participated in a Global Read Aloud. This programme was founded by US educator Pernille Ripp. Ella West was one of the first authors to be invited to participate in the NZ version of this, which began with Thompson in 2015. Ella explains what is special about #nzreadaloud.

Kerri Thompson and her class, 2017

When, in 2015, I found out Night Vision had been chosen as a Read Aloud book in New Zealand I had no idea what it meant.

So I googled and listened to Pernille Ripp, a seventh-grade Wisconsin school teacher, talk about her goal of one book connecting the world. In 2010, she invited other classrooms to join hers in reading a book together – it was The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and about 180 kids took part for the four weeks. They read the book, they drew pictures, and connected through different forms of social media. Kids who had never talked about reading before were talking about reading this book and loving it.

They had discovered that it was, in Pernille’s words, ‘okay to be a reader’.

Now, almost a decade later, more than four million kids and their teachers in more than 80 countries, including New Zealand, have taken part in the annual Global Read Aloud, talking to each other about the chosen books in our term four through Twitter, Edmodo, email, regular mail, Kidblog, Write About, Padlet and other media.

Luckily for New Zealand, one of those teachers in 2014 was Kerri Thompson in the Hawkes Bay.

‘After finishing Global Read Aloud with my class for the first time I knew it was something I wanted to do more than once a year so I decided to test out the waters here in New Zealand,’ Kerri said.

Pernille’s vision of ‘one book to connect the world’ very quickly became ‘one book to connect Kiwi kids across Aotearoa’.

Pernille’s vision of ‘one book to connect the world’ very quickly became ‘one book to connect Kiwi kids across Aotearoa’.

‘I put out a tweet asking my PLN (Professional Learning Network) if any teachers of Year 7 and 8 students might be interested in participating in a connected Read Aloud with me.

‘The focus right from the start was about using Kiwi authors. So in term 1 of 2015 we did the very first #NZreadaloud book which was Ride of the Katipo by Stu Duvall.’

It was followed by The Wolf in the Wardrobe by Susan Brocker in term 2 and in term 3 was Night Vision.

The following year other teachers helped Kerri get #NZreadaloud going for years 1 through to 10 and now thousands of pupils throughout New Zealand have taken part, reading New Zealand books for the first three terms, then having the option of taking part in the Global Read Aloud in term four.

‘The best thing for me about #NZreadaloud is it gives us an opportunity to flatten the walls of our classrooms and connect with teachers and students around the country where kids can share and learn as one big classroom,’ Kerri said.

‘… it gives us an opportunity to flatten the walls of our classrooms and connect with teachers and students around the country where kids can share and learn as one big classroom…’

‘The connected experience is exciting for kids as it allows them to build understanding of a text with people not just in their classroom.

‘Along with the reading aloud aspect and learning about words, language features, conventions of text, the books we select will always be those which lend themselves to further inquiry. Students have opportunities to ask questions and research into something of interest which comes up in the story,’ Kerri said.

And just like Pernille, Kerri and the other teachers taking part in #NZreadaloud found kids falling in love with books.

Sketching while listening to Aotearoa, by Gavin Bishop read aloud

These are some of the comments from teachers in a #NZreadaloud Facebook post:

‘My class did not want to go to morning tea when the bell rang as we were in the final chapters. Fantastic!!! One of my boys was drumming on the desk in anticipation of what could happen.’

‘Two kids who missed parts of the book as they were away have asked to borrow my copy to catch up. This is a great sign!’

‘My entire class was begging me to keep reading, every single week – especially the boys.’

Kerri said it has been the teachers who have spread the word about #NZreadaloud and made it work.

‘Having a core group of dedicated teachers who see the value in #NZreadaloud has been invaluable as they are the ones who share at #educamps and staff meetings.

‘In 2017 we were successful in securing a workshop presentation at uLearn Teachers’ conference and this enabled us to share the kaupapa wider.’

The #nzreadaloud team at uLearn

However, amongst many writers, publishers, libraries, booksellers and organisations that support reading and writing, #NZreadaloud is still very low profile, feeling like a secret society – something that they are hoping to change in 2019.

When New Zealand Book Council heard about it last year, their Programmes Manager Kathryn Carmody quickly championed it, organising Skype and in-person school visits with authors who were involved and, from this year, is providing book tokens for those selecting the books.

‘The New Zealand Book Council team loves that #NZreadaloud exists,’ Kathryn said.

‘It supports our mission to encourage more New Zealanders to read more and it also aligns beautifully with the #readNZ campaign, which celebrates local stories.’

‘When we had Ella West visit an intermediate school class who’d been reading Rain Fall as part of #NZreadaloud last year, it felt like a beautiful symphony of coordination between all the parties involved.

‘I know that not every book chosen for the #NZreadaloud is likely to have an author who’s available for school visits and that talking to the author directly won’t be something that every class wants to do, but it’s going to be a lot of fun seeing how that all unfolds.’ ​

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Students at Hastings Intermediate after they had author Mary-Anne Scott in for a visit while reading Sticking with Pigs

Leonie Agnew was ‘blown away’ in 2016, when she found out that about 90 Year 5 and 6 classes throughout New Zealand were reading her book Conrad Cooper’s Last Stand. (It has been chosen again for Term One of this year.)

‘The advantage of #NZreadaloud is authors and illustrators can often make themselves available for questions and interviews with the students.

‘We can go that extra mile, which offers many benefits, including showing children that becoming an author isn’t a dream for children overseas, but an achievable reality for everyone.’

Adele Broadbent got to meet Kerri in her home town of Napier and her book Too Many Secrets became a #NZreadaloud book for Year 7 and 8 in Term Two of 2017 – as well as that, her book Between was the title selected for Year 5 and 6 students to read in term three last year.

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Adele Broadbent with students from Tamatea Intermediate in 2018

‘I thoroughly enjoyed meeting and talking to classes about my books, across Skype, Edmodo, Facebook and in person through workshops in classes,’ Adele said.

‘It engages entire classes through the imaginative and exciting activities the participating teachers build while reading the novel, and when these activities are shared across the country, it works even better.

‘#NZreadaloud is an invaluable programme bringing New Zealand books to New Zealand students and showing them how awesome reading can be.’

In 2016, Night Vision was one of four Global Read Aloud contenders for the middle school age range, and while Orbiting Jupiter by American author Gary D. Schmidt was chosen, this profile was made possible by its selection by the #nzreadaloud team.

Authors wishing to have their books considered for Global Read Aloud can send a copy to Pernille in Wisconsin. Books must be able to be purchased worldwide. The selection for #nzreadaloud is made by a group of teachers, and the only requirement is that the book must be from NZ and widely available at school libraries.

Ella West

Ella West is a multi-award winning YA novelist who lives in Dunedin. Her last book Night Vision, won the LIANZA Young Adult Fiction Award in 2015, and was shortlisted for the New Zealand Book Award for Children and Young Adults. Her most recent book Rain Fall is a murder mystery set on the West Coast, and was released in January 2018.