Since 1998, March 2nd has been the day each year where readers everywhere celebrate their favorite thing—curling up with a great book. As lovers of reading, my team at BookClub loves Read Across America Day, seeing it as an opportunity to celebrate the books that built us. It’s always an opportunity for me to celebrate knowing I would be a writer one day.
Initially, the National Education Association (NEA), which hosts the event every year, partnered with the Dr. Seuss Foundation for the annual celebration to honor both the importance of reading and Dr. Seuss’s birthday. In 2018, the NEA changed the event’s focus to prioritize diverse readers and authors. This transition reflected America’s ever-changing landscape and moved the celebration of reading away from Seuss, whose work has been criticized for racist illustrations and topics.
My Read Across America story
In 1998, I could often be found with my head buried in a book. I was nine and enjoyed solving mysteries with The Boxcar Children, reading about history in Dear America journals, and escaping to Narnia with the Pevensie siblings. When I wasn’t reading I made up stories of my own, kept in spiral notebooks or scratched on haphazard stacks of loose-leaf paper. I didn’t know how to verbalize that I wanted to be a writer yet; all I knew was that I wanted to read and tell stories for the rest of my life.
When Read Across America Day began, my elementary school had already been prioritizing reading as a significant part of the curriculum. There wasn't a time when we didn’t read throughout the day, and I can still tell you where to find my favorite type of books in the school library. My teachers encouraged us to read as much as possible— a privilege I didn’t understand until much later. So when Read Across America Day became a national event, our school decided to make it about reading our own stories to one another.
If you visit the website for Read Across America Day, you’ll notice that the NEA offers several ways to connect students to reading. Educators all over the country are encouraged to find extra time to read with their students during the month of March (and throughout the year), to promote their classrooms and schools as a space for readers of all languages and levels, and to include books in every part of their school year. At BookClub, we know how vital learning from books are, and Read Across America is a program and event designed to boost reading for every student.
"As lovers of reading, my team at BookClub loves Read Across America Day, seeing it as an opportunity to celebrate the books that built us."
Many young readers also become young writers, and that was certainly the case for me. The first year Read Across America was celebrated at my school, the festivities started a couple of weeks ahead of time when our teachers began building in time each day for us to write our own stories. We were taught about the major components of a story, including having a beginning, a middle, an end, and making sure to include characters and setting. Older students learned about plot, conflict, and theme, but even kindergarten students were writing stories.
On March 2nd, we had a school-wide breakfast (green eggs and ham, of course) and then we were sent to classrooms to share our stories. Many of us ended up in classrooms with teachers we knew by name but hadn’t been taught by, in front of students from all grade levels. For the next few hours, we read our stories aloud to one another. It was the first time I’d ever really shared my stories with anyone but my best friends and it was exhilarating.
Read Across America Day is just the beginning of a month centered around reading. Organizations like the National Head Start Association, Reading Is Fundamental, and LeapFrog all celebrate reading for the full month of March, highlighting the importance of inspiring kids to read and learn about different cultures through books. Whether they’re in the classroom or online this year, teachers will be encouraging their students to read and find books that both challenge and change them. Like so many other things this year, Read Across America Day might look different, but it can still have the same impact.
When I returned to my classroom on March 2, 1998, I thought my Read Across America Day experience was over, but I was wrong. A few days later, the teacher whose classroom I had been in on March 2nd came to talk to my teacher about me. Mr. Burke, who taught 1st and 2nd grade at the time (and is still a teacher), wanted me to come to his classroom to read my story to his students and talk about writing. When I was there, he told me that he knew I would be a published author one day.
Mr. Burke and I interacted several more times before I went on to middle school, including during the summer between 5th and 6th grade when I was the only 5th grader in summer school. Without much of a curriculum for me, Mr. Burke brought in his personal laptop (a big deal in 1999!) and let me write stories during school. No matter what came next in my education, my future was set. I was going to be a writer.
Whether you’re a teacher celebrating Read Across America Day for the first, or the 23rd time, it’s the perfect day to give your students the space they need to fall in love with reading or writing. Sharing books from diverse authors, helping students find the books they love, and encouraging young readers and writers are some of the most profound things you can do as an educator. My life would be entirely different without the teachers who did that for me, especially Mr. Burke who, to his credit, was right about me being a published author. And that’s something I’ll never forget.
Melissa Boles works for BookClub as our Marketing Manager and is a published fiction writer and essayist whose work focuses on art, mental health, love, and human connection. Her work that is unaffiliated with BookClub can be found at melissaboles.com or on Twitter (and Instagram) at @melloftheball.