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Finding the Right Book for Every Student

“Trying to match up the right kid with the right book is a little bit of a game, but if you give them a buffet, they'll choose.”


What was the book that turned you into a lifelong reader? Teachers have used DonorsChoose to request over 20 million books to help nurture the next generation of bookworms. After this fall’s #FillEveryShelf book match, we got a chance to sit down with an incredibly generous citizen donor, Elsa Brule. Her impact speaks for itself: Over the past 8 years, she’s supported tens of thousands of classroom projects. She’s also a book-lover of the highest order, and she enjoys supporting teachers who are helping students fall in love with reading. We asked her how she picks projects, why reading matters, and about the books she loved as a kid. Happy reading!

What does Elsa look for in a book project?

Elsa starts by looking for titles that kids will recognize as “relevant in their world.” A few of the titles she’s seen students especially engage with include Amulet, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and Baby Mouse. The latter works especially well for students who aren’t yet reading at grade level, she says, because “it's thicker, it looks like a chapter book,” which helps make sure students who haven’t caught up to their peers yet aren’t embarrassed. Elsa also supports projects with non-traditional reading materials, like graphic novels and cookbooks. Why cookbooks? It’s “empowering” for younger kids to learn to make their own food, and “it makes them feel a little bit older, a little more mature.” Kids need to practice reading, and to get them there, “we have to give them things they love to read.” When Elsa looks at a classroom project request, she looks for teachers who can paint a compelling picture of what their classroom is like. She recalls a recent project where the teacher noted that “one student using his mother's purse as a book bag.” And that kind of specific image sticks in the mind. Elsa said she “hardly had to read any more [of the project]. Anything [that teacher] wanted, I wanted to provide.”

What book turned you into a lifetime reader?

A classic children’s novel kicked off Elsa’s lifetime love of reading: The Borrowers Afield by Mary Norton. But it wasn’t love at first sight. Here’s how Elsa describes meeting her first really challenging book: My older sister, who is 9 years older than I, gave them to me as a Christmas gift. She told me that she explained to the clerk that I read well above my years. I was not an advanced reader, but that compliment from my sister was a carrot that was dangling out there. I remember the day I sat down with The Borrowers Afield and I could hardly get through that first page. It took me a while, even as an adult, to truly get into the flow of that book. Again, however, I was determined that I was not going to disappoint her faith in me that I was a good reader, and after I pushed my way through those first two, three, five, six pages, I was engaged with the story and I loved it.

Why is reading so essential?

Teachers go to a lot of trouble to find that magic book that will kick off a student’s love of reading. As Elsa puts it, “Trying to match up the right kid with the right book is a little bit of a game, but if you give them a buffet, they'll choose.” That’s why she believes it’s important to help teachers build out a wide-ranging classroom library, to make sure every student can find the right book. Elsa describes reading as a “lifelong companionship,” and especially essential when “we feel powerless in the face of all the problems of the world.” She points out that reading provides each child “a resource within themselves,” and she articulates a feeling that will be familiar to all of us book lovers: “You'll never be lonely, you'll always have that comfort of a good book.”Thank you Elsa for helping so many students find the magic in a great book!Want to channel Elsa and see all of the ideas teachers have for life-changing book projects?

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