In this podcast, Franki Sibberson and John Schumacher chat about how John managed to read over 1700 books in 2010, as well as keep up with his popular blog and a school library program second to none. You can learn more about John at his Watch Connect Read blog:
A full transcript of the podcast is available below the player.
Franki Sibberson: Rumor has it that you read over 1,700 books in 2010. Can you tell us about that; what kind of books you read, what kind of routines did you have in place to get so many books read, how’d you decide what to read, things like that? The 1,700 is a huge number so I’m curious.
John Schumacher: Yes. Actually, last year I read 1,705 books, so –
Franki Sibberson: Oh, wow.
John Schumacher: Yeah. My original goal was to read 2,000 books. And the way it started was because I wanted to read every book in our e-section in the library. And I presented this challenge to the kids and asked them “Will I be able to achieve this goal of reading every e-book in the library.”
So it started with that. And then as I started reading every book in the e-section, I realized that I was reading a lot of stuff that wasn’t a 2010 copyright. So I kind of decided my goal for the year was to read at least half of the e-section and then to try to read as many books published in 2010 as possible.
And the reason I wanted to do that is to see if I could read every book that won the Newbery, every book that one that won the Caldecott, every book that won the Geisel. So to try to see could I correctly predict the books that the award committees gave to, and also to see if I could find, you know, the best new books and then share those best new books with my students.
And so I kind of came up with a formula which sounds kind of obsessive-compulsive but it’s not. So what I tried to do is I tried to read between 150 to 200 picture books a month.
I try to read between 10 to 12 middle grade novels, and then I tried to read at least to young adult selections as well so that I have a pretty good balance because although I work with K-5, kids at the middle school will frequently email me for book suggestions, you know, for young adult suggestions.
So I tried to read still for kids who are no longer my students, but kids who I am still in touch with. So, you know, to me, that’s really important.
Franki Sibberson: Like, how’d you do that? Did you have a certain amount of time every day you read?
John Schumacher: Well, what I tried to do is, I try to read before I leave for school in the morning. So I’ll usually get up 45 minutes before I actually need to and then I’ll spend, like, 20 minutes before school reading which is really important to me.
I think it’s like the perfect way to start the day. Sometimes because of it, I end up running late for school because I’ll be focused more on reading.
Franki Sibberson: I was gonna say. . .
John Schumacher: Yeah, so that’s not always the best thing ’cause I often will want to stay and continue reading. But then I always have, like, two to three audio books in the car. I always check out multiple audio books only because I’m very picky about the narrators, so I’ll always have a couple selections.
I usually listen to books going to school and then coming home from school and that actually allows me to get in two to three novels a week because my commute is about 40 minutes each way.
And then I do – usually when I get home from school, I will go on Twitter and I will do some Twitter stuff and then I’ll try to read like a stack of picture books in the evening.
And then I always have like six or seven novels that I’m juggling because I have a hard time sticking with one book, so I know if you ever looked at my Good Reads for what I’m currently reading, I usually have like six or seven novels going which I do think a lot of librarians do that.
But then usually I’ll finish them all in one week which is nice because then I’ll be like, “Oh, in one week I read seven novels,” but I’d been reading those novels for weeks.
Franki Sibberson: Okay. Wow.
John Schumacher: That kind of schedule works for me.
Franki Sibberson: Okay. So is that pretty typical for you the 1,700 or was this just a gigantic year of reading?
John Schumacher: Prior years – I tried to look back and see; I average about 500 books a year. And actually, what happened – actually, I graduated from library school one year ago in January and during library school I had three classes in which we read a lot. Like, I had a young adult class where we read, like, seven to eight novels a week, and young adult novels are really big.
Franki Sibberson: Right.
John Schumacher: You know, so I’d be reading to 300 to 400 page novels times seven, and so I had to come up with this weird schedule in order to achieve that, and in order to balance everything else into my teaching responsibilities and life responsibilities.
And I somehow was able to fit that into my time. So I think when I graduated from school – let me back up for a moment. I did two back-to-back master’s degrees, so for six years I did really nothing but school work and when you’re working full time and doing nothing but school, I think you somehow come up with this schedule to achieve all that and to balance all of that.
And I think when I graduated from library school, I just kind of kept some of those – I just continued leading my life almost like I was still in graduate school. So, you know, I didn’t fill those times with other things. I went ahead and times that I’d normally be doing schoolwork, I just dedicated that then to reading. Does that make sense?
Franki Sibberson: It makes total sense. So what’s your goal this year then?
John Schumacher: Well, my goal for 2011 is to read 2,011 books which I thought –
Franki Sibberson: Oh, nice.
John Schumacher: Yeah, but actually I think I’m gonna surpass that because I’m already to 737 books as of today.
Franki Sibberson: Oh my gosh.
John Schumacher: So I think that goal I’ll be able to reach.
Franki Sibberson: John, how does reading so many books help you in your work with students?
John Schumacher: It helps a great deal and when I’m reading a book, I’m always thinking about, you know, who can I give this book to. I know Donalyn Miller talks about that with the book whisperer where the book is almost talking to you, telling you, you know, to whom this book is for. And I think that’s what happens.
And when you read so much, you always have so many books floating around your head and so when a child comes in looking for a particular book or you know that child’s interest, I think it’s really easy to recommend books to a student when you have a vast knowledge to pull from.
Now, one of the biggest disadvantages for me though, most of the books I read come from my public library. I mean, I have a really good public library in Naperville that pretty much gets any new book that’s published.
And so I have kind of a monthly tradition where I take school library journal, I take book lists, I take library median connection, and I’ll literally go through every single review for picture books. I try to do things that are under 32 pages.
And I place a hold on every single one of them and usually, the library will own like 90 percent of them and so when I’m talking to kids about books, oftentimes I’ll think in my head, “Oh, no, we don’t have that book. That book I read at the public library.” And so that is a slight disadvantage. But it definitely helps.
Franki Sibberson: Right. So do they know about your goal setting too? Do you talk to your kids about –
John Schumacher: Yeah, yeah. I’m incredibly an open reader. I’m always telling them about what I’m reading or what author I just met at Anderson’s Bookshop here in Naperville, you know, about my reading interests.
I’m a very public reader, and a very excited reader, and I share anything with them that I’ve read or I’m into, I will tell them about and then encourage them to do the same to me.
Franki Sibberson: Nice. Lucky kids. Okay. So you’re consistently one of the top readers on Good Reads. Can you talk a little about how you use Good Reads to keep track of your reading and pick your next book and, how do you –
John Schumacher: Yeah, I’m so thankful for Good Reads. It’s like –
Franki Sibberson: I love it.
John Schumacher: I know. It’s kind of like my brain. It’s like Good Reads is my book brain. It happens to me often because of my kind of binging reading cycles where I’ll actually be reading a book, I’ll start a book, and I’ll say to myself, “Oh, my goodness, I think I’ve read this before.”
And then I always go to my iPhone and I have the Good Reads app, and I’ll look and I’ll see and I’ll be, “Oh my goodness, I did. I already read that book.” But that is really, really helpful. Then it’s also helpful because I almost keep my Good Reads like a library catalog where I have, I think, maybe 227, 230 different shelves.
So I try to categorize my books the way, you know, a student might ask for them or if I need to make a book list I’ll try to, you know, put them in different categories so it will be easy for me to go in and look at them. Oftentimes, if someone is asking for a specific topic, I’ll be able to just email them my entire shelf.
Franki Sibberson: Wow.
John Schumacher: And that’s really helpful. Another thing I love is that it’s a wonderful social network. Like, I log in probably too frequently to see what other people are reading. There are particular people I always check on.
Like, I always check on you, Donalyn Miller and people like that. And a lot of time, I’ll see that they’re reading something that I have in a pile somewhere.
So I might put aside what I’m reading and then read what they’re reading ’cause then you can engage in a conversation with them about the book which I think is really powerful.
And then through that conversation, oftentimes you can come up with ideas of how to use it in your library or with your students or, you know, whatever.
Franki Sibberson: Right. That’s so smart. I’ve gotta figure more of that out. Okay. In your blog bio, you talk about how you work diligently to put the right book in every child’s hand. What are some ways you do that working with the whole school of kids?
John Schumacher: Before I became a school librarian, I taught third and fourth grade in my building. And one of the things I loved most about being a homeroom teacher is that you really get to know the students really, really well. You know their hobbies, you know their family life. You know everything.
And one of the things I would do pretty much every day or every other day is I would select, like, one or two students who I would, like, put a little happy on their desk or a happy on their locker. And some days there would be a positive note or an article or it would a book that I specifically picked out for them the night before.
And I think that was a really powerful way of connecting with kids in your own homeroom. So I had to figure out ways as a school librarian who doesn’t see them as much, or doesn’t have much access to them of how could I make the impact that I made as a classroom teacher to the whole school.
So I do things like that oftentimes where sometimes I’ll leave little books on the students desk or I’ll leave a little note that says, you know, come see me about this or that.
Other things that I do, I have my entire library budget is through Anderson’s Bookshop, and so if a student wants something or they request something that we don’t have, I’ll be to, like, you know, go with them to the phone, and a lot of times if it’s not with a scheduled class I’ll call the bookstore with them right there.
I just show them that I care about what they want and just show them this is something they’ll eventually be able to do for themselves. I think through bringing authors into our school who kids really like, I think that’s another way I connect books to them, of showing them that authors are real people and that authors can be heroes and authors can be role models. I think that’s how I work to put books in kids’ hands.
Franki Sibberson: Wow. Amazing. All right. So what advice do you have for teachers and librarians who are trying to fit more reading time into their lives? I don’t know if we’ll get to 2,000, but how, you know, what advice do you have to better keep up with so many great books?
John Schumacher: I think the more we know about books, I think the better we can connect with students. I think, you know, you don’t need to read 2,000 books a year or even 100 books a year, but I think knowing about books, I think even if you don’t read all of the books, I think belonging to networks that although you to be aware of books that are popular or books that your students might connect with.
So I think like joining things like Twitter and Good Reads and Shelfari, and following people who maybe read a lot if you don’t have as much time to read. Do that make sense?
I think things like, you know, if I were on Twitter and I weren’t a part of Book-A-Day or Bookstack or Title Talk, I could go through and read those things, and perhaps I could think, “Oh, wow. That sounds really interesting.” And then I could go get that for my students.
I think it’s best if you’re the one reading them, but if you don’t have the time to read the, I think connecting with people who read a lot is helpful, be it, you know, your school librarian or your reading specialist or your local book shop or your local library that could make recommendations for you because it’s hard.
People’s lives are really busy and sometimes you don’t get to reading as much as you would like to. Does that make sense?
Franki Sibberson: It makes total sense to keep up with books you don’t necessarily – that’s really smart. So do you have any new – I know your favorites must change all the time ’cause you’re constantly reading so many books, but do you have any that are new that are extremely popular lately that you can’t, you know, that you’re just dying to put in everyone’s hands?
John Schumacher: My kids think I’m like a really fickle person because I’m always like, “Oh no, this is my favorite” or “This is” you know, I’m always like declaring that this is the best book.
And when I do that oftentimes one of my favorite things to do is one of the things I miss the most about books not being in print or not having the physical book is that my kids all, like, gather around me and we’ll smell, like, that best new book.
And I think some of the most popular books right now in my library are Dan Gutman’s books because Dan Gutman came to our school in January.
Franki Sibberson: Right. Okay.
John Schumacher: So a lot of the kids are reading his new book The Genius Files: Mission Unstoppable which is a fast-paced adventure story. My students love graphic novels. A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz is popular. Bink and Gollie is really popular. So, and then books like Wimpy Kid is still popular, and Big Nate by Lincoln Percy’s popular.
But my kids are really drawn to things like Babymouse and Lunch Lady and a Frankie Pickle and any pop-up or any 3D book that you give them they absolutely love. So I think those are pretty much the most popular.
Franki Sibberson: Could you talk a little about book trailers. I know on your blog you really use book trailers to introduce books to the kids in your library. Can you talk about why you thing they’re such a good way to match kids and books?
John Schumacher: Yeah, when I think of book trailers I always think of, like, Madeline Hunter and her anticipatory set that, you know, it’s a lesson you’re always trying to reel in your kids or you know, reel in your audience.
But I think book trailers are a great way to reel in readers. I think a lot of times my students, if it’s a really good book trailer, they’ll be saying, “Oh my goodness, is this a movie? Is this a movie trailer or is this a book trailer?”
A lot of times they even will like applaud at the end of the book trailer which I always find really, really interesting. And the way I kind of organize by blog, and I always start with the book trailer and then a little summary, a little bit of like how students related to the book.
And then I put resources. And that structure’s very similar to how I do Book Talk with a little of a change though. I usually talk first and then if I’m book talking with say ten books, I might show two book trailers during those ten books.
And then I’ll show the book trailer and sometimes I’ll have them go explore some of those resources. So they might go to the author’s website or they might play a game that’s related to the book we’re talking about because I feel like a lot of times when I use multimedia in Book Talking, they connect more to the book or they’re more excited to read the book.
And I think, you know, Patrick Carman does a good job with that, you know, Skeleton Creek or 39 Clues does a really good job of that. So I think book trailers reel in a lot of kids. And a lot of times kids wouldn’t have read a book, read a book because of a really good book trailer.
Franki Sibberson: Okay. So you use those when you Book Talk to; you don’t just use them on your blogs?
John Schumacher: Yeah, I don’t do all the time. So maybe if I’m doing ten Book Talks, maybe two or three of them I’ll use a book trailer because I don’t wanna overuse them, so I try to do a balance of me talking and then, you know, the book trailer talking.
Franki Sibberson: Right. How do you find those book trailers?
John Schumacher: I do like daily searches for them. And something I do, I keep track of like when books are being released. I have a little chart that I follow, and so –
Franki Sibberson: I do too.
John Schumacher: Yeah, it’s just helpful.
Franki Sibberson: (Laughter)
John Schumacher: I feel like this obsessive person who (Laughter) And then I’ll just, you know, I’ll do a search for, “Okay, I wanna talk about this book” but it doesn’t have, you know, I think it’s a lot of just searching for them. But it’s such a great feeling when you’re the first person to find the trailer.
Franki Sibberson: Find the trailer. We like when you find the trailer for us. Changing the subject a little, can you talk about – I know you do a lot of school-wide events in your library that really just kinda add excitement. Can you talk about any that have been really successful in helping turn kids into readers?
John Schumacher: Yeah, I think – I mentioned earlier, I think author events are the most powerful thing. You can take kids who, you know, I’ve seen kids who really don’t like to read, have never really shown much interest in reading, and then they meet an author, and something changes, something clicks with a lot of kids.
And then they wanna read all of that author’s. And some of them write their own little stories. So I think, two in particular that were really, really powerful. The first one when Dan Gutman came. And he speaks really well to boy readers.
I think he speaks well to all readers, particularly boy readers. And lot of kids read all of the Baseball Card Adventures.
And the other one, Doreen Cronin came, and she’s just so funny and so down to earth, and all of the kids wanted to write their own worm stories and spider stories and fly stories. And I think that had a profound effect on a lot of kids.
I do a lot of like little parties, so we did like a Scaredy Squirrel birthday party, and, you know, the kids they thought they were actually going to Scaredy’s birthday party. I think some of them were wondering why he wasn’t there.
Like, a Dewey Decimal party. So I try to take whatever we’re learning, like it’s kind of a culminating event. I’m big on that. Where what we’ve been studying, I then do a big celebration. And I think that really helps kids see that the library is an exciting place and the library is a place that hopefully they’ll continue to go for the rest of their lives.
And we did – Shannon Miller who is a librarian in Iowa, she and I do a monthly project together, and we’ve done – I think we’ve done seven projects together this school year, and those are really powerful for kids because her kids, the kids in Iowa, kind of become an extension of our library and of our classrooms where they get really excited about the projects we’re doing with the kids in Iowa.
Franki Sibberson: That’s so interesting how you said it was like an extension.
John Schumacher: Yeah, it really feels like it. Like, you know, we’ve Skyped with the kids, and my kids have made them little notes and they, you know, they wrote little letters to Mrs. Miller and some of these things are their own ideas, you know, and they –
Franki Sibberson: So it’s just enlarged the reading community. . .
John Schumacher: Yeah, it really does. And our fourth graders were online book buddies with the fourth graders in Iowa, so they were going on Edmodo and they were discussing books on there and it’s just really, really interesting.
Franki Sibberson: Wow. That sounds like it made a huge difference. So what about teachers; how do you connect with teachers in terms of planning, getting the right books to kids, things like that?
John Schumacher: We have pacing guides where I have everybody’s curriculum in a binder, and so I’ll keep track of kind of where the teacher’s at, and if I know the dinosaur project is coming up, I’ll go to the second grade team and say, “How can I help supplement your dinosaur project?”
So a lot of it though is me taking the concepts that they’re doing in the classroom and extending them, enriching them almost in the library. I see the younger kids for a lot of time.
Franki Sibberson: Oh, do you?
John Schumacher: For second grade, I see each homeroom for 90 minutes a week.
Franki Sibberson: Oh, wow.
John Schumacher: Yeah. So I have a 30 minute block and I have a 60 minute block. And during the 30 minute block, that’s when I usually focus on book related things. You know, I’ll do Book Box and we’ll do book explorations and we’ll do book checkout and then during the 60 minutes, that’s almost entirely devoted to what’s going on in the classroom.
So I’ll do, you know, projects – right now I’m doing a project on dinosaurs for the second grade because they’re studying dinosaurs. Or if they’re doing, you know, volcanoes or whatever, so I think a lot of my connection with teachers is taking some of the pressure off of them and sometimes they’ll give me some of the concepts that they need to cover within a unit and I’ll search for them.
I also collaborate with the music teacher a lot where I will read the story to the kids and then she’ll do a music activity with them which is nice. Every week I do a weekly newsletter for the teachers which I’ll take four or five websites on a theme and I annotate them and I’ll give sometimes little additional resources too and I do a book newsletter every week.
Franki Sibberson: I don’t know where you get your energy. You’re amazing. And you read 30 to 35 books. All right. One more question because this is so helpful.
John Schumacher: Okay.
Franki Sibberson: What about parents. What advice do you have for parents in terms of getting kids to read or how do you work with parents in your school?
John Schumacher: I love when parents come to me because I always – have you ever read – I think it’s called Unlikely Arithmetic: 13 Ways to Raise a Non Reader. It was put out by Horn Books.
Franki Sibberson: Yes, yes, yes.
John Schumacher: And it says things like – I’m trying to think – it says never read where your children can see you, and don’t let your kids listen to audio books, and don’t correct everything the misread.
So I think almost like I take everything that’s in that document and say the opposite to parents, you know. And I think the biggest thing that I stress to so many parents, and it’s been one of my biggest obstacles is getting parents to respect the books that their kids read.
And saying to parents, “This might not be what you like” particularly with boy readers who tend to like things – not making a generalization, but who like the most gross things sometimes or Wimpy Kid or, you know, Super Diaper Baby, things like that and respecting your child’s choices because I think sometimes if you don’t respect them, those students will turn into non-readers, and perhaps will never read again.
And I think being very honest with parents about that. But also encouraging parents to take their children to the public library, to take children to book shops, and if there are author events, take them to author events ’cause that’s really powerful.
I think just modeling for kids that you’re a reader and the importance of reading is really important. I am always willing to meet with parents, you know, to go over book recommendations and things like that. I’m not big on book lists though always because I like to do more things individualized.