Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Brown Bag Book Grab: A Gift of Book Love #SOL17 #APLit

AP Lit and Comp students pose with their books
One week ago AP Literature and Compositions learned their student scores and began the process of reflecting on the past year's successes and challenges. 

This mid-summer interruption to our beach reading and napping causes stress when we desire rest. The announcement from the College Board that the 2017 AP Lit and Comp scores are the lowest this decade calls for reflection on why we teach imaginative literature. In her slim volume How Reading Saved My Life, Anna Quindlen writes: 

Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination and the journey. They are home....In books I have traveled, not only to other worlds, but into my own. I learned who I was and who I wanted to be, what I might aspire to, and what I might dare to dream about my world and myself.

In AP Literature and Composition, my students and I build a home, a sanctuary for exploring our lives and world as well as worlds beyond our geographic and cultural frame of reference. We imagine the lives of others and in doing so learn about our own lives. 

The most important gift I want to impart to my students is a love of literature. I want them to see books as safe places. Most students arrive in my classroom fearful of poetry and often proclaiming they don't like poetry, I strive to cultivate a love of verse in their lives. 

It is in this spirit of loving reading that for our end-of-year celebration we partied with what I call a "Brown Bag Book Grab." If you've ever attended a White Elephant gift exchange, you have a sense of how the book grab works. 

I gathered up books of all genres and grade levels that I thought would appeal to my students. Some of these I owned, but others I ordered for the event. I kept the cost down by gifting books I'd already read, such as Textbook: Amy Kraus Rosenthal and by setting a budget for other books. 

Next, I put the books in brown paper bags I had stored in the pantry. I used a few other bags I had laying around the house, too, as I did not want to waste money on wrapping paper. Then I lined the bags up in the front of my classroom the day of the event. 

As the kids entered  the classroom, I numbered them. That way the first to arrive chose first. Just as "stealing" happens in a White Elephant exchange, so too did students "steal" from one another. However, we limited the number of times a book could be stolen. 

Since we began the year by analyzing theme in picture books, and since Mr. Tiger Goes Wild was the most popular picture book in September, I included some picture books in the selection. 

Debunk It proved he most popular book, based on the number of "steals." All the debaters in the class wanted that book. It's a book I've owned for a year but had not read yet; I became reacquainted with its thesis after listening to three episodes on the You Are Not So Smart podcast. 

A few books had not arrived in the mail in time for the event, so I put copies of their covers and descriptions as place holders in the bags. I also didn't want students to be disappointed in their books, so I allowed them to exchange among themselves at the end of class, and I had a few extra titles set aside for those who wanted to exchange their books. 

While I included picture books and some poetry collections, I omitted novels for the most part. Instead, I included books that promote creativity and writing, such as Big Magic, which went to an artist in the class.

I plan to repeat the activity next year and will begin collecting books early in the year so that I can tailor the selections even more to my students. 

I'd love to hear titles I should include for the next Brown Bag Book Grab. 
Each Tuesday the phenomenal team
at Two Writing Teachers hosts the
Slice of Life blogging challenge. Head over to
TWT for more story slices.


  1. What a great idea, Glenda - I'd suggest Bird by Bird, but you probably already have that book selected.

    1. Yes! I wanted to add Bird by Bird and On Writing, but they were too expensive. I'll get copies for next year.

  2. Sounds good. Poetry seems like a great tool for inviting students to fiction, for it's the backbone of music.

  3. I bet you can find used copies of the books in next-to-new condition, on Amazon or Alibris. I would have loved this as a student.

    1. Thanks, Karen. This was a last minute plan, so I needed to use books I had and others I could get quickly. Next year I'll start earlier so I can take advantage of bargains.