Back to school in time for Literacy Day

Back to school in time for Literacy Day

After cleaning out school supply stores around the city over the weekend, NYC’s kids settled into their first full week of school today. They drew their name tags; got to know each other and their new teachers, and then it was time to get down to business. It was time to catch up on some reading after the long summer.

What better way to mark World Literacy Day? World Literacy Day was first designated by the United Nations in 1966, when around 44 per cent of the world’s population was illiterate. Right now it’s around 16 per cent. A great reason to celebrate – if you’re not one of the remaining 16 per cent.

According to an infographic by Media Bistro’s publishing blog, Galleycat, 20 to 30 per cent of New York State’s population was below fifth grade level of literacy in 2012. The latest census by The National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that only 47 percent of fourth grade students were at grade level on the NAEP tests in 2013. Only 35 percent of 8th grade students achieved grade level scores and just 17 per cent of African American fourth graders were proficient.

Illiteracy is inextricably linked to the poverty cycle and to help break it, New York City schools have their work cut out for them. At Behind the Book our mission is to help them by bringing accomplished authors and their books into classrooms creating rich, innovative literacy programs. We take our hats off to the passionate teachers and inspiring authors we get to work with.

Writing Visits (5)

With 55 programs planned this year, we’re looking forward to getting our favorite authors into classrooms to meet some truly awesome kids. Wait ’til you see the stories they come up with!

Happy Literacy Day everyone. What are you reading right now? let us know or share it with a fellow reader!


Who’s Behind the Book? – Meet Ellen!


This is Ellen Brown, our Student Book Coordinator.

This year, we published hundreds of copies of student-written works, and this wouldn’t have been possible without Ellen. In her role as Student Book Coordinator, Ellen has spent countless hours advising and copy editing the work of each professional book designer to create high quality, polished books of which every student can be proud.

Ellen’s addition to the Behind the Book team has significantly improved the process by which we create our books. Along with Sara Reynolds, former Art Director at Dutton Children’s Books, Ellen recruited several professional book designers, and worked closely with them to create beautiful books that supported the themes with which each student book dealt. In the picture above, Ellen is posing with all of the books she helped coordinate and design.

Behind the Book now works with designers from Chicago, Florida, and England, as well as several in the New York area. Each student in all of our programs receives a copy of his or her own book, as do the teachers, principals, and classroom libraries. Ellen’s work has ensured that each student will feel proud, accomplished, and motivated to read and enjoy books by the time the publishing party comes around.

If you are a professional book designer or a design student with InDesign experience and would like to design student books for us this fall, contact Ellen at Check out the books we completed this year here on our website.

Programs Without Student Books – DeWitt Clinton High School

While a large part of our programs are centered around the process behind the creation of a book, we also do several programs where student work is not published in anthologies, but is instead celebrated in other ways.

This year, twelfth graders at DeWitt Clinton High School read author Amy Waldman’s book The Submission, a novel about an anonymous contest to design a memorial at Ground Zero, and the uproar of journalists and politicians when they learn that a Muslim architect wins. The book helped the students answer the question, “How do you decide how to memorialize an event?” which was an important part of their curriculum.

After reading the novel, the students held an ethical discussion with Amy, which included questions about why she chose to write the book and how she came about its topic. Then, the students visited the 9/11 Tribute Center.

Amy Waldman Visit #2 DeWitt Clinton HS 028

On their visit, the students learned a lot about what it takes to build a memorial, and how architects go about constructing them. They learned about writing memorial proposals, and then they were tasked with composing their own 750-word proposals to commemorate an event in history of their choice.

BtB organized a group of DeWitt Clinton alumni to volunteer in the classroom to aid students in revising their works, and discuss their projects’ merits and strengths. The students were highly appreciative of the alums’ visit. When they finished their work, the students presented their proposals to the class. Overall, the project emphasized the significance of history, writing prowess, and public speaking skills, all of which the DeWitt seniors will continue to build upon in the future.

Even though they did not produce a published book, the seniors at DeWitt Clinton High School were still able to develop a deep appreciation for books, authors, and writing. They were able to sharpen their skills and build mastery experience, which is invaluable to a reader’s self-confidence level.

Of the program, one student said, “It was nice to meet someone with such experience, and who has had such an influence on our society.” Another said that hearing Ms. Waldman present her ideas to the class added some “inspiration that I could not get just from reading the book.”

After the students had finished their work, their teacher, Mr. Ray Pultinas, submitted his lesson plan and the work his students had done during the Behind the Book program to the 9/11 Tribute Center, and he won their Teacher Award for helping create an exemplary educational project that sustained the memory of the 9/11 attacks.

The students’ work was definitely a great success!

by Jenna Danoy, Social Media Marketing Intern

Giving Voice to Dreams

Our Dreams by Class 2-210 at PS 76


Time for a book celebration!

Recently, the second-grade students at PS 76 worked with Renée Watson, author of Harlem’s Little Blackbird, to write their own stories about their dreams and aspirations. At first, the students were nervous to read aloud to the class, but with gentle encouragement from Behind the Book founder Jo Umans, all of the students faced their fears and expressed their dreams. After working with Watson and the Behind the Book staff to revise their stories, the student created illustrations corresponding to their written work. Our Dreams is the final product of the second-graders’ hard work and creativity.

But what’s a book celebration? Behind the Book strives to not only improve the students’ literacy but also boost their confidence. The process of publishing a book demonstrates mastery in reading and writing, and book release parties instill a sense of accomplishment in students. As a result, students are more likely to continue reading and writing in the future.


 The second-graders were thrilled to view their work. Each piece was completely unique. Some students wanted to be teachers and veterinarians, while others opted for riskier routes (think ninjas!).

Students compared their original work to the published book and noted how professional it looked.


One student slid into the “Author’s Chair” and flipped through the anthology.


Congratulations to the second grade class at P.S. 76! We know your new found love for reading and writing will carry you far!


Building Intrigue Around Mysteries

Last Monday, Behind the Book made a final visit to Ms. Brown’s fifth grade classroom at PS 76.  The room was all decorated for our arrival.

Everyone was really excited to see Elizabeth Levy, the author whose book, Danger and Diamonds, they had all read. With her help, they wrote their own mystery book, which featured all the students, Ms. Brown, and even their principal, Mr. DeBerry, in starring roles!

After everyone got settled in, Liz showed them the published book on the Smart Board.

Then, everyone read the book all together. There was even a special guest – the principal, Mr. DeBerry!

Mr. DeBerry takes a look at the book his students wrote.

After reading, the students each got their own copy, and were treated to Munchkins and hot chocolate. They signed Liz Levy’s copy, and had a blast celebrating their accomplishments.

And, of course, we’re indebted to Columbia Community Service for their grant, which made these programs possible.

It was really fun!

If you’d like to see more photos from the event, you and find them here.

by Jenna Danoy, Social Media Marketing Intern


Standing Up and Speaking Out

by Jenna Danoy, Social Media Marketing Intern

Last Monday, we visited PS 76’s fourth graders in Class 401. We had a blast!

These students worked with author Andrea Davis Pinkney. They read her book Sit In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down, and then, with her help, wrote their own persuasive essays on topics of their choosing. They wrote about all kinds of things – from the quality of school lunches, to gun violence in America.

Their essays were then anthologized in their very own book, Say It Loud and Proud: Stand Up for What You Believe.

After proudly reading their statements to their classmates, the students all got to enjoy some cookies and have some fun! It was a really great day!

You can see more photos from their event here.


Thank you!

This Saturday, Behind the Book’s Young Executive Board held its annual Backyard Brooklyn BBQ at Freebird Books and Goods! The weather was fabulous, the food was superb, and the people were exceptional!

We would like to thank many people, starting of course with our hosts, Freebird Books and Goods. Thank you for hosting us once more!

Next, we’d like to thank BtheB’s Young Executive Board members for their enthusiasm, energy, and excellence – the three Es needed for a successful party!

And finally, we’d like to thank you! If you came to our event, you’re awesome. Without you, none of the work we do would be possible.

Take a look at some pictures from the event below.

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