All Together Now!


A Virginia organization helps the love for reading to go global

(image courtesy

If you build a community, they will read. That’s one way to look at the impressive results of a Virginia-based non-profit called Read to Them. The organization’s One School, One Book program has children, families and school communities reading all over the world. Through the shared reading of a single title at a time, they’re nurturing a love for reading.

Program director Bruce Coffey says what they’re doing is a little bit tricky. They’re working with schools and through students, but it’s primarily the parents they’re after. He finds that parents often don’t realize how valuable it can be to read aloud together as a family. Sometimes, he says, they know but they aren’t reading as much as they think they are. “Many of them shrug, like—‘big deal’, because even though they know it, they may not be doing it… maybe they’ve forgotten to read.”

One School, One Book reminds them by motivating students and educators and entire school communities. A school selects a single title from the recommended list. One School, One Book works with the school to provide a copy for each family, along with trivia questions, suggested assemblies and connected activities. Students read at home with their families, following a suggested schedule. The result is a book that everyone has read, likely enjoyed and a sense of accomplishment and shared community. It is significant that reading becomes a social event. “We do this in a way that does not shame them. When we do it as a community, it’s a lot more encouraging. If there’s someone on the fence and they see everyone else is doing it, why not jump on board?”

Schools are eager to participate, as they know the reading youngsters do at home will make them better students at school. But again, Coffey reminds us it’s the parents they want to be affected. “We hear a lot about developing a culture of reading, but in reality that is what we’re talking about… homes where everybody has books and they’re reading them in their leisure time. That really is our long-term goal.” Even longer term, One School, One Book would like to help foster generational change. “Kids who are read to read to their kids. We’re not re-inventing the wheel here; we’re just reminding the families.”

Coffey counts among the best rewards is seeing the imaginative student projects, based on the chapter books they’ve read. He recalls some New York-style newsstands and operatic performances following the reading of The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden and then there was the stained glass rendition of Gloria Dump’s tree, inspired by Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn Dixie. Improving students’ knowledge of authors is another bonus. Trumpet of the Swan is a perennial favorite, and along the way, young readers learn that E.B. White also penned Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web.

One School, One Book partners primarily with elementary schools, though a few middle schools participate. There are now approximately 250 schools involved on three continents. The program’s expansion and popularity have been exponential, since it was just a few years ago that Coffey casually shared an idea at his own children’s school… why not have everyone read the same book? What started with a single school has become the delight of many thousands. And the story is still unfolding.

If you’d like to learn more about One School, One Book– including how to become a member school, you may visit the website of their parent organization at You’ll also find helpful audio tips and links to research on reading aloud.