Don't judge a book by its cover: Hanwell teacher encourages students to unwrap new reads

Megan Young-Jones, a Grade 6 and 7 teacher at Hanwell Park Academy, picked some books with interesting first sentences, wrapped them up and wrote the sentences on the covers as a new way to get her students engaging with books after the holidays. (Hannah Rudderham/CBC - image credit)
Megan Young-Jones, a Grade 6 and 7 teacher at Hanwell Park Academy, picked some books with interesting first sentences, wrapped them up and wrote the sentences on the covers as a new way to get her students engaging with books after the holidays. (Hannah Rudderham/CBC - image credit)

Books wrapped in brown paper sit in a pile at the front of Megan Young-Jones's classroom at Hanwell Park Academy, a new school southwest of Fredericton.

Each one has the book's first sentence written on the front, with the book's title and original cover hidden just below the surface until chosen by a student.

The idea, Young-Jones says, is for students not to judge a book by its cover.

A colleague shared this idea for engaging students when Young-Jones, a Grade 6 and 7 teacher, was working at George Street Middle School in Fredericton.

She decided to follow up on it this year, making it a New Year's surprise for her language arts students.

Hannah Rudderham/CBC
Hannah Rudderham/CBC

Young-Jones said reading is a passion of hers ,and she likes to find different ways for students to interact with books.

"I try my best to meet kids where they are and try to help them find the joy in reading," she said. "And it not be a chore, because it should be something that they enjoy."

Young-Jones chose the first round of books herself, but students have since taken over the project and picked books with first sentences that they thought would intrigue their classmates.

Taylin Whitlock, a Grade 7 student at Hanwell Park, said she helped pick out some of the books to wrap.

She chose books that had interesting first sentences, such as this one for One True Way by Shannon Hitchcock: "My life was about to change."

Another book she picked was Hide and Seeker by Daka Hermon, which begins with the sentence "Zee never shoulda come back."

Although she hasn't chosen a book from the pile to read yet, Taylin was happy to have picked some of the mystery books for the display.

Hannah Rudderham/CBC
Hannah Rudderham/CBC

Carter Waugh, another Grade 7 student, took a book from the pile but he hasn't started reading it yet, since he's still reading another.

He said the project is cool because a lot of students do grab books because of their covers.

"Sometimes it doesn't always tell what the book is about," Carter said.

Carter's pick was called Grenade and follows a man during the Second World War. The first sentence of the book is "An American bomb landed a hundred meters away—Kra-KOOM!—and the school building exploded."

One of Carter's favourite genres is historical fiction, so this book falls within his interests.

Young-Jones said if a student doesn't like the book they picked, she might encourage them to read 50 pages, or if it's a book she's read, she'll pitch the story to the student as best as she can.

Hannah Rudderham/CBC
Hannah Rudderham/CBC

"We're big fans in this room of 'If it's not a book for you, we don't force ourselves to read, we find the book that's the right fit for us.'"

When Young-Jones started the project, she didn't expect it to take off the way it did. She tweeted out a photo of the collection, and the principal of the school even came and picked one up to open on the school video announcements. Another teacher wanted the names of books she used.

Holden Boyer, a Grade 7 student, said the project is a "cool way to experience different types of things and just not your normal, everyday life."

"It definitely will help kids to try new books that they wouldn't normally try just because of the cover of a book," he said.

Hannah Rudderham/CBC
Hannah Rudderham/CBC

Holden said he's reading four books at the moment, but he plans to pick one of the wrapped books as soon as he can.

Young-Jones said there are different challenges each year with keeping students engaged with reading, but that she believes staying enthusiastic can help motivate students.

To do this, she tries different book projects, and also allows students to read graphic novels or listen to audio books.

She has her students write "To be read" lists and sometimes hosts a book café, where she brings in blankets, food and discussion cards. Students will get into groups and talk about the books they're reading while enjoying a snack.

Hannah Rudderham/CBC
Hannah Rudderham/CBC

Hanwell Park Academy also has a school-wide book initiative called an "Inchy" machine. It's a vending machine filled with books for kindergarten to Grade 8 students.

Teachers can nominate students for doing something good, and their name will go to the principal, who will pick a couple of names each day to win an Inchy coin, which can be used in the vending machine to take a book home.

"It's just another way to promote literacy in the building by putting books in students' hands that are theirs, too," said Young-Jones. "Because you never know who has access to books at home and who doesn't."