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NEA News

NEA Celebrates 20 Years of Read Across America!

On the 20th Anniversary of NEA's Read Across America, and as classrooms have become broadly diverse, educators need books that reflect the diversity of our classrooms and communities. This article covers that mission, and more!

Key Takeaways

  1. The 20th anniversary celebration of NEA’s Read Across America is celebrated in schools and communities across the nation.
  2. The celebrations are all about fun, but also for fostering the love of reading - especially books that reflect the diversity of classrooms and communities.
  3. A list of titles is provided that present characters and stories that are different from ourselves yet help us understand the similarities among us.


For 20 years, the National Education Association has promoted reading across the nation in a Dr. Seuss birthday celebration! It’s traditionally celebrated on March 2, Dr. Seuss’s birthday, for a simple but important reason—Dr. Seuss’s skill with rhyme and whimsical use of nonsense makes his beloved books an effective tool for teaching young children the basic skills they need to be successful readers. When we celebrate Dr. Seuss and reading, we send a clear message to America’s children that reading is fun and important.

But this national celebration is not just about one day of reading fun. NEA’s Read Across America is about discovering the joys of reading and cultivating good reading habits that will last kids a lifetime. We’re building a nation of readers “never too old, too wacky, too wild to pick up a book and read with a child.”

NEA’s Read Across America program is especially important today. Over the past 20 years our classrooms have become broadly diverse, and educators need books that reflect the diversity of our classrooms and communities. We believe books should be mirrors and windows so our students can see themselves in the pages of the books they read. But just as important, we want them to be able to look into the lives of characters different from themselves to gain a better understanding of the similarities we all share.

Each year, NEA’s Read Across America program creates a colorful calendar of books and reading lesson ideas for our members, which are highlighted in the following pages. Join us as we celebrate children’s literature and work to cultivate good reading habits that will last a lifetime. 

Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood

By F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell, and illustrated by Rafael López. This story is shared through the eyes of a young girl, but based on the art of artists Rafael and Candice López who brought their neighbors together to turn community spaces into a canvas for creative collaboration.

HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016. Artwork used with permission.


Get students thinking about how they can make a difference. Search the news for examples of kids helping others and discuss how and why their efforts made a difference. Ask students to share something—big or small—that they could do to help someone else. Based on their ideas and interests, encourage them to investigate possibilities for a class service project.

Titles to try for older readers:

What Elephants Know by Eric Dinerstein (Disney-Hyperion, 2016). This is the story of Nandu, an orphaned boy who saves his community in southern Nepal by helping to establish an elephant breeding center.

Draw the Line by Laurent Linn (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2016). Adrian Piper is a gay teen who witnesses a hate crime against another gay student and realizes he can use his artistic talents to do more than help himself cope.

Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras 

By Duncan Tonatiuh. A tale of how the calaveras—festive skeletons is synonymous with Mexico’s Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)—came to be.

Abrams, 2015. Artwork used with permission.


Help students recognize cultural influences all around them. Ask students what culture looks like and the purpose of culture. Have them research the origins of a Hispanic cultural tradition, looking for the influence of that tradition on American culture. Then get students to present their discoveries with classmates by bringing food, music, literature, and art to share.

Titles to try for older readers:

Yes! We Are Latinos: Poems and Prose About Latino Experience by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy, and illustrated by David Diaz (Charlesbridge 2016). This book focuses on the diverse experiences of young Latinos living in the United States.

Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx by Sonia Manzano (Scholastic, 2015). A poignant and powerful childhood memoir of the actress who grew up to play Maria on Sesame Street.

Thunder Boy Jr. 

By Sherman Alexie and illustrated by Yuyi Morales. Great for new readers, this book features a boy who wants a name all his own that celebrates who he is.

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016. Artwork used with permission.


Get students thinking about the power of names. Have them compare and contrast their own experiences with what they learned about Native American naming customs.

Titles to try for older readers:

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall III, and illustrated by Jim Yellowhawk (Amulet Books, 2015). Eleven-year-old Jimmy learns about courage and sacrifice as he and his grandfather take a road trip that traces the history of the Lakota warrior Crazy Horse.

My Name is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson (Skyscape, 2013). Set in the 1960s, this book features an Inupiaq Eskimo boy and the people he meets when he and his brothers are sent away from home to attend a Catholic boarding school.

Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay 

By Susan Hood, and illustrated by Sally Wern Comport. This story of trash to triumph offers a message of music, hope, and perseverance. 

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016. Artwork used with permission.


Have kids design and create original musical instruments out of items from the recycling bin. Start by investigating the science of sound, and look at how different vibrating systems produce musical sounds. Let kids test available materials and sketch ideas for their instruments before they start building. After they build, strike up the band!

Titles to try for older readers:

Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly (Greenwillow Books, 2015). Apple, a Filipino American eighth grader, believes she can change her life by learning how to play the guitar.

Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson (Candlewick, 2015). The true story of a city under siege and of Dmitri Shostakovich, who wrote a symphony to rally and commemorate his fellow citizens.

In Going Home, Coming Home 

By Truong Tran, and illustrated by Ann Phong. A young girl discovers she can call two places home when she visits her grandmother in Vietnam.

Children’s Book Press, 2003. Artwork used with permission.


Help students learn from their own families. Get students to discover family stories by having them interview an older relative, such as a grandparent or great aunt or uncle, who can share family memories. Have students craft open-ended questions that ask for descriptions of past celebrations, vacations, or milestones as well as simple biographical questions.

Titles to try for older readers:

Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eager (Candlewick, 2016). Following a summer spent with her grandfather, 12-year-old Carol explores her feelings about family, heritage, and cultural roots.

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2015). Naila travels to Pakistan to visit family, and discovers that her parents have promised her hand in marriage to a man she has never met.

The Cat in the Hat 

The signature title for NEA’s Read Across America, Dr. Seuss’s work has introduced generations of families to the joy of reading. Simple and silly, the book’s repetition and rhyme beg to be read aloud and encourages kids to read on their own.

Random House Children’s Books, 1957. Artwork used with permission.

When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons 

By Julie Fogliano, and illustrated by Julie Morstad. A free-verse book that celebrates the joys and beauty of spring, summer, fall, and winter.

Roaring Brook Press, 2016. Artwork used with permission.


Have students work together to write a group poem. Show students an object or an image and have them each write a phrase in response to what they see. Assemble the poem by having students read the lines they have each written one after another. Reassemble and edit the poem as many times as students like by changing the order lines are read. Or give small groups all the lines and see how many different poems emerge.

Titles to try for older readers:

Hypnotize a Tiger: Poems About Just About Everything by Calef Brown (Henry Holt and Co., 2015). A bouncy collection of silliness that looks at everything from “Catsup cats” and “UFOs” to “Royal Gravy.” 

A Fire In My Hands by Gary Soto (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2013). Poems about universal human experiences. Includes personal anecdotes about Soto’s life.

The Shadow Hero 

By Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew. A middle-grade graphic novel about the origins of the Green Turtle, the first Asian American superhero.

First Second, 2014. Artwork used with permission. ©Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew.


Help students understand that the terms Asian American and Asian Pacific American include a number of diverse cultures and peoples. Get students to challenge stereotypes and investigate what it means to be Asian American. Have them create a world map that shows all the places from which Asian Americans hail, along with historic places in the U.S. where Asians and Pacific Islanders played a role in the nation’s heritage.  

Other titles to try: 

A Piece of Home by Jeri Watts, and illustrated by Hyewon Yum (Candlewick, 2016). A picture book about the trials and triumphs of a Korean family who start a new life in West Virginia.

Ink and Ashes by Valynne E. Maetani (Tu Books, 2015). A riveting mystery about a Japanese American teen living in Utah, who discovers her father was a member of the Yakuza.


By Dori Kleben, and illustrated by  G. Brian Karas. How origami-making becomes a creative boy’s passion. 

Candlewick, 2016. Artwork used with permission.


Have students generate ideas for a passion project—something they want to know more about, learn how to do, or create. Guide them to resources and give them the time to develop their project and feel confident in their new knowledge so they can present their learning journey and products to peers and parents.

Titles to try for older readers:

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson (Dial Books, 2015). A graphic novel adventure about Astrid who discovers a passion for roller derby as she and her best friend grow apart.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (Viking, 2015). The true story of nine working class boys who overcame adversity to win a gold medal in rowing at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.


By Jihyeon Lee. A wordless picture book that tells the story of a young swimmer who dives deeply into his imagination in a crowded pool.

Chronicle Books, 2015. Artwork used with permission.


Pretending to be someone else activates imaginations and exercises language skills. Have students talk about the expression “walking in someone else’s shoes.” Ask students to think about how they can use their imaginations to learn about and understand the experiences of others. Have them generate a list of “shoes to walk in,” research related issues, and come up with ways they can communicate their new understanding. 

Titles to try for older readers:

Words with Wings by Nikki Grimes (Wordsong, 2013). Told in verse, this book explores how a girl uses her imagination as she copes with tough times at home and starts a new school.

In The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (Doubleday, 2011).  Two student magicians compete in a battle of imagination at a mysterious nighttime circus.

School’s First Day of School 

By Adam Rex, with pictures by Christian Robinson. A look at the first day at Frederick Douglass Elementary as told from the anxious school building’s point of view.

Roaring Brook Press, 2016. Artwork used with permission.


Get students thinking about what goes into designing a great school by having them create one themselves. Have them focus on STEM themes and the architectural design of their dream school, or get their ideas on paper or video about school culture and what kind of learning opportunities they think are important.

Titles to try for older readers:

Fish In a Tree by Lynda Mulaly Hunt (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2015). Ally’s new teacher helps her understand that everyone is smart in different ways.

Fight to Learn: The Struggle to Go to School by Laura Scandiffio (Annick Press, 2016). Describes learning obstacles faced by children worldwide.

Get these books at deep discounts! First Book is a non-profit that provides new books to schools serving children in need. Find out more at







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The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.