When you think of childhood, a few household characters might ring a bell: Dr. Seuss’s Cat in a Hat, Rainbow Fish, and that mouse that wanted a cookie. As a primary classroom teacher, my job is to instill literacy in young minds and to expose children to diverse texts. The ultimate goal? To turn them into life-long learners.

Unfortunately, the reality of education is that these texts do not always make it into the classroom. For many of my students attending a Title I school, these texts do not always make it into their homes either. A need and a love of literacy is not being met for our youngest and most at-risk learners.

This is why my coworker and I decided to start an afterschool book club. Our mission is to make high-interest, fun, classic books accessible to kids. No tests, no worksheets, just reading and creating around these books.

Ms. Amis reads The Colors of Us to her students.

Each week, we choose a text and create a “craftivity” around it. These activities range from bedazzling Rainbow Fish to creating our own Wild Things crowns. Recently, we read The Colors of Us, a book that teaches children to appreciate their different skin tones. We asked each student to draw a self-portrait, before and after reading, using special skin tone crayons. Students were more likely to draw a realistic picture after being inspired by the text. First grade students opt in to the afterschool program, and the results are clear. Participants speak up in class more, seek out books for pleasure, and express excitement for book club each and every week.

A student displays a “craftivity” inspired by The Lorax.

Without a love of learning and reading, I would never have become a teacher. If we are to create the future of America, let’s get back to the basics of the Big Red Dog and the man in the yellow hat.

Working to end educational inequity as a Teach For America corps member, I sometimes feel like I hold the world on my shoulders. But then I break it down into smaller, bite-sized chunks. Every day, and especially in honor of National Reading Awareness Month, I put reading and books at the forefront of my teaching because I know that a great book has the power to take my students to great places.