Maxwell Middle School in Tucson became a 2013 Bookmans School Challenge finalist and $3,000 cash winner for their exemplary commitment to literacy, inspiring educational techniques and staff and family dedication to the success of the program. Maxwell Middle exemplifies Bookmans’ core value of literacy and creating a life-long love of reading through their school-wide, shared reading experience. Every student, teacher and staff member right down to the custodian read The Hunger Games during the 2011-12 school year. Teachers in every subject area including Math and Science integrated the book into their lessons. The most compelling part of Maxwell’s application was hearing from family members who said having a child this excited about reading was a life-changing experience that brought reading into their homes and tightened family bonds. Maxwell Middle not only gave all the students and staff free copies of the book to keep, they also instilled a greater sense of belonging.


We sat down with Jillian Parkhurst, the Maxwell teacher who submitted the School Challenge application, and asked some of our burning questions.

* How did you come up with the idea for a school-wide read out and why Hunger Games?
I read the Hunger Games trilogy the summer prior and found myself hooked! I was inspired to read without stopping and did not want the series to end. As a young adult, I wasn’t the “best” reader, nor did I find books that hooked me in school (my love for reading didn’t come until my adult years). So, as I read Hunger Games, I was constantly reminded of our students at Maxwell and how this could be a potential book that hooks them into reading! I felt like the book would draw our students in because of how well they could relate to this particular book. The book ties into their social needs, intrigues both males and females, addresses socio-economic differences, and brings in the discussion topic of reality television and the choices that we make each day. With all of that being said, I wanted to see students excited about reading, so I asked the Principal if we could purchase the book for the entire school as a community building piece that also stressed academic achievement. She borrowed a copy from our library, read it that night and agreed the next day!

* How did the read out affect the school community?
The most inspiring part of this process was seeing students and adults get excited over a common book that they were all reading together. Everyone was wrapped up in the story of Katniss and Peetah. We saw students sitting outside their classes reading during lunch hour, reading while sitting in the Principal’s office, students that never brought a backpack to school were walking around campus with a book in their hands. They owned their books and they owned this activity. It was infectious. The custodians, front office staff and cafeteria employees were discussing the book with students, so it wasn’t only teachers involved in the process. Seeing it bring a sense of community and pride to our campus was truly inspiring.

* What surprised you the most about the read out?
The fact that it worked! It drew such a wide variety and number of students into reading in such a short amount of time. This was our hope, but it was still surprising when we saw it happen with so many diverse reading levels at the same time. Students began checking out the next books in the series and/or buying the next books with their own personal allowance money. We even had parents inquiring as to whether or not we had more copies on campus, so that they could read the first book to find out what the whole craze was all about.

* Is there anything else you would like to add?
We just want to add a big THANK YOU from the students and staff at Maxwell. We are very thankful that we get to participate in such a powerful reading experience again and we hope that you join along with us!

Several Bookmans staffers have committed to doing just that and we look forward to seeing what Maxwell students will read next. We are so inspired to see an entire school dedicated to reading the same book and especially loved hearing kids were excited for their next school read-out. One of our favorite moments was handing off the big check that comes with being a winner. Check out the students as they hold a check as big as themselves on our Flickr feed.