Acting out of a conviction that personal access to published authors nurtures a life-long enjoyment of reading and writing, Jo Umans founded Behind the Book in late spring 2003. While a part-time librarian in her sons private school, Jo saw how author visits resoundingly influenced students desire to interact with the written word. She decided to take that same empowering opportunity to underserved students in New York City public schools.
Her decision to create a visiting authors program for the public schools coincided with the establishment of a new core curriculum for New York Citys school system. Recognizing the potential for synergy, Jo shaped Behind the Book to be a literary arts nonprofit organization dedicated to enriching the core curriculum by bringing authors and illustrators into the classroom whose works supplement what students are studying.
Behind the Book works closely with teachers to select books whose author or subject will also resonate with students. By reaching students at their level, Behind the Book aims to cultivate an enjoyment of books that spurs growth in literacy skills and that stimulates exploration of literature and an abiding interest in reading.
With our focus on tailoring author visits to meet classroom needs, Behind the Book builds creative partnerships between author, teacher, and student. Over the course of an academic year, we work closely with each participating teacher to choose authors from our extensive roster whose work and personality match the capabilities and learning requirements of that teachers classroom. Depending on a sites objectives, anywhere from two to five authors visit in an academic year. Author visits come in a variety of forms, including workshops, year-long projects, intensive one-time sessions, and combinations of these.
The author or illustrator, teacher, and Behind the Book collaborate on deciding the goals and format of the visit, which incorporate student creative expression and author-student participation. Behind the Book provides copies of the selected book for each student to read and keep. Books arrive several weeks in advance of the author visit to give students ample time to do the reading and for classroom discussion of the text. Where appropriate, Behind the Book provides arts materials for student projects. This formal structuring of student preparation not only develops literacy skills and encourages creativity and collaboration, it yields richer meaning to meeting the author.
Behind the Book distinguishes itself from other literary arts programs in our flexible model for promoting reading and writing. While our models components remain constant--book ownership; collaboration between teacher, author or illustrator, and student; and structured student preparation--its application is adaptable to each classrooms needs. The site-specific tailoring gives teachers the flexibility necessary to meet curriculum requirements while providing them resources and tools to enrich the curriculum and engage students in a novel way. Our models flexibility derives from the individualized attention that Behind the Book invests in each of our sites to ensure that students and teachers benefit as well as the author or illustrator.