ELLSWORTH — Jennifer Kieren’s excitement for books is contagious.

This year Kieren’s students will catch reading-fever like never before. Over the summer the English teacher and literacy coach at Ellsworth High School received a $2,000 grant to stock her classroom library shelves.

“Reading has always been a passion of mine,” Kieren said.

The Book Love Foundation has awarded book grants since 2013. According to a Book Love Foundation news release, the organization gave away 66 grants for classroom libraries this year with around 400 applications coming in from across the U.S. and Canada. This year’s recipients got a $2,000 credit to the book vendor BookSource, which they then used to handpick novels for their classroom libraries.

Kieren made the most of her grant and spent $1,999.30, purchasing 263 books. The new books were added to her current classroom collection — around 500 books — which she has purchased from garage sales, thrift stores and through school funding.

“I’m running out of room,” Kieren said about her classroom shelves. “But that is a good problem to have.”

With the grant Jennifer Kieren added 263 books to her classroom collection. Ashley Rezachek/RiverTown Multimedia
With the grant Jennifer Kieren added 263 books to her classroom collection. Ashley Rezachek/RiverTown Multimedia

Kieren’s teaching style

Applicants were required to show a commitment to encouraging students to read and become lifetime readers. They also had to put in effort to provide access to a variety of books for their students and make it a point to give them time to read.

Kieren says her application was about nine pages long with very detailed answers to prompt questions about her teaching style and how she encourages her students to read. She spent a month writing the application.

“That has kind of been my goal and mission in life is to make people readers again if they have gone away from it,” Kieren said.

In her application she highlighted the teaching methods she uses to promote “choice reading.”

Choice reading is giving students the option to pick what they want to read. She still does the whole-class novel approach, but she says giving students the time to read what they want is important.

“If kids don’t like what they are reading, they tend not read or they fake read,” Kieren said.

She notes that students lead busy lives with school, athletics, after-school activities and their social lives. It can be hard for them to find time to read, so she carves out 15 to 20 minutes every day during her class for students to read whatever they want. She meets individually with her students and talks to them about what they are reading.

“That’s really the only way to make choice reading work, is if the teacher is completely invested,” Kieren said.

She has set up an Instagram account to delve more into her students’ world. There she posts book reviews and makes book recommendations.

“If I can get one book going viral, that just makes me super happy,” Kieren said. “It just gets passed around and passed around.”

According to Kieren. for years teachers have been “killing the love of reading” by making students read things that they have no interest in.”

Instead she focuses on providing choices, and with this new stock of books her students will have even more options.

Jennifer Kieren is running out of shelf space in her library. Ashley Rezachek/RiverTown Multimedia
Jennifer Kieren is running out of shelf space in her library. Ashley Rezachek/RiverTown Multimedia

Receiving the grant

Kieren found out she won the grant via email in early June. She was surprised.

“I was checking my emails and I saw it and I actually screamed in the IMC and started hopping around,” Kieren said. “I was just so excited because it's a great honor to be picked.”

She began to choose book titles in July. It was a three-week process. The new books arrived in the first week of August and she began labeling and organizing them on her shelves.

Over 90 percent of public school teachers spend their own money on classroom supplies in a year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The average amount spent of their own money was $450 in the 2006-07 academic year.

Although Kieren says the district is very supportive of funding in-class libraries there is not always the resources available to expand such libraries to the degree that the Book Love grant allows.

“People are starting to see the need of kids being exposed to words and having the choice of what it is that they want to read to foster that love of reading,” Kieren said.

Students’ favorite books from Mrs. Kieren’s classroom library

  • “Lockdown: Escape From Furnace” by Alexander Gordon Smith

  • “All the Bright Places” by Jennifer Niven

  • “The Living” and “The Hunted” by Matt de la Peña

  • “One of Us Is Lying” by Karen M. McManus

  • “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas

  • “Refugee” by Alan Gratz