#KidsNeedMentors is one of the coolest things happening in the kidlit world this year! A new program, #KidsNeedMentors is connecting working authors to classrooms full of kids. I managed to snag Jarrett Lerner, one of the founders of #KidsNeedMentors, for an interview this month, so he could tell us more about the program and how it has managed to get authors and teachers working together in ways that are making a difference.
Introduce us to #KidsNeedMentors.
I was a book-loving, comic book-making, short story-writing kid, but I didn’t realize that I could actually be a professional creator until I was in my 20s. If I’d met an author or illustrator when I was younger, if I’d come to see that they were also just book-loving people who’d put in a lot of work to get where they were, if I’d been given even the slightest bit of acknowledgement, validation, encouragement – or even just information! – from them, it would’ve changed my life.
#KidsNeedMentors is a program aimed at increasing and enhancing both creator-educator collaboration and creator-kid interaction so that young lives can be enriched and bettered, if not dramatically changed, through the power and love of reading and books. Instead of creators doing a single visit (either virtually or in person), they are linked up with a single classroom or library for the duration of the school year – meaning multiple visits and a variety of kinds of interaction.
The overwhelming majority of kids’ book creators want to connect with kids. They want to make a difference in young people’s lives. That’s a large part of what drives so many of them. #KidsNeedMentors gives them yet one more opportunity to make those connections and differences.
The other side of this is the creator-educator collaboration. Along with the program’s other organizers, I believe that kids’ book creators and kids’ educators are colleagues. The more we collaborate, the more we share with and learn from and understand one another, the better we can all do our jobs.
Like most good things, this was a collaborative effort. Can you tell us how you, Ann Braden, Kristin Crouch, and Kristen Picone initially connected and how #KidsNeedMentors came to be?
Ann, Kristen, Kristin, and I had already been connected online, and I knew them as three amazing, inspiring powerhouses in the kid lit community. And I came to know Ann’s talent for organizing after working with her on #KidsNeedBooks – which isn’t so much a program, but a rallying cry that we’ve been encouraging others to take up and spread, all in the name of flooding so-called “book deserts” with books and just generally getting more books into kids’ hands.
Not long after all of that got going, Ann and I spoke a couple times about the idea of creating a program that not only got more books into schools and libraries, but more book creators into those same spaces – all in an effort to change kids’ perceptions of books, book-reading, book-making, book-makers, and to boost their confidence in the power and value of their unique voices. One morning back in May, after a UK-based author launched an author-student pen pal program on Twitter, Ann and I got to talking about it all again. Kristen and Kristin — being the incredibly giving, caring, and student-focused individuals they are — immediately offered to be a part of the organizational team, even though they knew it would require a tremendous amount of time and effort! The four of us spent the rest of the morning hashing out ideas and talking about logistics, and after a few “Should we do this?” “We should do this.” “Should we do this?” back-and-forths, we finally said, Let’s do this. We put out some sign-up sheets and, within 24 hours, had hundreds of educators and authors on board.
The program has been up and running in schools for several months now. What impact are you seeing?
Ann, Kristen, Kristin, and I had high hopes for the program, but they have already been far surpassed. Self-described “non-readers” have become proud readers. Kids’ confidence in their own creativity and their own creations – their own voice – has been increased. By interacting with their mentees regularly, by sharing their work and lives and favorite books with them, our mentors are showing these kids that they matter to an adult other than their parent, guardian, and/or teacher – an adult whose name and picture is on actual, real-live BOOKS! That’s pretty cool. 10-year-old Jarrett is SUPER jealous.
To follow along with the program and see the impact it’s having, follow the #KidsNeedMentors hashtag on Twitter. Participants are posting about the amazing things they’re doing all the time!
In addition to helping create the program, you are personally mentoring classes. Tell us about your experience as a #KidsNeedMentors Mentor.
I Skype several times a week with different classrooms. These sessions typically last 30 minutes – enough time for me to do a very brief presentation and then take questions from the kids. But for some kids, it takes that long just to get comfortable, to work up the confidence to raise their hand and ask a question. And even if all the kids are engaged and actively participating from the get-go, often it’s at minute 28 that we land on some really interesting, fun, and/or productive topic. On my end, I’m lucky if I get to know a little bit about each kid in the room. But more often than not, that’s not the case.
So far this year, I’ve Skyped multiple times with my two mentee classes, and been lucky enough to visit each classroom once, and it’s been incredible. I really feel like I’m coming to know these kids – what they like to read and how they write, yes, but also who they are. Where their interests lie. What they’re passionate about. Who they want to be. Because of all this, when I, say, run a workshop for them on Creating Compelling Characters, we are hyper-productive, and I think (and hope!) that the kids get more out of such learning than they would if we’d all just met that day.
I hope, by the end of the year, that the kids come to see me as a friend (if they don’t see me as that already!), as another adult who cares about them, their well-being, and their future.
I know more teachers and authors would love to take part in #KidsNeedMentors. Can you let them know how they can sign up for next year?
Toward the end of this school year, we’ll make some announcements and open signups, so I guess the best thing to do would be to keep an eye on our social media feeds. We’ll definitely be nice and loud about it! We also have a large waitlist of educators who signed up for this first year but didn’t get matched, and it will be our top priority to get them and their students involved in the second year. Our hope is that everyone who wants to be involved, can be involved.
Jarrett Lerner is the author of EngiNerds and its forthcoming sequel, Revenge of the EngiNerds (Simon & Schuster/Aladdin). He cofounded and helps run the MG Book Village, an online hub for all things Middle Grade, and is the co-organizer of the #KidsNeedBooks and #KidsNeedMentors projects. He can be found at jarrettlerner.com, on Twitter at @Jarrett_Lerner, and on Instagram at @jarrettlerner. He lives in Medford, Massachusetts, with his wife, his daughter, and a cat.
Jarrett and Ann are the author masterminds behind #KidsNeedMentors. Their books are:
Ann can be found on Twitter at:
Ann Braden — @annbradenbooks
You can find Kristin and Kristen, the teacher masterminds behind #KidsNeedMentors, on Twitter at:
Kristin Crouch — @KCreadsALOT
Kristen Picone — @Kpteach5
Thanks for sharing the program with us, Jarrett. Are any of our teacher or author readers participating in #KidsNeedMentors this year? If so, please comment below and tell us about your experience.