Building Community and Literacy: One Book, One School Program

Guest post by Maureen Doyle Kemmett

Compelled to increase literacy skills in students and build a stronger school culture, our leadership team at Furnace Brook Middle School (FBMS) in Marshfield, MA, initiated a One Book, One School (OBOS) program in 2013. After spending the better part of a school year forming a literacy committee, researching OBOS programs, and planning for the kickoff, we were off and running with our inaugural OBOS summer reading program. Now five years later, it has become an integral part of our school, improving student literacy and building a strong and positive community.

Here are some key lessons we’ve learned along this journey:

Set the purpose. The literacy committee consists of a volunteer group of staff members who represent diverse content areas and work collaboratively throughout the school year creating ways to improve literacy. In choosing and providing one book to all 1100 students, they find meaningful ways to promote our school’s academic and social curriculum through whole-school and individual class lessons related to the themes of one carefully selected, outstanding young adult book.

Select the right book. Members of the literacy committee spend a great deal of time reading and discussing books during the year before the June announcement of the selection, which the students read over the summer. Choosing a book that catches the interest of adolescents, captures the desired theme of the coming year, and has an appropriate reading level is key to the success of the OBOS program.

Adopt a year-long theme. One of the most important components of our OBOS program has been the selection of a book the committee finds meaningful in order to enhance the school’s goals and unite the school community and all stakeholders around a specific theme. The first book we selected was Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, and our theme for the school year was “Choose Kind.”

Plan. Plan. Plan. The administrative team and literacy committee spend the school year selecting a book, securing the funding to purchase the books, planning the rollout for the upcoming year, organizing a full-day curriculum event in September (which we called “Wonder Day” for our first book), booking guest speakers, and scheduling and advertising summer student and parent discussion groups related to the book.

Our second year, we selected A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park, with a year-long theme of “One Step at a Time, One Problem at a Time.” After reading this engaging book about the flight of the Lost Boys of Sudan, we had two of the Lost Boys come and present to our students. They spoke of overcoming hardship in the face of adversity and demonstrating grit—two more of our themes that year. Working with Water for South Sudan, we raised $15,000, the amount required to build a community well in South Sudan. Incorporating a fundraising event related to the book further develops community and builds empathy.

Bring your enthusiasm. The selection of the summer OBOS is kept confidential by the literacy committee and administration team until the spring kickoff. We communicate the theme, our year-long plans, and promote the book with great enthusiasm. We visit our district’s five elementary schools to deliver the books and present to our incoming 6th graders, giving each student a copy of the book and a bookmark we create with pertinent information about the book. The bookmark typically has our objective for summer reading and a brief plot summary, as well as any important background information for understanding the book. For example, the bookmark was important with our selection three years ago, The Finest Hours, a nonfiction book by Michael Tougias and Casey Sherman, as the book had a significant amount of nautical terms our students would not necessarily know.

Unite the people. A highlight of our OBOS program is the full-day event in September when the entire school day focuses on the themes of the book. Every member of the school community receives a t-shirt designed by the committee and we come together as an entire school to celebrate literacy and the themes.

The OBOS program has become a vital practice and has built a positive culture not only in our school but also in the entire community.

How do you build positive culture and a sense of community in your school?

Maureen Doyle Kemmett is the new principal of Furnace Brook Middle School in Marshfield, MA, and she served as an assistant principal there for 12 years. Kemmett is the 2017 Massachusetts Assistant Principal of the Year. Follow her on Twitter @KemmettM


  • Michael Thomas says:

    Can you share the book titles that your school has used for the OBOS program? I see a few titles in the post – just would like to know which ones you would recommend.

    • Maureen Doyle Kemmett says:


      Year 1: Wonder by RJ Palacio
      Year 2: A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
      Year 3: The Finest Hours by Casey Sherman and Michael Tougias
      Year 4: I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb
      Year 5: Wonder by RJ Palacio (plus other extension books by the same author)

      I am happy to help others interested. Feel free to email me!
      We just selected our 2018 book – but we keep it a secret until revealed to our students.

  • Donna Rorer says:

    Do you have any data that indicates any change in reading interest or skills since you implement the OBOS program? I am writing a grant and looking for some evidence to support my request.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.