Rekindling the Joy of Reading during a Pandemic

At the time I am writing this, the one-year anniversary of March 13, 2020, is looming large upon me like this dark unknown specter. It’s almost like an unseen barrier that we are all holding our breath until we get across, because who knows what is on the other side? To say I don’t recognize the world I live or teach in since that fateful date last year is an understatement. First, we were told that schools are not safe and we need to go home and stay home, then many of us were being told we were selfish and lazy for not wanting to go back and teach without being assured proper protocols were in place. Then some of us did go back and now teach both in front of a screen and a group of masked kids spaced far apart in our rooms. And sometimes, we flip-flop between some of the kids being with us to all of them being behind a screen. Normalcy and routines are something we cling to now more than ever, accepting this new reality we live in with numb reluctance. 

Photo by Javier Martínez on Unsplash

One of the reasons I became an English teacher was because I loved to read. I’m not picky either. I’ll read just about anything as long as it allows me to escape the world for a bit, teaches me to look at the world differently, makes me experience some cognitive dissonance, or because I simply like the cover of the book (yes, I judge books by covers).

I had no trouble keeping up with my reading during the pandemic. It was about the only thing that made sense to me at the time. Though I know many other book lovers and educators struggled to read anything serious during this time because of just how difficult these last 12 months have been, I was determined when I went back in August to share my love of books with my students again. I’ve shared this love of books with my students every year I’ve been in the classroom, and COVID wasn’t going to change that about my teaching. 

I had no trouble getting students to gravitate towards reading again. I think they craved normal and the escapism as much as I had. Those of us who are back in rooms with students may have a similar out-of-body experience when teenagers are actively grateful to be in school again and learning nearby an adult who can help them if they are struggling. My high school students probably read more now than they ever have.

When I returned in August to my classroom, I found a new level of grounding but, as the holiday season came upon us, I felt lost again. This year, the holidays did not feel like they should. There wasn’t that same feeling of togetherness that there should have been during this time. I knew I couldn’t see my family and friends the way I wanted to this year and many others were dealing with this same difficulty. But, I wanted to find a way to still do something that would bring holiday cheer to myself and others during this time…which made me turn to books even more.

Photo by waad samah on Unsplash

I thought about the idea of how my family gives each other books for the holidays and I turned to the people that have become part of my professional life raft. My colleagues in the CRWP had always been an important part of my growth as a teacher, but they became integral to my survival in 2020. When I pitched the idea to the leadership team about doing a mailed secret book exchange, I was thinking they would think I was crazy. Though, I’m pretty sure they already know I’m crazy, I thought this might have been the final push that would make them know I had finally lost it. The holidays are so full of tasks and things, who really wanted another one? Especially, in a year when getting into a book store was hard enough and the mail system was an even bigger mess than a normal holiday. 

But to my surprise, they enthusiastically agreed to my plan. And I put together a Google Form to send to our members. We had 25 secret book givers sign up and they were given 30 dollar limits. Given that and some simple suggestions, magic happened. Somehow, in a way that could only happen with National Writing Project people, we managed to all give and receive books that captivated us.

When we met in the first week of February of 2021 to share our books and thoughts, some common themes emerged. The books we received were a delightful surprise that made us think and entranced us in the way that we needed. For some of us, it was escapism. For some of us, the books gave us a new approach to our profession. For another group, it was being introduced to new authors we now are eager to read and/or add to our classroom libraries. For many of us, these books brought us joy in a year that has challenged us so tremendously. It rekindled a joy that we all needed and at just the right time it seemed.

What follows is a list of some of the books that were exchanged during this first secret book exchange. Additionally, from our February discussion, there are several resources on reading and books that were shared amongst us to continue to build our lists and add to our shelves. We would like to share them with the rest of the CRWP network and our blog’s readers. Happy reading! And be on the lookout for a summer edition of the secret book exchange and others as well! We’ve created a tradition that all of us are eager to repeat. 


  • The Baker’s Secret by Stephen P Kiernan
  • The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi
  • Trickster’s Choice by Tamora Pierce
  • Trickster’s Queen by Tamora Pierce
  • World of Wonders by Aimee Nezhukemathathil 
  • The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
  • Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks by Annie Spence Page 
  • Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward
  • Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
  • Sadie by Courtney Summers
  • A Gentleman in Moscow: A Novel by Amor Towles 
  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
  • The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande
  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Professional Texts 

  • Improvement in Action: Advancing Quality in America’s Schools by Anthony S. Bryk
  • The Reading Teacher’s Book of Lists by Jaqueline E. Kress & Edward B. Fry
  • Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can’t Transform Education by Justin Reich


  • The Thing Explainer by Randall Monroe
  • The Library Book by Susan Orlean 
  • The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person by Frederick Joseph
  • The Guide to the National Parks of United States by National Geographic (7th Edition)

Children’s Books and Family Reads 

  • A is for Awesome: 23 Iconic Women Who Changed The World by Eva Chen
  • How to Catch a Yeti by Adam Wallace and Andy Elkerton

Recommended Websites/Other Resources

Becky Schwartz is an English, Social Studies, and AP Computer Science Principles teacher for Springport High School in Springport, Michigan. She has been a teacher consultant for CRWP since 2015.



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Becky Schwartz is an English, Social Studies, and AP Computer Science Principles teacher for Springport High School in Springport, Michigan. She has been a teacher consultant for CRWP since 2015.