A Best-Selling Author Called Maplewood’s Jarred Amato The Truth and We Agree

Jarred Amato is no stranger to this blog-space. I first learned of the Maplewood High School teacher through Twitter and noticed the work he was producing outside the classroom. At the time of my introduction, Mr. Amato was collecting books to outfit book bins in book deserts for the community to access through his organization Project LIT Community. Soon after, I learned about the monthly book club open to the community and held at the school during school hours to ensure student attendance.

Since then I have attended two book club meetings where students and community members break off into groups for discussion that ultimately, transforms into teams for the contest portion of the meeting. The books chosen for the book club are stories and characters students at Maplewood might find relatable. Mr. Amato, a white teacher from Boston, believes his students should see themselves in books. And this is why national organizations like the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), Penguin Random House, and best-selling authors love him.

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with the deeply passionate teacher prior to an early-morning meeting — standing in the cold. He remarked that he was a little tired from staying up late working on a grant that would allow him to purchase more books, but his excitement about Project Lit Community masked any hint of exhaustion. Mr. Amato is no stranger to these applications or the resulting awards as his ask is simple – more books, please.

The man is serious about getting relevant books into the hands of his students and others like them and “relevant” is the million-dollar word. During our conversation, he referred to a quote by best-selling author Jason Reynolds who told the Washington Post, “The Teacher was like, Read this book about this man chasing a whale,’ and I’m like, bruh…I don’t know if I can connect to a man chasing a whale when I’ve never seen a whale.” Mr. Reynolds did not read a book until he was seventeen years old.

Mr. Amato refuses to be that teacher and is determined students have access to relevant books and the earlier in their learning the better. In his mind, Project LIT Community is as important as state-mandated curriculum. With the support of his administrative leadership and some serious time-management skills, Mr. Amato provides students opportunities to see themselves and take a few books home in the process.

Penguin Random House Teacher of the Year

This passion-turned-LIT movement sparked a flame spreading to middle schools around Nashville, a few more schools throughout Tennessee, and to an additional TWENTY states. So, it’s no surprise to learn that Jarred Amato was recently named Penguin Random House’s 2017 Teacher of the Year at the NCTE annual convention. Oh, and that comes with a $10,000 check that he will use to purchase –more books.

And the accolades don’t stop there. New York Times best-selling author Kwame Alexander had a little something to offer:

Yep, Kwame Alexander, the 2015 Newbery Medal recipient (highest distinction for children’s books) for The Crossover called Mr. Amato – The Truth.

I couldn’t agree more.

But What Does the School District Think?

During a time when 75 percent or more of any group of students (pick one) in our school district does not read at grade level, I would expect to see top-level administration clamoring to get to teachers like Mr. Amato to replicate this work in an authentic attempt to flip the script. I asked Mr. Amato if the district has expressed interest in his work, hesitant to respond (because, you know, trust), he opted instead to share his appreciation for the support of his principal and assistant principal. Message received. I’m puzzled by the lack of district-level support.

We are fortunate to have Mr. Amato and we need to act like it.

Congratulations, Jarred Amato! If you don’t hear it from anyone else, thank you for recognizing the importance of culturally-affirming books and finding a way to get them into the hands and homes of students. You are the truth.

There’s a (Project)LIT Movement Spreading Like Wildfire and I’m Here For It

For several months now I’ve been following Jarred Amato’s crazy book club antics on Twitter. Like, this dude had the wild idea of setting up a book club introducing books relevant to the students he teaches at Maplewood High School. Further, he opened up the club to members of the community who are afforded rare opportunities to interact with students  eager to share their points of view. 

If that’s not wild enough for you, Mr. Amato collects thousands of donated books and sets up little libraries around Nashville’s most distressed communities. Sounds silly, right?

Mr. Amato is white male teacher serving a population of mostly students of color and  has made reading popular through the study of books with modern-day social justice themes. Merging the importance of reading and offering a platform to make sense of the world many students find themselves, Mr. Amato has launched a movement. 

A movement wonderfully named ProjectLIT. Obviously, LIT is a play on words by using today’s “lit” when referring to something incredible or on fire while evoking the word “literature.” (“Lit” chart by generation: 90’s babies think “da bomb”; 80’s peeps think “fye” or “rad”, 70’s cats think “dynomite!”)

Mr. Amato downplays his brilliance in kickstarting this reading revolution by saying “it’s just so easy!” Yet, this easy little project has spread (dare I say ‘like wildfire’) to other Nashville schools and Tennessee school districts. 

I’m wildly impressed with the work of Jarred Amato and ProjectLIT community. I just had to meet him and check out their monthly book club this morning at Maplewood. This month’s book was All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. 

While I did not participate as a book club member but rather as a spectator, I was so inspired by the students that I’m signing on and will be back in October!

Next month’s book is The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and I’m there for it! The young ladies in my group expressed their excitement about getting started on this book which is not at all surprising because after all the author probably reminds them of someone. That person they see in the mirror. Beautiful. 

I look forward to sharing more information about ProjectLIT and Mr. Amato soon! In the meantime, I’ll be somewhere reading a ProjectLIT book club-approved book. 

NOTE for educators: follow and participate in #ProjectLITChat Sundays at 6pm CST.

The fearless leader of the most LIT book club in the state!

My new LIT TRIBE! We made a pact to read every single page of the next month’s book club pick The Hate U Give.
We’re ready for October!