Virtual ‘BookBreak’ Brings Authors to South Orange-Maplewood Students


All elementary students throughout the District participate in live online sessions.

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The following press release is from South Orange-Maplewood School District Director of Communications Paul Brubaker:

MAPLEWOOD, N.J. – The idea of engaging nearly 100 fifth-graders could be daunting for many people, but it wasn’t a problem for children’s book author Tracey Baptiste.

And she wasn’t even in the room.

Baptiste was a featured writer on BookBreak, an online series that brings two to three bestselling children’s book authors a month to elementary and middle school students through live virtual meetings at 1,500 schools throughout the country. All of the District’s elementary schools have been able to access the BookBreak sessions since September when the online series was launched.

“It is so powerful to bring diverse authors from around the country into our classrooms. We have and continue to expose students to a variety of important voices in the literary world,” said Jennifer Latimer, Clinton Elementary School’s School Media Specialist.

At Clinton Elementary School last week, the audience was excited as the lights were dimmed for their BookBreak with Baptiste. After she appeared on the screen, the young audience cheered – not so much out of recognition of who she was, but of where she said she was joining the session from, her home in New Jersey.

Clinton Elementary School students participate in a Book Break with bestselling children’s book author Tracey Baptiste.

Baptiste read a selection from her book, “The Jumbies.” The story is based on the Caribbean folklore she learned as a child in Trinidad and Tobago. Jumbies are spooky characters who supposedly live in the forest by night and take on the form of regular people by day.

With a story rooted in the Caribbean, the session enhanced the school’s goals for Inclusive Schools Week, the annual celebration of the efforts to provide a supportive, quality education to an increasingly diverse student population.

Similarly, students across the District participated in a BookBreak on Friday with Mexican-American children’s book author Raúl the Third, creator of the “Vamos!” series of books.

At Clinton Elementary School, Baptiste described her writing process. She told the students that she carries sticky notes wherever she goes, makes notes of her ideas, synthesizes her ideas by writing longhand in notebooks, and sends a completed manuscript to an editor for feedback.

Baptiste held up some of the feedback she had received.

“Six pages of notes from my editor! Single-spaced!” she said, admitting that she doesn’t always love getting so much feedback.

 “But I appreciate getting all of these notes,” she said. “They help make the book better.”

The BookBreak sessions will continue through the end of the school year with 13 authors scheduled to appear. One of them is Jeff Kinney, author of the very popular “Diary Of A Wimpy Kid” series, who is scheduled to appear in January.

[Editor’s note: Per Brubaker, “The cost of the program is $5,640 to provide it to all elementary schools in the district, which comes from the Curriculum & Instruction part of the budget.”]

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