A group of Schenectady City School District teachers took in a special performance of "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" on Tuesday, part of a show focused on summer reading.
Kerri Messler, Schenectady’s literacy coordinator, was contacted by staff of the show through Twitter, where she posts regularly about the district’s efforts to encourage more reading. The show invited her and the group of teachers who volunteer on a summer bookmobile to take part in a special question and answer session with author Tomi Adeyemi.
Adeyemi’s new book – Children of Blood and Bone, the first in a forthcoming young adult fantasy trilogy – was voted by Fallon’s social media followers as a common read.
Sporting their Schenectady Reads shirts, the group of Schenectady teachers and librarians watched as Fallon interviewed Adeyemi in the NBC Store on the ground floor of 30 Rockefeller Center.
“We wanted to have a book club, a summer read type of book club, and I don’t know anything about book clubs,” Fallon told the audience of educators.
Inspirational female author @tomi_adeyemi blew away the crowd tonight @FallonTonight. If you haven’t already, check out her book Children of Blood and Bone from the #schenectadyreads Book Mobile Thur at @MontPleasantMS 10am, @SCSDsumr_enrich PV 1-4, or JB Park Sat & Sun 11-4. pic.twitter.com/KlQYxLftfY— Kristina Graves (@KristiZ23) July 25, 2018
Messler said she and English teachers in the district had already honed in on Adeyemi’s new novel, which is garnering wide attention and has been contracted for a movie, and are considering using it in 10th grade reading circles this coming school year.
In her extended interview with Fallon, Adeyemi described the struggles she overcame as a young, black female writer. Adeyemi recalled the first story she wrote as a young girl: a version of "Parent Trap" with characters wearing saris, she said. She was one of the characters of her own imagined stories – actually she was both of them.
“I wrote myself into this twice, I wrote the adventure I wanted to have,” she said. But she said that was the last thing she wrote in childhood where she, a young black girl, starred in the adventure, because the broader society was constantly telling her she could not be in those stories – even if she was the one to write them.
It appears the Schenectady delegation can (briefly) be seen in camera pans at 19:42 and 26:06
“I started taking myself out of it subconsciously, so I spent a decade still writing these big adventures that I wanted to have but I didn’t think I could be in them,” she said. “I could literally imagine going into these portals and meeting dragons and flying a bird, but I couldn’t imagine myself doing that because the world told me I didn’t belong in the stories any more.”
Schenectady schools in recent years have prioritized emphasizing stories with characters and authors that better reflect the diversity of the student body. Messler said the visit to New York to hear from Adeyemi only reinforced the importance of those goals.
“She captured exactly what we say and to hear it from her perspective,” Messler said Wednesday. “There’s a certain age bracket where our kids don’t see themselves in the characters anymore, and that’s really sad. ... I would be devastated if that continued to happen for our kids. We want them to see themselves as a brave, strong woman or a brave strong man.”
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The district also wants those students to see themselves as writers and readers. Messler said she has already started the work of trying to attract Adeyemi to Schenectady for an author visit. She hopes Adeyemi can give the students the same advice Adeyemi offered at the Tonight Show event.
“It was really simple,” Messler said. “‘Read, read, read and write, write, write.’”