April 01, 2001 1 min read

Don’t judge a book by its cover. It’s a nice concept, but educators know the attractiveness of a cover illustration often determines whether a student checks out a book from the library—or leaves it collecting dust on the shelf. Unfortunately, many school librarians facing budget cuts save money by having old books rebound and returned without covers.

That’s what Jack Maxwell, the library media specialist at Hamilton Accelerated Elementary School in Memphis, Tennessee, did until about six years ago, when he hit upon the idea of having students in his Library Reading Club illustrate new covers for tattered books.

The club’s 100 or so members—students reading at the 2nd grade level and above— read library books, then draw pictures or download computer clip art to create jazzy new covers. The students get to place their names along with the authors’ on the new jackets, which local senior citizen volunteers then laminate for protection. Club members also write reviews that are placed in a folder in the library to inspire other students to pick up the books. A clear purpose for reading a book and a goal that includes the opportunity to share one’s work with peers “gets the kids interested in reading,” Maxwell says.

Currently, students’ work decorates about 500 of the 11,000 hardbacks in the library. Maxwell says he’s pleased with the

effort’s success. In fact, he’s tracked a few of the books and discovered that they are checked out three times more often than other library books—even books with the same title. Students at Hamilton often “forgo the one [book] with the company’s picture” for another copy featuring a fellow student’s artwork, he says, and kids encourage their pals to borrow books with covers created by siblings or friends.

Amanda McFarland participated in the Library Reading Club last year. “I learned to read different types of books and what they could do to help you,” she says. Amanda, now a 6th grader at Hamilton, hopes to one day write books.

Funding his program through grants and award money, Maxwell is committed to encouraging reading among Hamilton students. “Without a foundation in reading, you’re not going to be able to do anything,” he says. “Reading is the foundation for all other subjects and on which all future success is built.”

—Marisha Goldhamer