‘Read Woke’ School Reading Challenge Makes an Impact

By Cicely Lewis on March 29, 2018

These are volatile times. Across the country, parents of color are having “the talk” with their kids about how to prevent the police from seeing them as a threat because of their skin color or how they dress. Families are being torn apart and deported. Each day on TV, we witness acts of social injustice. I come to school and talk about these events with my students, many of whom have opinions—but not much knowledge about their rights.

Every year I have a theme in my school library. In 2017, it was Harry Potter. In our current political and social climate, I knew that my students were hurting and needed something different this year. After coming across the Stay Woke edition of Essence magazine, I launched Read Woke at my library.

What is Read Woke? It’s a feeling. A form of education. A call to action, and our right as lifelong learners. It means arming yourself with knowledge to better protect your rights. Learning about others so you treat people with respect and dignity, no matter their religion, race, creed, or color.

I concluded that a Woke Book must:

  • Challenge a social norm
  • Give voice to the voiceless
  • Provide information about a group that has been disenfranchised
  • Seek to challenge the status quo
  • Have a protagonist from an underrepresented or oppressed group

We started Read Woke in September. The students were asking questions in response to the many cases of unarmed black boys and men being shot by police officers. They wanted answers. They were angry. They staged a walkout, but that did nothing to appease their rage.

My school is more than 70 percent Latino. The day DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) was repealed, my students were crying and afraid. That made my movement even more relevant.

Students who read four recommended books from my Read Woke list can win a T-shirt, a free book, and post a photo on our Instagram. They may review titles, too. I also asked teachers to adopt Woke Books—they read them and use trivia questions to quiz the students on their knowledge of the titles.

Our most popular books are Dear Martin, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, The Book of Unknown Americans,and The Hate U Give. They all have characters who look like my students and face issues plaguing our society. There’s a waiting list for these titles, and our circulation has increased from 2,340 to 2,817. Faculty circulation shot up by almost 50 percent!

“Before this, I had never read an entire book,” one student commented. “I will keep reading woke books.”

Students are recommending books and engaging in serious dialogue.

I bought the books using my county-allocated funds. A student-run school T-shirt lab created the shirts in exchange for publicity.

When I started Read Woke, I asked myself how I could make an impact. A quote from The Librarian of Auschwitz exemplifies my mission: “The library has now become her first-aid kit, and she’s going to give the children a little of the medicine that helped her recover her smile when she thought she’d lost it forever.”

Let the healing begin.



All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brenden Kiely

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard

The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas

Hunger by Roxane Gay

I am Malala :The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai

Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sánchez

Sugar by Deirdre Riordan Hall

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander 

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

What’s on your Woke Books list? Let us know in the comments.


Cicely Lewis is a small-town girl from Mississippi with a passion for promoting literacy in nontraditional ways in her media center at Meadowcreek High School in Norcross, GA. Currently, she’s featured on the cover of the 2017 “The Power of Librarians” calendar.