RANTOUL — Eleven crates full of books arrived at J.W. Eater Junior High School last week.
The 700 copies of the book “Look Both Ways” by award-winning author Jason Reynolds will be given to students and staff at the school, and the author will be there in person — virtually — to talk about writing and the issues facing children and young adults these days.
“He’s like the Kardashian of young-adult literature right now. He’s huge,” said Kellyn Sirach, literacy specialist at the school. “I started using his books when I ... started teaching middle school about five years ago. In two years, he’s become really hot.”
Sirach applied for a grant through the National Children’s Council to bring Reynolds, the 2020 national ambassador for young people’s literature at the Library for Congress, to visit the school. He was set to speak there as part of a communitywide event.
But the COVID-19 pandemic got in the way. It now will be confined to just the school.
Based in Washington, D.C., Reynolds is a New York Times No. 1 best-selling author. He will now speak to students and staff remotely.
His presentation is scheduled for Friday.
Now Sirach has to figure out how to get all the books to students and staff members since the school has gone to all-remote learning until mid-January, pending school board approval.
Sirach said the grant application is something she, Miner and Joella Travis, the youth-services librarian at the Rantoul Public Library, worked on for a couple of months prior to the pandemic.
She said students are looking forward to Reynolds’ talk.
“The students are so excited,” she said. “They are elated. They cannot wait to see him virtually. We really hyped up his books, so they’re very excited about that.”
Sirach said even some high school students asked if they could attend the presentation. That, however, won’t be possible.
The book is about 10 different youngsters and their walks home from school — each headed a different way from the same school and each experiencing and encountering different things.
Rantoul City Schools district librarian Donna Miner said it was Reynolds’ idea to speak to the young people.
“When he became the ambassador, he decided he wanted to reach out to communities throughout the U.S. that were more rural communities but had a more diverse population,” Miner said. “He felt that people did not always have a voice, and he wanted to encourage young people of diversity to write their stories, and so we applied for the grant.”
Miner said children today are still interested in writing, but positive feedback is important.
“I think kids need encouragement,” she said. “There’s a good portion of the kids who like to write all sorts of things. They like to write songs or poetry or regular stories. They need more encouragement from people like Jason Reynolds. He is telling his own story and people who live his type of lifestyle.”