Behind the Book Joins Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson for Author Event at P.S. 125 in Harlem


Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson

Behind the Book (BtB), a longtime partner of Penguin Random House, joined Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and Newbery Honor winner Renée Watson, co-authors of The 1619 Project: Born on the Water (Kokila/Penguin Young Readers), for an all-school author event at P.S. 125, The Ralph Bunche School in Harlem in late February. Six classes of 3-5th grade students, 110 in total, took part in this special event focused on this important book, which provides a pre-colonial context for Black history, while also exploring the horrific realities of slavery and the resiliency and contributions of Black Americans.

PYR donated 135 copies of the book to the school!

Penguin Young Readers generously donated 135 copies of the book to the school to ensure that each student, teacher, and staff member had copies to keep.

Prior to the visit, BtB held a professional development session with teachers to prepare them to teach the book, providing them with discussion questions, a program plan including an introductory workshop, writing, and arts activities, and graphic organizers to assist with the writing process. Each student also received a copy of the book, which they read in their supportive classroom environments. In response to the text, students wrote “Where I Am From” poems, a perfect way for young people of all ages to explore their own complex identities. BtB’s teaching artist made a video for all classes to watch to guide them through the creative process. They drew self-portraits and created collages out of images from their poems to complement their writing.

Bulletin boards filled with writing/art inspired by Born on the Water.

On the day of the event, the school bulletin boards were filled with beautiful writing and art inspired by Born on the Water. The younger students read other books for Black History Month, and their work was included on bulletin boards for Nikole and Renée to see as well.

When the authors took the stage, the students were excited and rapt through the entire workshop; they listened as Nikole and Renée read poetry and discussed their creative process and reasons for writing the book. Then students got the chance to take the mic themselves. They stood in front of their peers, the authors, and special guests to ask questions, and some even shared their poetry. All of the adults involved were impressed by how thoughtful and moving the student’s work was, and how serious they were in their preparations.

The students and our authors celebrate a great day!

The most passionate writers were invited to a smaller group conversation with the authors. “I liked the book because maybe people didn’t know the history of Black people,” said Shima, 9, a fourth grader. “Maybe they didn’t know it didn’t start with slavery.” Students also had the opportunity to ask questions about journalism, poetry, and other genres of writing. Finally, the event concluded with a book autograph session.

Here’s an article that was published by where you can read more about the event.


Posted: March 4, 2022