Cool Classics!


Cool Classics!

3712 North Broadway
Suite 558
Chicago, IL 60613
Phone: 773.327.4544
Fax: 773.327.4544

Focus: Dance, Humanities, Library, Literature, Music, Reading and Discussion, Theater, Visual Arts

Annual Number Participating: 95

Ages: 5–9

Annual Budget: $55,000

Partners: Anteprima; Chicago Public Library Branches; Joan W. and Irving B. Harris Theater for Music and Dance; Lifeline Theatre; Powell’s Books Chicago

Funders: A Bigger World Foundation; Ingenuity, Inc.; The Seabury Foundation; 21st Century Community Learning Centers

How does a book published in 1936 change lives in 2017? The answer lies between the pages of The Story of Ferdinand and many other timeless writings that resonate with the children of Cool Classics! (CC!). Program Founder and Director Mara Tapp chooses books with entertaining story lines that dispel stereotypes, while inspiring teachable moments and thoughtful analysis. During the past decade, CC! has offered after-school programming at eight public schools across Chicago. Each school focuses on a different classic book. For 20 to 25 sessions, each lasting about 1.5 hours, children become immersed in a literary world that stimulates their imagination.

Classic book plots are comparable to real-life situations, and program facilitators encourage the participants to ask stimulating questions that provoke thoughtful answers, rather than one-word responses. This leads to intense discussions of language, culture, and thematic ideas among the students, teachers, parent volunteers, and student helpers. For example, in The Magic Flute, an opera by Mozart, the mother orders her daughter to kill a man. This plot line opens the door for students to contemplate what a good mother is and how they would handle a similar situation. It also helps the students to draw comparisons to current acts of community violence. By interpreting historical fiction and identifying similarities in language and story lines between a classic work and modern-day life, students explore what is and is not acceptable behavior.

CC! also incorporates text-related artistic activities such as painting and writing projects, plus dramatic readings, to elicit children’s thoughts and feelings about what they’ve read. Field trips to galleries and museums enhance the program’s multidimensional aspect. And, attending book-based family-friendly theater productions enables visual engagement with characters and plot lines. Furthermore, hearing a book’s words come to life onstage expands students’ comprehension of the text. Such interactions also help increase participants’ enthusiasm for reading, leading to improved critical-thinking skills and mastery of vocabulary and literary terms—areas where academic performance and test scores have been low.

Throughout the program, workshops in theater, music, and dance help students discover how various aspects of a production come together. Drawing on the lessons learned, each school’s CC! program adapts its particular book for the stage. Children choose roles and make costumes and props for the show, as well as write biographies for a keepsake program. All of these efforts culminate in a live performance for the students’ family, teachers, school administrators, and peers.

By selecting books that complement the Chicago Public Schools’ core curriculum, CC! fills voids in arts and humanities learning within underserved communities. Equally important, this program provides a safe forum for children to express their fears and concerns, as they explore ways to solve today’s problems by turning to decades-old scenarios.

Because of [literature and arts] programs like Cool Classics! students are still getting access and exposure to these areas. And, from these experiences, we are seeing an improvement in literacy, increased critical-thinking and analytical skills, and a developed sense of community.

Kelly Bruxvoort Director, A Bigger World Foundation