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From ABCs to ‘Americanah,’ city hopes book lists will boost student reading

Second-graders can choose the true story of a one-legged triathlete, or a fictional account of sheep who stage a protest to save their fleece.

Twelfth-graders can pick a novel about a blogging Nigerian immigrant in the U.S., or a memoir about growing up gay in an Evangelical Christian family.

The books are featured on lists of contemporary children’s and young-adult books compiled by the city education department as part of a new initiative called “NYC Reads 365,” which is meant to encourage students to read more at home and in school. Each school will receive about 40 of the books, along with bookmarks printed with the lists and posters promoting the campaign.

The idea is to “ensure that we have every parent in New York City and every teacher reading every single day to their children,” Chancellor Carmen Fariña said Monday at Brooklyn’s P.S. 133, where she read “The Sheep Go Strike” to second-grade students.

The literacy effort follows Mayor Bill de Blasio’s promise last month that within 10 years all students will be able to read age-appropriate books by the end of second grade. To reach that goal, de Blasio vowed to hire reading specialists for every elementary school by 2018. Currently, just 30 percent of third grade students pass the state reading tests.

The reading lists, which will be updated annually, feature recommended books for students in each grade that were published within the last few years. They include fiction and nonfiction books, graphic novels, historical stories, and series.

The education department will also partner with public libraries to make sure they stock the recommended books, and will train parent coordinators and other school workers to promote the effort to parents. The department will spend $540,000 on the initiative, mainly to purchase books.

Jon Scieszka, a former New York City schoolteacher who wrote “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs” and other popular children’s books, said the lists would help students who don’t know which books to choose and parents who want to encourage their children’s reading but are not part of the “book-buying world.”

The initiative, he said, is “so simple, it’s so elegant, it’s so doable.”