Blogger Alyson Feldman-Piltch

Thinking Outside the Book [Club]

For the past two school years, I’ve been leading a book club at the local school.  Funded by a grant geared specifically towards religious and parochial schools, the book club gives me the opportunity to connect with 5th, 6th and 7th graders in a way I normally wouldn’t.

Last year, the club started with six kids.  All but one graduated, so not only did that one return, but 11 other kids signed up too, bringing this year’s group to a grand total of 12!

The titles I’ve chosen this year and last have allowed the students to develop a deeper understanding of some topics they have learned about in school, while also exposing them to ideas and concepts they may not have heard of yet.

For example, last year, the 6th grade learned a little bit about AIDS and other diseases.  So, when it came time to read and discuss Auma’s Long Run by Eucabeth Odhiambo some of the basic understanding was already there.  It also helped them when we watched clips of the Alvin Ailey Dance Company’s dance, “Home”, which was inspired by the stories of people who are HIV positive, and allowed them to interpret the stories and dances in a deeper way.  For our most recent title Front Deskby Kelly Yang, we discussed what white privilege and racism, and how the kids see elements of those things reflected in their everyday lives and interactions.

But in book club I also try to take the program outside the discussion and book.  I believe that kids learn best when they have an experience to link to the lesson. That’s why I try to pair an activity with most of my titles. For example, last year, after reading Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactusstudents used their feet to write their names, just like the main character Aven does on her homework. We also looked at artwork created by artists all over the world who don’t need the use of their arms or hands to paint or draw.

This year, after reading Jason Reynolds’s Ghosteveryone received an image of a blank sneaker, and were challenged to draw their interpretation of the sneakers Ghost stole from the sporting goods store.  We also painted a mural for the school cafeteria, inspired by Whitney Gardner’s You’re Welcome, Universe.

Thanks to the grant, I have been able to purchase enough copies of each book for everyone.  This year, I also have used the funds to purchase little Moleskin notebooks, which I am using as Reading Passports, and stickers to fill those passports with.  The stickers are thematic to the books-Arizona license plates for Dusti Bowling’s title, track and field activities for Ghost- and the passports also provide the students with a place to quietly and privately reflect on the readings and discussions.

I didn’t anticipate my book club being one of the most rewarding aspects of my job, but in fact, it is.  I love inspiring a deeper love of reading in students and push them to explore genres and titles they normally wouldn’t.  What I really though is seeing the look some of them get in their eyes when they start to formulate a deeper understanding of a concept, like privilege, and connect it to their own lives.  Book club may turn them into bibliophiles, but it’s pushing them to become more empathetic and helping them to develop a greater understanding of others that ultimately helps them become better global citizens.

A list of the titles read in our book club can be found here.

This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: Commitment to Client Group, Outreach and Advocacy & Programming Skills.


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