Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Book Club reminiscences

I have been running a book club for 4th-6th graders since 2004 and in that time I have seen my first readers go on to Middle School and my new readers shift and squirm in their 10 and 11 year old bodies while we discuss books, play charades, and create art. This second group is very different than my first. The latter were competitive and argumentative and collegial all at the same time. They chose the books we read and discussed. They were all interested in the same books: Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket, Star Wars. I had a Star Wars fan bring his collection of Star Wars stuff, dressed in full Jedi splendor, he fielded questions from my group in true warrior style. I had a cartoonist come when we were looking at graphic novels and give a slide show featuring his cartoon persona whom we later had him draw in icing on the perennial cake I bake for these gatherings. I always wanted these kids to see books as cultural and commercial products. If there was a movie tie-in we compared the two. If there was a video game, we played it and compared the two. I feel critical consciousness is key to keeping our children sharp and with this first group, I felt they got what I was doing. It got to the point that they had so understood the mission that in the last meeting we had together they held a kind of mock book club where they took charge and pretty much ran it the way I did. They had researched Vermeer (we were reading Chasing Vermeer) and found out all about the theft of his paintings and looked at the Girl with the Pearl Earring without any direction from me. Now they're in 7th and 8th grade and I hope that as they grind to the end of the school year having spent most of it studying for another cultural product: The NJ GEPA tests, that they will take some of the pleasure and challenge of those books we read together and make a way for themselves that will always include a love of books and the written word.
Now, I have a different generation. They are the same age now as my first group when they began, but their reading levels vary widely. The majority have either not read or not finished the assigned book. I am always prepared for this inevitability so I plan accordingly. As a group they are less vocal and a bit more tentative and unsure of themselves. They are more physical and restless, but I know they are very committed to coming every month. I have a core group of about 8-10 readers who show up excited and eager to spend 90 minutes with me and other kids their age in the library. One mother told me her son thinks coming to my book club is better than going to the boardwalk! Next month we will be discussing Love that Dog by Sharon Creech. One year ago we shared poems from John Grandits' Technically, It's Not My Fault: Concrete Poems--a brilliant collection which will be joined by its companion Blue Lipstick: Concrete Poems in May. Because I work with John's wife Joanne I was fortunate to get copies of some of the poems from Technically that had been printed on glossy paper stock which we then assembled. This month I had them select a woman artist to research. I gave them the option of presenting a brief report or imitating a piece of art in the style of their artist. My best piece by far was contributed by the one member of my group that gives me the most trouble. He often does not do the reading and he complains that the books are too hard. He can't sit still and is always sparring with one of the other boys in the group. He often does not listen and wanders around the room and asks when we're eating. He had chosen Bottle Houses: The Creative World of Grandma Prisbrey by Melissa Eskridge Slaymaker because, as he admitted to me, it looked easy. For the first 20 minutes of our meeting he kept making references to his piece of art and how it wasn't that good and when could he show it. When he finally brought out his beautiful glass studded and encrusted turtle which was mired in a smooth block of concrete, I was stunned. He had exceeded my expectations and had, as my Aunt Sis would say, made me button bustin' proud! So as I look over this post for about the third or fourth time I realize that comparing these 2 groups may not be a good way of going about assessing the success of my book club. This new group has homeschoolers while my first did not. This group has 2 pairs of siblings while the other had 1. This group has more boys than girls. So did the other. So I am left with the fact that I am happy that these children are in my life and in my library. Once a month for 90 minutes I share books and language and history and comics and poetry and food with 10 and 11 year olds and it just doesn't get any better than that.


Chris said...

Wow, Miss Pea, these kids are really fortunate to have you in their lives! Your tale is an apt reminder that every kid is different and may be learning and growing inside, even though we can't really tell from the outside. Keep on truckin'!

miss pea said...

Chris--Thanks for the vote of confidence. It is those times when you are closing up shop at the end of the day with an uneasy feeling that things didn't go as well as expected or that the kids didn't respond at all to something you were trying to impress on them, and then the tables are turned and those same kids turn around and give you the biggest lesson of all!