|This BookBird is by illustrator Dani Jones |
For the past six years I've run a quarterly book club for students in grades 3-5 and their parents. We've read books that are nominated for our state book award like Neil Armstrong is My Uncle (Nan Marino), Captain Nobody (Dean Pitchford), and How to Steal a Dog (Barbara O'Connor). We've read classics like Bridge to Terabithia (Katherine Patterson) and The BFG (Roald Dahl). We've read books no kid should miss like No Talking (Andrew Clements), The Tale of Despereaux (Kate DiCamillo), and The Maze of Bones (Rick Riordan).
But the main goal of our humble book club is the shared experience of reading a book aloud between parent and child. Our most memorable meetings have been those where the book reaches not only the child, but also the parent, giving birth to rich, robust discussions and insights.
A typical BookBirds meeting (always held on a school night from 7-8pm) includes:
- activities inspired by the book
- snacks (sometimes related to the book)
- door prizes (because who doesn't love door prizes?!)
- and a group discussion (the main event!)
Exclusivity: Wonder is an incredible story of fitting in, standing out, and choosing to be kind. Author R.J. Palacio takes on a lot of tough topics, most significant being bullying. Her characters are complex and make decisions few readers would question but many would struggle with themselves if put in the same situations.
That said, I felt it was best to limit our BookBirds attendance to 5th graders (and their parents) only. Teachers are always invited, but this time my recruitment campaign was a little more... um... aggressive. Needless to say, we may end up using Wonder as a staff book club selection. We were all more than a little affected by it.
Focus: I saved one super-imporant, super-meaningful activity for our closing (which I'll share in a moment), but otherwise cut out other activities in order to maximize our time in discussion. Instead, readers were greeted with a soundtrack I created for our event, including the Polyphonic Spree, Natalie Merchant, and David Bowie, of course (for those who have read Wonder and understand the references).
Space to Breathe: I didn't prepare any discussion questions, nor did I need to. Our readers were ready to talk and were chomping at the bit to get started (that's the best, isn't it?!). Instead, when the conversation hit a lull I turned to a simple word association activity. I mentioned a word that related to the book's plot then let the sparks lead as they may.
- Astronaut helmet
- and The Sound of Music
Book clubs play significant roles in so many schools. Each is run uniquely to meet the needs of the community it serves. Ours is no different. I can think of nothing more important to a child's literacy development than being read to. It's an experience we treasure and learn from so much when we're in our earliest years, but one that's often lost as we become independent readers. My mission through BookBirds is to advocate for reading aloud, for discussing challenging topics, and for the shared experience of reading together.
We closed our evening with an activity my friend Sherry Gick shared with me. Each person was given three circles (see the slideshare below to download your own copy) and asked to write his/her name on the first line of each paper.
Our participants all had something in common. They participated in a shared discussion, a shared experience. They trusted one another with their opinions and their insights. They spoke bravely and stood up for what they felt was right. After I reminded our group of those binding facts, I instructed everyone to take their sheets, move to the middle of our circle, and throw their sheets into the air.
|Here is where trust happens and where we all choose kind.|
The affect was awesome. As the papers floated to the floor, I asked everyone to pick up three that belonged to someone else and complete the papers. Then, perhaps most challenging, I asked everyone to bring the paper to it's owner, look the owner in the eyes, and tell them "I wrote this for you."
There were some tears. There were a lot of hugs. One parent even emailed me the next day to say,
I have to admit that I was a little apprehensive about the closing activity and wondered if the adults in the room could "opt out." I guess it took me a little out of my comfort zone. But I am so glad that you included it! One of my three names was another parent that I didn't know well, and ironically, she drew my name, too - and the upshot is that we hope to get our daughters together for a playdate!
So I leave you with this final thought.