I am in my classroom eating Thin Mints for dinner. Well, maybe I should call it an appetizer. I will eat dinner later, but I am hungry now, so I munch my minty cookies for a boost, and I prepare for the book club I am hosting for the 3rd year running.
At 6:30, eight of my students, along with their families, will join me for my 3rd annual family read aloud book club. I will walk to the lobby in about 15 minutes to meet them. I’ve checked my agenda, and materials…
Books to read while we wait for everyone to arrive? Check. Labels and markers for name tags? Check. Camera? Check. Computer with book trailer prepped? Check. Books purchased by my families? Check. My copy of Wonder? Check.
Wonder by R.J. Palacio. This is the book we will read and discuss. The book I have shared with two other book club groups. I can’t wait! But, I also feel an anxious sensation that is akin to the first day of school. Excited and nervous all at once. I fold over the foil sleeve on the remaining cookies and return them to the cabinet over the sink. It’s time to greet my families!
I walk to the lobby with a stack of books for families to read as we assemble our group. Looking out the glass doors of our lobby, I see movement, but it is only my reflection. I sit with my stack of books and open one I haven’t read in awhile- Hey, Little Ant by Phillip and Hannah Hoose. I am three pages in when I see a flutter of motion to my right. I look up to see one of my students running to the door. She is literally jumping up and down. Her mother has not caught up. I walk over and welcome this exuberant child, waiting for her mother to join us. Her daughter is bouncing! I invite them to sit with me, read a book.
“Are we the first to arrive?” asks the mom.
“Yup! I brought books for while we wait. Would you like to read one?”
“What do you have?” asks my student, leaning over to look through the stack.
“I was reading Hey, Little Ant. Want to read that?” I ask.
“Is that the one where he says he says he’ll smoosh the ant?”
“Okay! I’ll read that one. Oooooo! You have Each Kindness. Mom, you should read this one. It’s really good!”
So begins the night, book-love launched! Another family arrives- Mom, Dad, my third grade student, and his two younger brothers. The youngest looks up at me, big brown eyes, pinchable cheeks and asks, “What’s this one?” He is holding Tyrone, and the Swamp Gang by Hans Wilhelm.
“Ohhh! I love that book!” I exclaim. “My son and I used to read that one all the time.”
“Can I read it?” he asks, hoping I will let him hold and read this treasure of a book. Afterall, it has dinosaurs on the front, and they’re wearing red bandanas. When we later prepare to move to our classroom, this same child is fretful. “I want to finish the book,” he implores. “Don’t worry,” I assure him. “You can bring the book, and finish it in our classroom.” He is satisfied with this outcome.
When we arrive in the room, I turn on the music of songs related to the book. I ask everyone to make a name tag, and families sit around the room at various tables. I distribute the books. It’s showtime!
“Welcome! I’m so happy to see you all and to share a great book with you!”
I explain that we will start by watching the book trailer. It gives us a starting point. When the video ends, I say, “You have a sense of the main character now, from watching the video. I’d like to share the beginning of the book by reading the first two chapters to you. Would students please grab a mat and meet me our gathering space, and parents, please feel free to pull up a chair behind them.”
Students form a tight group in front of me. A couple of parents grab mats to sit on the floor as well. The rest form a semicircle around us.
I read the quotes from Natalie Merchant’s song, Wonder, which fall on the first two pages– mentioning that we were just listening to this song, and I begin Chapter 1: Ordinary…
” ‘I know I’m not an ordinary ten-year-old kid. I mean, sure, I do ordinary things. I eat ice cream. I ride my bike. I play ball. I have an Xbox. Stuff like that makes me ordinary. I guess. And I feel ordinary. Inside. But I know ordinary kids don’t make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds. I know ordinary kids don’t get stared at wherever they go.’ ”
At the end of the first chapter, students share that they also ride their bikes and eat ice cream. We’ve established common ground. We move on to the next chapter and learn a bit more about why ordinary-feeling August, isn’t ordinary. I invite students to sit with their families and discuss what we’ve read so far. When we reconvene a few minutes later, the comments are perceptive.
“I think he talks about birthdays because he wishes he got to go to events that other kids go to.”
“August doesn’t see Zachary and Alex as much now that they’re in school, probably because they don’t want their new friends to see him with them.”
I thank everyone for sharing their thoughts. I tell the group that we will break into two groups. I invite students to make bookmarks at one table, while I meet with parents. Students talk excitedly as they decorate bookmarks in Wonder-book blue.
The parents and I sit in a circle, and I distribute a reading guide that I wrote to support their reading. I explain that this is an independent middle-grade read, but that I recommend that for third graders, even if they can read all the words comfortably, the subject matter should be supported with conversation.
“This is a compelling, beautifully written book. You will feel that these characters are real. You will imagine that they are neighbors you know, friends. This book will be a wonderful launch point for discussing important, real-life issues that your children will deal with.”
Parents nod their approval. They are ready to dig in and enjoy this book!
We bring the group back together for ONE, last story! The book One by Kathryn Otoshi. This book is a treasure. The word play and message are thoroughly engaging. The group was captivated by the story, and chimed in at various points with the words that completed sentences. It was one of those moments that makes me love reading aloud. It is what drove me to create a family read aloud book club. I want to spread the joy and power of reading aloud and sharing great books.
Tonight, I was a grand marketer of the read aloud. It felt great. At 11:38 at night, I have moments to get this slice posted. I should be asleep. But, I needed to share, because this is why I teach. This is why I changed careers twelve years ago. This is what drives me to do the work I do. Words are powerful. I live them through my reading and writing life, and I find every way I can to share them. Tonight was pure joy. More to follow on March 30th, when our club meets again!