Bringing the Community Together with a Book Discussion

There were many issues that people disagreed about this past school year. What staff, students, and parents had in common, though, were high levels of stress. When an English teacher colleague approached me about co-hosting a community book discussion, I knew that this could be a chance to end the year on a note of positivity and togetherness. A casual conversation in the hallway turned into what we hope will be the first of many Book Break! events. 

Our objective was to facilitate a stimulating conversation among students, parents, teachers, and others from the expansive local community. We envisioned an energizing break when participants could let go of the collective weight that had been pushing down upon them for the last year. We were determined to create a fun, relaxing environment free from academic requirements: a time when individuals of all ages would be able to share their thoughts and ideas with classmates, siblings, and mentors; a place where people could go to forget about masks, homework, contact tracing, and vaccine talk.

The first step was to pick a book appropriate for the wide age range we intended to reach. Knowing that there are not an abundance of books relating to children with disabilities, we chose Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper. While one goal was to expose readers to characters with disabilities, another was to help those who experienced life with a disability feel seen. As writer Karol Silverstein says, it’s crucial to note that “for kids who have disabilities and health challenges themselves, seeing themselves represented in media is incredibly important” (2019). Not only is Out of My Mind narrated by an 11-year-old with cerebral palsy, but it is also a page-turner that appeals to people of all ages. 

The next step was to enlist the help of others within our school community. I briefed my co-librarian in the high school, who embraced the idea, and I contacted the middle school and elementary librarians, all of whom were on board. I also gained the help of the president of the high school Book Club, who agreed to be the student representative for the event. We got permission from our directors and administrators, made a flyer using Canva, and began to plan the logistical details. Since we were still operating under COVID restrictions, we were obligated to hold the event through Zoom. We printed a few dozen flyers, which we hung up around the school, distributed through the elementary book fairs, and handed out to the owners of local businesses, who graciously agreed to display them in their stores. Most important in this technological age, we shared the flyer on every digital medium available: Canvas course announcements, e-mail, the library newsletter, and the school website. 

In the week leading up to the event, my co-host, our student rep, and I met in person to discuss the format. We shared discussion questions that we had written and decided on our opening introductions and general plans for the night. We finalized details with the IT staff member who would be overseeing the Zoom. On the night of the event, which was to start at 7:00 p.m., we met on Zoom at 6:45 to make sure there were no issues with the technology components. Shortly after 7:00, we began admitting people into the Zoom room and followed with our introductions and opening questions. For an hour and a half, through our Zoom rectangles, we enjoyed a lively conversation that highlighted themes from the novel and related them to readers’ lives. Third-graders interacted with high school seniors; parents listened as their children revealed personal reflections; siblings posed questions for everyone to consider; and we all ended up with different perspectives to contemplate.

In the journal i.e.: Inquiry in Education, teacher Nathaniel Petrich notes that, “book clubs are vital in inspiring deeper levels of learning for students in their reading of literature, and essential in developing self-motivated responsibility for deeper levels of conversation within communities” (2015, 2). As students continue to recover from the emotional trauma that the pandemic has brought upon them, they can reap benefits from participating in book clubs of all types. Our small effort to create a haven of acceptance and exploration for a night seemed to give those involved inspiration and a bit of hope to carry them through the last day of the school year.

Works Cited:

Silverstein, Karol. 2019. “How Stories about Disability Help Create Empathy.” We Need Diverse Books (November 4).

Petrich, Nathaniel R. 2015. “Book Clubs: Conversations Inspiring Community.” i.e.: Inquiry in Education 7 (1).

Author: Karin Greenberg

Karin Greenberg is the librarian at Manhasset High School in Manhasset, New York. She is a former English teacher and writes book reviews for School Library Journal. In addition to reading, she enjoys animals, walking, hiking, and spending time with her family. Follow her book account on Instagram @bookswithkg.

Categories: Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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