Summer Book Club
"So, you Atomic Fireballs have decided that you'd be academic stars and that your teachers would expect you to do really hard work . . . and you Sour Punks have decided that you'd probably flunk a lot of tests and that your teachers might even be a little afraid of you? Well, what if you became members of the opposite team next year? Would your opinion of yourselves change just because your nickname changed?"
—Teacher contribution to a Summer Book Club discussion
What did we do over our summer vacation? Part of our summer vacation was spent enjoying the company of our middle school students through our Summer Book Club program, where candy-and-book-based discussions such as the one above can sometimes be heard. Our school district and PTO support a summer reading program at Orange Middle School that involves about a dozen teachers and over one hundred students. Our district provides a stipend for teacher-facilitators, while the PTO finances the purchase of current literature that appeals to middle schoolers. The intent of the Summer Book Club program is to encourage students to maintain their reading habit over the summer, while engaging in thought-provoking discussions with their peers and teachers. We offer two different formats for our Book Club program.
[Linda] One of our Book Clubs is directed toward our incoming sixth graders as a means of acclimating these "newbies" to life in middle school. We meet three times over the summer, reading The Sixth Grade Nickname Game by Gordon Korman, Heads or Tails by Jack Gantos, and Flying Solo by Ralph Fletcher. All three books revolve around the problems, adventures, and challenges of sixth grade. The books are humorous, realistic, and discussion-worthy. We engage in a "Mingle Bingo" mixer (see Figure 1), reader's theater, a logic puzzle, and other enjoyable activities at the meetings so the students, who come to us from our four feeder elementary schools, can get to know each other. In the meantime, I am getting to know some of our new students as readers and as individuals. Each year, I look forward to seeing them again during my school-year book clubs and in my visits to their classrooms in my role as a literacy support teacher.
Figure 1. "Mingle Bingo," based on The 6th Grade Nickname Game by Gordon Korman
[Brenda] Another Summer Book Club we offer is for our current middle school students. In this format, students form their own groups, select the books they will read, and choose their meeting times and locations. This summer my Summer Book Club chose books such as The Missing: Found by Margaret Peterson Haddix and Schooled by Gordon Korman. In all, we chose six titles to read over the summer, which allows us to meet about every other week. We gather at places like Panera Bread and the food court at the local mall; it seems like our discussions always go better when food is involved!
I was fortunate enough to have the same group of students this summer as last, which allows me to see the growth they have made as readers, and as young adolescents. Our discussions, although centered on a novel, also allow me to learn more about the culture of our middle school and the ever-changing thoughts and beliefs of middle school students. I learned that it does matter where you sit in the lunchroom, and that bullying does happen, although almost invisibly, because most of it is done through words or small actions. When discussing the book Schooled, I learned about my students personally, as we talked about events that have changed our lives. One student shared that after moving to a new town and starting a new school, everyone wanted to be her friend, and it took time for her to find out who her real friends would be. Another student shared that his life changed when he jumped off a cliff into a lake with his cousin and ended up getting hurt pretty badly. He said before he jumped, he didn't really think about the consequences or that he could get hurt—he had no fear. Now, he thinks more about what could happen, and he realizes that he is not invincible.Â In listening to them relate their life-changing experiences, I am impressed with their reflection and with the depth of our conversations.
Most of our students admitted that without Summer Book Club, they probably wouldn't read as much. They lead busy lives and are involved in many extracurricular activities. Without a deadline and commitment to the group, the reading just might not get done. We, too, have other summer interests and commitments, but our Summer Book Club groups never cease to inspire and renew us as teachers. We return to school at the end of summer with an increased knowledge of adolescent literature, with a clearer idea of the needs and strengths of adolescent readers, and with gratitude that these students have allowed us a glimpse of their reading lives.
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