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Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Grade 5 book club: is it possible?

I have been working on an idea: can Gr 5 kids have meaningful book club discussions about books?

I have been reading along with my kid, now in Gr 5, for fun, for a couple of years. Now that I am thinking about this, I am trying to read with a different kind of attention.

The issues are these:
1) the books put into their hands are just about all pre-approved for content and values;
2) the books are largely plot- and character-driven, which does not leave much room for "literary discussion";
3) there is a bit of a herd mentality in their critical thought - everyone tends to like the book or the character, and they are still so righteous at this age that all wrong-doing is easily disapproved of.

Then, I would kind of want to avoid the "middle school" trend, which is funny but not really mostly literary, and I would want to avoid "issue" books, which are represented in the curriculum.

Then, as my sister, the school librarian, says "You are asking them to do extra work!" No. I think they do the work already, but without articulating it to themselves. I would like to turn their attention to the devices that have lead them to their conclusions. Wouldn't that be cool?

Finally, it would be most interesting to introduce books that most if not all have not yet read. (The hardest challenge in a group of keen readers, I think.) can one find books that are suitable in content yet of enough literary interest to offer food for discussion? Books that would lead kids to the discovery of imagery, allusion, ambiguity.

My thoughts on possible books are these:
1) a manga Shakespeare?
2) a Blue Balliet novel, with it's leit-motifs, and references to other arts, in addition to plot and character
3) Heck by Dale Basye, for the concept of allusions, and the pointer to Dante (despite its middle school orientation)
4) The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo, as a retelling of The Velveteen Rabbit - a nod at the continuity of artistic ideas
5) The Hundred Dresses by Elizabeth Estes - a vivid book about standing by a person in need without helping
6) Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan - a new book that offers a taste of the subtle and surreal

I am wondering about Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome (mentioned in a Kit Pearson book).

What I would really like to find are some books that really use imagery and poetic construction, but I have not yet thought of any good possibilities.

Please send your suggestions.

The marigold wonders nervously:
Would it be fun? Would it be FUN?