For several years I ran a Kid Book Club at a small town library, and together we found some real winners in the children’s fiction section. For my first Friday Review, I wanted to point out a particularly fantastic little book by Holly Schinder:
The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky: 5 out of 5 Stars
“Beasts of the Southern Wild” meets Because of Winn Dixie in this inspiring story of hope.
August “Auggie” Jones lives with her Grandpa Gus, a trash hauler, in a poor part of town. So when her wealthy classmate’s father starts the House Beautification Committee, it’s homes like Auggie’s that are deemed “in violation.” Auggie is determined to prove that she is not as run-down as the outside of her house might suggest. Using the kind of items Gus usually hauls to the scrap heap, a broken toaster becomes a flower; church windows turn into a rainbow walkway; and an old car gets new life as spinning whirligigs. What starts out as a home renovation project becomes much more as Auggie and her grandpa discover a talent they never knew they had—and redefine a whole town’s perception of beauty, one recycled sculpture at a time. Auggie’s talent for creating found art will remind readers that one girl’s trash really is another girl’s treasure.
My Initial Reaction:
(taken from my Goodreads review)
Wow, this book covered so many topics in so little time, AND was on about a 4th grade reading level! I was blown away by this book, my 3rd and 4th grade kid book club were blown away by it, and I’d recommend it to anyone. The themes were presented in such a way as to spark discussions of beauty, self-image, socioeconomic class, art, city planning politics, and all of these were initiated and sustained by the 9 and 10 year olds at my table. I had to ask a few questions to focus what they were trying to say, but really, this book gets 10 stars from me for the growth it inspired in my kids. I am not sure why the author saw fit to have the mother’s narrative be the way it was, but I liked how her story showed an adult friendship with Chuck, and one that sounds like it was really deep. Overall, I can’t say enough good things about this book. I’m glad that my KBC decided to read it!
The Skype Interview:
After posting the above review, I received a private message from Holly Schindler asking if she could skype with my Kid Book Club. I was ecstatic and so were the kids. They came up with amazing questions for her (and I got to ask why the mother’s narrative was decided on–no spoilers for you, but I was satisfied with the response!), and she was so impressed with them that she sent us personalized, signed bookmarks. I laminated them and handed them out to the kids at book club. She was fantastic and friendly, and I recommend working with her!
The kids asked me how I knew famous people, but to be honest, all you have to do sometimes is ask. After this experience, I went looking for other authors that the kids liked who might do a short skype call with us for free (I didn’t have a Children’s Programming budget, though I could probably have found someone to donate money for something like this). More on that another time.
Kid Book Club
Because we were a book club, we did hold a discussion about the book. As I mentioned in my review, the kids needed almost no help from me to create a dynamic conversation about Junction. They were blown away that people try to “beautify” their towns by driving poor families out of neighborhoods–they had initially figured that this particular concept was made up by the author. The book is also about a girl who creates folk art out of old junkyard scraps with her grandfather. She decorates their sidewalk with colorful glass shards that she sets into cement and her neighbor decorates the windows of her own house with homemade curtains. There was so much conversation potential in this book, because the characters were so creative with their ideas. The trick to this talk was in the leading questions:
- Why might someone believe that a family is not doing enough to take care of their house?
- Does art have to be beautiful?
- What makes something beautiful or not?
- Why do you think Auggie’s grandfather kept her mother’s secret for so long?
Of course, because all of the art in this book is made from reused materials, we spent several weeks of Kid Book Club meetings creating robots, sculptures, and whole cities out of recycled materials. Kid-led is the best way to go.
No Right or Wrong Answers
Because I used leading questions, there were never any right or wrong answers. Kids were encouraged to express their opinions, their thoughts, and their experiences without fearing that their ideas would be called “incorrect”. If a kid used language that was disrespectful or avoided contributing to the conversation, they would be spoken to in a concerned way (if you want to be here, we want to hear from you, and we want you to be a part of this!), but everyone’s ideas were explored openly. I frequently used my knowledge of current English standards to help the conversations along and also to help the kids become more fluent readers, but they weren’t the focus of our conversations. (English standards require that students be able to express a Text-to-Self connection, a Text-to-Text connection, and a Text-to-World connection when they read books. This is awesome, because it encourages them to explore what relevance a book has to themselves!)
I also never used a worksheet style system to get these conversations and thoughts to happen. I think that the kids get enough of it in class, and in adult life they will need to be able to express their opinions and thoughts about what they experience without any kind of imposed structure. I’m by no means saying that worksheets and structure have no place in learning or conversing–on the contrary, I think that part of the success of the conversations we had in Kid Book Club was that the teachers did such a good job in their school of developing students’ capacity for critical thinking.
This is why I love extracurricular learning (children’s programming). I get to help children take what they’ve learned in class, in their homes, and in the media and interactions that they choose for themselves, and turn it into growth and knowledge for the rest of their lives.
While I will likely never know what the kids will remember from our interactions, I can rest assured that the conversations surrounding The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky gave all of my Kid Book Club participants a moment to think about what beauty, art, class, and creativity mean to them.
What successes have you had with programs like Kid Book Clubs? Do you have questions about how I ran mine? What struggles have you faced in groups like this one? All questions and comments welcome!