Brought by Bagels. . .Bound by Books by Paul W. Hankins

You won’t find Books and Bagels on our school website. You won’t find it listed in the planner as a scheduled event. Participants don’t have a t-shirt or a rubber bracelet that announces their affiliation with the group. Few students buzz about the next book in the series. There is one simple flier posted to the wall in Room 407 announcing the titles and the dates.

But. . .in the continuing evolution of my practice, it is probably one of the better ideas I have had. Really. And I think I have some pretty good ideas. Why did it take me ten years to stumble upon this one?

By the end of this post, we may have to challenge the choice of title based upon a pre-conceived notion I held for a brief period of my life.

Some nine weeks ago.

Ever notice whenever writers talk about a brief period of time within their lives, we readers go within their minds to some nursery housing skin horses?

I’m forty-three years old. It’s a ripe age to fall into erroneous thinking. Daily.

But misdirection is often clarified by reflection.

And it’s not that my erroneous thinking caused one person harm. I mean, we didn’t even lose a second of instructional time. But while drafting this post, I realized that I was working through a new idea to bring readers together. And the first thing I thought of was. . .donuts.

The wonderful children’s and young adult author, Linda Urban, told me that alliteration is overrated. Of course, she didn’t mention this until we were well underway with our new program out of Room 407: Books and Bagels. Though Sarah Darer Littman did offer to bring us–one day–some authentic bagels from New York State.

That’s it.

Books. Bagels. In proximity.

Books. Bagels. Juxtaposed.

Books and Bagels.

Typing it now, I am actually astounded by the alliteration here.

But I am just not that creative. YOU. . .you would have come up with this idea in a heartbeat. It’s so simple. And yet, when we talk about Books and Bagels in forums at Facebook and Twitter, we are flooded with requests for how to set this up, how to get funding. . .and more interesting to me. . .how to quantify it.

So the intent of this post is to tell you about Books and Bagels (we find that teens like donuts better, and we really can’t get the kind of bagels you are envisioning in southern Indiana, but donuts do not carry that same kind of alliterative ring and its our group ((sorry, Linda. . .you know that Mr. Hankins has nothing but love. . .love. . .love. . .)). I’ll try to tell you how we came to it, how we do it, and why we do it.

If you are using this as a model for writing, we might call that last sentence a “closed thesis.” Show the kids.

I wanted something that would bring together a small group of “bookish kids.” You know those kids that love the books you read in class but somehow get lost in the post-reading conversations? They want more. They want others to feel in, within, and about the book. And for many of these kinds of readers, this just doesn’t happen in the large group conversation. I wanted a group where a lost voice could be found outside of the din of those large group debriefs. I wanted small. I wanted intimate. I wanted authentic interaction.

Take a moment to visualize those kids. How many are there in your secondary classroom? If you have a whole group, you’ll need more donuts. From the beginning. I can advise you of this. The student to donut ratio is 1:1. It works (and this will probably be the limit of the quantification portion of this post. . .we find that each participant consumes at least one donut consistently after four trials with general satisfaction reported).

For me, Books and Bagels started not with a notion of how many students would attend, but with a vision of that one student who would attend one time over the course of this year. I did not allow myself into delusions that our group would rival any other sponsored group in the school. I envisioned four. . .five. . .six. And I would try to select the first series of books that would hook this small group.

We offer Books and Bagels during our students’ Instructional Resource Period (IRP). Within our block schedule, students have this hour and a half period every other day. As I teach six classes over the course of two days, I do not have an IRP to supervise–this is my planning period. Our IRP is divided into two parts: Block A reserved for academics and appointments with instructors and Block B for sponsored clubs. With a creative mind, I immediately thought that Books and Bagels could serve both and I could have the kids meet for the hour.

In Block A, we discuss the selected title and look at resources for the book on the web (students who had never seen Maya Angelou were taken with her physical presence and her openness to laugh with gusto in the middle of an interview over a point she had made). In Block B, we have fellowship over donuts and juice. We have a drawing for new titles I may have picked up for the group (sometimes, to sweeten the pot, I have given away copies of the next title in the Books and Bagels series).

Let’s stop for a moment. See how simple this really is? Really. You would have thought of this given a quiet moment. This is really nothing special. The kids make it special. I only gave it a name. Naming things help us to claim them. I maintain the Books and Donuts doesn’t have that. . .umm. . .certain ring (see what I did there. . .both donuts and bagels are circular with a central hole making them a ring, except for the bacon log which is more a rectangular shape–you should try one anyway).

Books and Bagels is as new as our school year. In fact, I didn’t really think about the idea until well into our second week together. We might call this the “proofing stage” wherein the dough proofs to be punched down by the baker. It’s a young idea with potential, and we now have a marking period’s worth of experience to which we can point as we gauge the success of the activity. Not by numbers necessarily, but by student response.

And this may not be the place, but I will take a narrative to heart before I ever take a number as a whole. Donuts can often be sold in something called “the baker’s dozen.” And a local place sells six donut holes link together as one whole donut for pricing purposes.

Watch numbers. Welcome narratives.

Our first step was to select the titles for the first Books and Bagels series. I wanted some continuity here. I wanted to be sure that if anyone were to look into the fishbowl, they could see the feeding. So, we went with meeting every two weeks to fit into the nine-week marking period. We were sure to tell students that they did not have to attend each session. All of this is voluntary participation. But, by putting out the titles and the dates, students could select that title they wanted to read and to discuss. And it has been most powerful to see that some students have attended each session in the first series. One young lady has already purchased the books for the second session. Just one. . .but one (I said we wouldn’t return to quantification, but can we say something about an activity that leads even one reader to heading to the bookstore to request books for a rag-tag, voluntary activity at and for school? I knew that we could).

Our series will offer 1) an American classic (read “something from the State’s Reading List as this will help to build a base for our readers and serves to address the academic side of the activity), 2) a work of contemporary non-fiction (in the first series, it was Sir Ken Robinson’s OUT OF OUR MINDS; in the second we will go with Daniel Pink’s A WHOLE NEW MIND) 3) a poet or a collection of poetry or memoir, and 4) a  contemporary young adult novel.

Our first series included:

OUT OF OUR MINDS by Sir Ken Robinson

Our second series will include:

NIGHT SHIFT by Stephen King (our first meeting is on Halloween)
A WHOLE NEW MIND by Daniel H. Pink

We have to shorten our second series as we have Thanksgiving Break and Mr. Hankins will be out the week before Thanksgiving Break to meet with so many of you at NCTE 2013 (look for me. . .I’ll be somewhere talking about books with somebody).

Some have asked about school support or funding. I fund this. As part of my evolving practice and commitment to approach reading and the sharing of books through whatever venue I can, I will fund this. On our meeting dates, I stop at the local Meijer. I get donuts. I get juice. Sometimes I get chocolate. I try to plan in advance where I can find the titles I want to give away. I try to think about how many kids will attend and what a decent amount of giveaways might be. It’s a good plan to try to give away a title that is coming up as the student’s “ticket” into a Books and Bagels session is a copy of the book in hand.

And attendance. . .attendance has been on par with what I would have expected early on. We only advertise through the junior classes (the grade level I teach). I wanted to see what the response would be from the group I am teaching. For THE CATCHER IN THE RYE we had ten students in attendance. For OUT OF OUR MINDS, we had two students in attendance, but both of these students were interested in teaching and education and the conversation that came out of this small group is something I would take with me if we did not do Books and Bagels beyond this year. I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS saw five students in attendance.

Our largest group came at the end of the series with John Green’s Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award winning THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. As an added bonus, a colleague joined in this conversation which included love for the book and authentic buzz for the upcoming film. The students knew which videos to cue up for the group to get a real John Green experience. The students also brought up an interesting question regarding whole class novels and why this particular novel they loved might not work in the large group setting. And they were most convincing as the shares became most earnest with each participant having a little more time to talk about their connections to the book.

But something. . .or someone. . .more happened in this last group right before Fall Break. A freshmen joined our last group. Invited by an upperclassmen, this young lady sat through our conversations, added her voice into the mix, and enjoyed donuts and fellowship.

On her way out of Room 407, this young lady said she loved the group and asked if she could come back for the next session. Looking about the room with its shelves and books falling out of every available space, she added, “I think I have found my place.”

Can we quantify this as a success? Helping a reader find his our her place? We said we wouldn’t try to quantify this approach but for that one person. And what do you know. . .as soon as we found this one person, we immediately began to wonder if there were more students out there. We want to give this one more year with our juniors and whoever else might come along. We are wrestling with the idea of waiting until a student becomes a junior to make the group a little prestigious (and also allowing for a comfort level in book selection for the older reader and the college bound) and a whole school activity (our initial thinking says that a whole school approach would need to be fostered and funded by the school and the school’s library services).

Brought by Bagels. You see. . .a donut is a pastry. But we are looking for people.

Bound by Books. If donuts are a pastry, books are a place.

Bagels bring us to the table, but Books bring us together. I am of the belief that we break a book as much as we might break bread when we share both together (but as the sun is coming up on another day, we might save this metaphor. . .you never know when you might need a good metaphor).

A person.

A place.

A program is. . .well. . .a program. What we were looking for with Books and Bagels was an approach. It’s not enough to carry a book, but I thank you for inviting me to consider this as a post. I had another idea, but Colby said, “I hope that you are writing about Books and Bagels for the 14th.” I like Colby’s energy.

And it looks like we will be doing Books and Bagels for some time to come. In my imaginative, book-loving mind, I see a student lettering in Books and Bagels. Earning that letter in his or her senior year for attendance in a program that any one of us would have thought of. . .but for the life of Linda I just cannot think of what letter they might wear and what would be on the pin (but you can see it can’t you–a big B with book cover pins all over it).

And in true Nerdy down-to-the-wire, get-it-done-while-out-of-town fashion, I am heading to the local pastry shop in the hopes that they have just a little bit of wi-fi so that I can send this along to the folks who put it up on the site.

When this post goes live, our family will be leaving northern Michigan to head back to Hankins Ranch in Floyds Knobs. Kristie has read a couple of books while she was up here to include the new Nicholas Sparks and the Elizabeth Smart book. Maddie cannot read in the car very well, but she did pick up THE POPULARITY PAPERS while at the local bookstore. Noah has plowed through MARK OF ATHENA in order to enjoy HOUSE OF HADES on the way home (I hope he doesn’t see some kind of connection within his reading). And Mr. Hankins. . .Stephen King’s DOCTOR SLEEP, Georgia Heard’s WRITING TOWARD HOME, Julia Cameron’s THE RIGHT TO WRITE, and an illustrated text about Castle Farms in Charlevoix Michigan. I have Anne Ursu’s THE REAL BOY on deck for the ride home.

We are a reading family. And with good books, any approach or invitation that extends that family or brings new members into its fold is a good one.

There. We have quantified Books and Bagels.

Each are good.

Together they are good.

The approach is good.

Good reading, friends.

Paul W. Hankins teaches English 11 and AP English Language and Composition at Silver Creek High School in southern Indiana. Paul participates in numerous online forums regarding reading and writing. In addition to membership within many professional organizations, Paul is a Wonder Lead with the National Center for Family Literacy and the non-fiction site, Wonderopolis. The creator of RAW INK Online, Paul is celebrating with his students in Room 407 the 5th Anniversary of the site which brings young adult readers and young adult authors together. At home, Paul is married to his wife of fourteen years (August 13th), is the father of Noah (7th grade) and Maddie (6th grade). Mia, Pepper, KitKat, and Butterfinger remain loyal fans of Paul’s poems and posts and most of his attempts to write something.