Book Talk by Lea Kelley

“Miss Kelley, Miss Kelley!”

It’s time for lunch, and I’m standing at the bottom of the stairs that separate the middle school wing from the lunch room, sorting students into lines for hot lunch and bagged lunch, and generally preventing overzealous 6th, 7th, and 8th graders from running over our 1st and 2nd graders, who are still occupying the lunch room.

“Miss Kelley!” The 7th grade boys are quite a group. There are a lot of them. They are everywhere. They yell when they shouldn’t even be whispering. They distract each other in church. They lose their playground equipment at lunch recess, and chase each other around playing strange punching games during morning break.

“Miss Kelley!” They really want my attention. Has someone cut the line? Do they want to complain that they’re still waiting to go in the lunchroom? What could they possibly want?

“Yes?” I answer, finally.

“Miss Kelley, do you pronounce it Tob-I-as or Tob-EEE-as? Because I think it’s Tob-I-as, but he thinks it’s Tob-EE-as.” There are at least five of them ready to engage in this argument, five 7th grade boys, eager to argue over how to pronounce a character’s name in Veronica Roth’s Divergent series.

*****

“What page are you on?” It’s another 7th grade boy, the same boy who is always the first one out the exit door at the end of the day. He’s enrolled in math at the high school, so he usually spends his last period on our campus reading.

“I’m not very far,” I answer, keeping one eye on the young kids running wild around the pick up area and the other on the middle school students streaming past the door that I’m holding open. A 7th grade girl, another advanced math student, has walked out carrying Allegiant in her hands.

“She’s mad because she’s ahead of everyone else,” he says, gesturing to the girl. “She doesn’t have anyone to talk to about the book yet.”

“What page are you on?” I ask, and when he tells me, I point him in the direction of an 8th grader that I know is about as far as he is in the book.

*****

The windows in my classroom face out over the street where older students are dropped off in the morning. An 8th grader exits her car, her book clutched in her hands.

“Quick, what page do you think she’s on?” I ask, and we quickly place our ‘bets’. One of my advisees hurries out into the hallway to find out who guessed correctly.

*****

“Miss Kelley.” Another 7th grader stands in front of me, on a Tuesday early in November. I’m again holding the door at dismissal. “Do you think the Book Stall will have Champion?” He motions to the book that I’m holding in my hand. I’m waiting for the 8th grader at the top of the waiting list to exit so that I can give it to him. It’s release day, and we have two copies each for 7th and 8th grade.

“I’m sure that the Book Stall will have Champion,” I assure him, and he rushes down the stairs and around the block toward his house.

An hour later I’m in a back office at the bookstore, and I start to tell Robert, the children’s bookseller who visits our school with authors, about the conversation. “So, you’ll probably get a visit from—“

“He already came in with his dad,” Robert tells me.

“Amazing,” I say.

*****

“Miss Kelley, I was crying in math class today when I finished [TITLE REDACTED],” an 8th grade boy tells me, and the other students nod in agreement.

“Miss Kelley, I threw my book against the wall when I finished,” another boy tells me, and I tell him that I wanted to do the same.

“Miss Kelley, I wanted to cry but I couldn’t because my older sister was driving and she hasn’t read it yet and I didn’t want her to know how it ended,” says an 8th grade girl who has joined us at the Book Stall on a Sunday night to meet a favorite author for pizza and a Q & A.

“I forgot how sad the ending is,” an 8th grade girl tells us as she joins the class on our imaginary reading rug for read-aloud. She has just finished reading a different class favorite for the second time.

*****

“Yeah, well, I think Brian’s a jerk and she can do better,” an 8th grader argues vehemently. School ended ten minutes before, but a group of four or five 8th grade girls lingers. The principal, walking past on her way to a meeting, shoots them a quizzical look. We don’t have any 8th graders named Brian.

“They’re talking about a book,” I say.

It’s what we do.

*****

Lea Kelley, a Chicago resident, teaches 8th grade humanities at St. Francis Xavier in Wilmette, IL. She had not yet had any coffee when she agreed to write a post during the last days of NaNoWriMo. She writes about teaching at Miss Kelley Writes (misskelleywrites.blogspot.com), though not so much during November, and on Twitter at @leakelley. She arrived back from NCTE/ALAN with 17,495 words to go in her NaNo novel, so if anyone asks, this post was written by one of her characters.