December 20

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Do You Want to Join a Book Club? by Donalyn Miller

I’ve been open about my inability to read much during the initial pandemic shutdown last spring. My anxiety was out of control and I couldn’t focus. Working in my flowerbeds and writing helped me find some joy and calm, but my reading life consisted of news articles and planting guides. Sometimes, readers don’t read much. Daniel Pennac’s Rights of the Reader gave readers permission not to read long ago. 

Reading opens the world of people and ideas to us. Grounded from traveling and isolated at home, I need to read more than ever. I’m an extrovert who misses people. I miss working with teachers and kids in schools and learning with friends at conferences. I miss big family parties at our house. This sudden loss of social interaction has affected my reading life, too. I miss talking about books—exchanging recommendations, heartfelt responses, and discussions with other readers. Some readers don’t need the social aspects of reading to keep their reading lives joyful, but many do. I didn’t realize how much I needed other readers to talk with until my friend, Jennifer suggested starting an online book club with a few other teacher and librarian friends. 

The goals of the book club? Share some joyful reading experiences with friends. Spend time together. Feed our reading interests and motivation. Jennifer created a Google Doc to keep lists of potential book selections and our six members take turns choosing our next book. We read a book a week and meet on Fridays after school to discuss it via Zoom. As educators who enjoy children’s and young adult literature, we primarily read middle grade and young adult titles, but not always. Reading great books for young people informs our work as educators and expands our knowledge of the books available for kids to read. As white women striving to become more anti-racist, we are committed to reading more BIPOC authors and our choices reflect that mindset, too.

As empowered readers with wide reading experiences, all of us possesses strong reading preferences and opinions about books. Our 2020 reading list reflects a mix of books from various genres and topics. We use multiple sources for finding books to read, including reliable reviewers and bloggers, professional literacy and library organizations’ lists, online webinars and book preview events for educators, social media posts, and personal recommendations from friends, colleagues, family members, and students. Our book club list is not a comprehensive reading list, and everyone in our group reads beyond this list. 

#QuarantineBookClub 2020 Reading List

(in the order we read them)

Stand Up, Yumi Chung! by Jessica Kim

The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead

Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang

Lifting As We Climb: Black Women’s Battle for the Ballot Box by Evette Dionne

Red Hood by Elana K. Arnold

Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park

The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh by Candace Fleming

Clap Where You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Mañanaland by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Rick by Alex Gino  

Burn by Patrick Ness  

Not So Pure and Simple by Lamar Giles

Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

Getaway by Nic Stone

Again Again by E. Lockhart

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller

The Price of Scandal: A Bluewater Billionaires Romantic Comedy by Lucy Score

The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert

Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger

Flamer by Mike Curato

Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson

Yes, No, Maybe So by Becky Albertalli & Aisha Saeed

Efren Divided by Ernesto Cisneros

King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender

Dancing at the Pity Party: A Dead Mom Graphic Memoir by Tyler Feder

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson with Omar Mohamed

Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson

Punching The Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Apple (Skin To The Core) by Eric Gansworth

You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

Poisoned by Jennifer Donnelly

Throughout 2020, our book club has discussed the pandemic, the national reckoning on race, the elections, and their effect on our communities and families. We have shared the emotional highs and lows of this strange and stressful year—our illnesses and injuries, professional accomplishments and setbacks, and hopes and fears for the future. We have grown closer as friends and find comfort and support from each other. 

Our intellectual and emotional discussions about the books we read enhance our reading experiences and encourage us to read. While I have not finished every book chosen, I have appreciated learning more about children’s and young adult literature, sharing resources to extend these books with young people, and expanding my understanding and appreciation for a wider range of people and topics. Most of all, I have enjoyed chatting about books and life with my friends every week.

Our #quarantinebookclub selections for 2020. Photo credit: Jennifer LaGarde

Working with schools this year to develop routines and instructional methods that engage young readers in online, hybrid, and face-to-face classrooms, book clubs consistently offer opportunities for students’ choices in what they read and how they respond. Book clubs can provide differentiation options and authentic outlets for students to share and discuss books with their peers. Book clubs support a culture of reading and build relationships, too. Literate conversations, such as book club discussions, can increase students’ comprehension and their enjoyment and appreciation for what they read (Nystrand, 2006; Cherry-Paul & Johansen, 2019).

 If you’re interested in trying out or fine tuning book clubs in your classroom this year, I highly recommend Breathing New Life Into Book Clubs by Dr. Sonja Cherry-Paul and Dana Johansen. This text is rich with practical strategies for organizing and managing book clubs, as well as considerations for authentic and inclusive discussion and writing response activities. In this recent blog post, Sonja and Dana offer a sample of Chapter Two: Organizing and Setting Up Book Clubs. Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle’s 180 Days: Two Teachers and the Quest to Empower and Engage Adolescents provides management ideas and instructional moves for launching and sustaining book clubs with secondary students. 

Here at The Nerdy Book Club, we see our December anniversary as an opportunity to reflect on our goals and consider how we can continue to support teachers, librarians, families, and kids. Interacting with many of you, we see frustration because of the lack of joyful reading experiences for your students and limited professional development opportunities to learn with colleagues. Folks are missing discussions about books, too. Recognizing the social and intellectual benefits and community book clubs can provide, The Nerdy Book Club will launch a book club in 2021. It’s Nerdy Book Club, the book club!

In conversations with folks in our communities, we are still working out the details, but it’s time to share the news and solicit your ideas! Each month, we will select a different title—rotating between professional development, middle grade, and young adult titles. Book club titles will celebrate joy, personal and professional growth, and community. Throughout each book’s featured month as a book club selection, The Nerdy Book Club with host Facebook Live conversations with authors, slow (asynchronous) book discussions via Facebook and Twitter, and some spontaneous moments to celebrate and share the book.

So, do you want to join a book club?

If you would like to get a head start, our January 2021 selection is Risk. Fail. Rise: A Teacher’s Guide to Learning from Mistakes by M. Colleen Cruz. We are excited about working with Colleen to offer an engaging book club experience. We will announce dates for Facebook Live events and future titles through this blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

If you have been looking for ways to discover and celebrate books, connect with other readers, or feed your brain, this book club may be the low stress opportunity you need! Perhaps, you can find a few colleagues and friends to join with you or start an online book club of your own. 

I look forward to the community learning and sharing this book club will provide. Please share your suggestions in the comments and look for updates and timelines via our social media channels! You can also follow the #nerdybookclub hashtag to connect with other readers and book club participants.

Donalyn Miller has taught fourth, fifth, and sixth grade English and Social Studies in Northeast Texas. She is the author or co-author of several books about encouraging students to read, including The Book Whisperer (Jossey-Bass, 2009), Reading in the Wild (Jossey-Bass, 2013), and Game Changer!: Book Access for All Kids (co-written with Colby Sharp) (Scholastic, 2018). Donalyn launched the annual Twitter summer and holiday reading initiative, #bookaday. You can find her on Twitter at @donalynbooks or under a pile of books somewhere, happily reading.