A few months ago, I sat with a group of four nine-year-olds on tiny chairs. Most of them were meeting for the first time with the intention of picking out new books and talking about the books they had read the month prior. I brought up uninspired discussion points. How had their weekends been? Where did they go to school? What’s their favorite book? Their responses were squeaky and shy.
Since I was a kid myself I have been a babysitter, camp counselor, and eventually an educator, yet the frankness of children still surprises me.
“I go to such-and-such school, but I don’t really like it. I don’t really have any friends there.” One girl said by way of introduction.
“That’s okay. We’re all weird here, and we can be your friends!” said another girl through a beamy smile.
This is a conversation that actually took place in front of me. Devoid of pity or irony.
This group is called BookWorm, an advisory board that helps me curate BookBar’s middle-grade and young adult bookshelves. These kids are here as self-identified super readers. They burn through the books they’re assigned in school, books they bring home from school, and books they scour through at the library. So we invite a group of 8-10 year olds and a group of 10+ year olds to borrow Advanced Reader’s Copies (ARCs) that publishers send the shop once a month as long as they tell me what they think of them and write a review for this lovely blog.
In starting the group two years ago, I had hoped to discover some kind of trend that unlocked the secret to “what kids are reading these days.”
Here is what I’ve found: kids read short funny books with illustrations, historical accounts of conflicts in other countries, lengthy adventure capers, magical worlds of elaborate fantasy, and realistic stories of loss and recovery and acceptance and inclusion. They read a lot. They read it all.
On the second Sunday every month, the super readers file into BookBar, ARCs squeezed to their chests or hooked under their arms, and recount stories to each other. The older kids have come to admire certain authors for their world building (The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid was a Sci-Fi, girl power, humanoid hit) or gripping themes (we fell in love with falling out of love in Krystal Sutherland’s Our Chemical Hearts). One girl has embraced the habit of wearing tiny Victorian looking hats to reflect her love of steampunk.
Unprompted, they discuss the merits of character development and whether an author stayed true to the traits she had set out the story with, what makes a book boring, and the importance of gender equality and representing diverse experiences (see Lillian’s review of Ramona Blue Julie Murphy’s latest novel bearing themes of sexuality and identity). They also fight about the plausibility of hypothetical scenarios in the world of Harry Potter. Their love of reading billows through the place as they rifle through yet to be released paperbacks, with much fist pumping and talking over each other.
And as I listen to their conversations, the empathy I see for the unfamiliar and the curiosity they show about their world is nothing short of inspiring.
Books connect them to a world they’re just getting started in.
Last year, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Gene Luen Yang, partnered with Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group and other bookish organizations to begin a campaign called Reading Without Walls that challenges kids to
1.) Read a book about a character who doesn’t look like you or live like you
2.) Read a book about a topic you don’t know much about
3.) Read a book in a format you don’t normally read for fun (a chapter book, a graphic novel, a book in verse or an audio book,
I’m proud that Reading Without Walls is the theme of our kids summer reading bingo this year at BookBar. But the apparent irony is this: kids are actually leading the way in reading without walls. They are game on and already doing it.
But what about us adults? We, who get stuck in our reading ruts, favored genres, and go-to authors in our busy busy lives? We need a jolt to remember that our reading lives are also about building empathy and connection in addition to a joy and pastime.
So, I’m taking the challenge to Read Without Walls this summer. Will you?
Join me! Just,
- Pick up a Grown-Up Reading Without Walls Summer Bingo Card at BookBar and turn in your completed bingo for a BookBar gift card!
- Every Friday of the summer, watch BookBar’s Instagram feed (follow us!) for a staff member showing off the book they intentionally chose to fulfill one of the Reading Without Walls requirements on this grown-up summer reading bingo card. Be the first to tag a friend and win a book from BookBar.
- Join us on Friday, August 25 from 4-6 PM for a Summer Reading Happy Hour Celebration with raffles (win a night in BookBed!) and snappy staff book talks on their favorite diverse reads this summer
Take the Reading Without Walls Challenge – It’s what the cool kids (read: super readers) are doing these days
— Abbey, BookBar Book Manager