Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Oma's Book Club

In continuing our discussion of books and reading, today I have a guest post from my mother, affectionately called "Oma" by her grands.  She is a gifted teacher.  Literature and discussing great books is one of her favorite things to do.  I feel so blessed that she is passing that love on to her grandchildren!


He knew how to read, loved being read to, read the easy readers, but had not yet discovered the great pleasure of solitary reading, especially reading longer and more complex books.

So Oma’s Book Club was launched.  I wanted to encourage him to devour and savor good books.  This would be more than just getting a reward for reading, we would discuss the books – and thus I would in a natural way teach him the concepts of literature which would cause the enjoyment of good books to soar.  Or at least that was the plan….
When I asked X-man, my 7 year old grandson, if he would like to be in a Book Club with me he excitedly said yes even before I explained it.  (I think his dad had let it slip there might be a treat involved.)

The Plan
     1.       Oma would pick a book to read.

2.       After both reading the book we would have a date to go out and discuss.

The Execution

 1.       The X-man is only 7 years old and I wanted the first book to be a success.  He was skeptical of his ability to read a “long” chapter book.  So we started with Five O’ClockCharlie by Marguerite Henry, a 40 page book.  While not a chapter book, this picture book is beautifully written with rich vocabulary, enchanting syntax, and a lovely story of love, life and grace to an older generation.  Definitely a great book for the beginning of our book club.

Twenty-eight year-old draft horse Charlie is retired by Mr. Spinks who is trying to do his horse a favor; but life is boring to Charlie, who misses the days when he and Mr. Spinks would head to the local pub at 5:00 PM sharp for Birdie's fresh apple tarts. One day, Charlie jumps the fence and trots to the pub where he hopes the cheerful Birdie will give him his own juicy tart. Soon, this jaunt is an everyday routine.

2.       After X-man read the book (two or three times), we headed to the frozen yogurt shop for our treat and discussion.

This was to be a real discussion – definitely not a test, nor a lecture, nor a lesson.  But I did have things I wanted to talk about - quite a number of things.  Nevertheless I was also going to be responsive to him – ready to go on a bunny trail if he desired, ready to drop a line of discussion if he seemed lost or bored.  And ready to quit when it seemed natural, rather than when my “list” was completed.

There are many things to discuss about a book: Plot, characters, setting (including both geography & time), themes, vocabulary, literary devices, etc., etc.  You never want to cover everything with every book.  That would be tiresome and stilted. There are future opportunities with the next books.

I started with, “Who is your favorite character?”  And I was ready with the follow up questions of “Why did you like him/her? What was he like? Could you describe her to me?” if needed.  These questions were ready just to get him talking – I did not want him to think I was interrogating him!

X-man told me about Charlie first.  When he described him he left out a few things – one of which I wanted to discuss.  The author described Charlie as having “sad brown eyes and shaggy feathers on his feet.”  I reread the line and we looked at the pictures.  I asked X-man if a horse has feathers on his feet.  He was confused and said, “I guess so.”  So I explained with a laugh that he knew birds have feathers, not horses. I explained that this is a metaphor – a description of an object –in this case the long fluffy hair on Charlie’s feet – that asserts it is, on some point of comparison, the same as another otherwise unrelated object- in this case feathers.

Then X-man wanted to talk about the second character whom he really liked: Birdie, the plump cook at the inn.  I laughed about the name Birdie and asked him if he could imagine anyone naming their child Birdie. He laughed, too, and quoted a line from the book, “She would bounce out of the inn like a cuckoo from a clock.”  I then mentioned that this is similar to the feathered feet of Charlie.  Birdie is not a bird – she is a lady, but she is like a bird.

Now he has not really learned similes and metaphors, but I have broached the subject naturally.  It will not seem as strange next time, and he is building an understanding which will undergird the formal learning he will receive much later.

After we finished talking about the characters – mostly directed by him – I read one particular paragraph out loud.

Quick as flies the people would come swarming.  There were teamsters and tailors, carpenters and cobblers, bankers and barristers, goldsmiths, silversmiths and blacksmiths.   

I did NOT discuss the simile with corresponding verb in the first sentence.  I was being careful not to rub his face in the educational aspect of our book club.  But we did talk about each of the professions.  This is pretty complex vocabulary.  He knew some of them, but not all.  Then I reread the sentence to see if he could hear the pattern.  And as I ready I emphasized:

Teamsters and Tailors, Carpenters and Cobblers, Bankers and Barristers

We talked about alliteration very briefly.  He knows about rhyming and I explained this was similar – and it made the sentence lyrical, or almost musical.  He seemed to understand and commented that it was fun to say out loud. He repeated the work al-lit-er-a-tion and the sentence. 
Of course we also talked about the plot.  I let that discussions just run conversationally at his direction and pace.  X-man also wanted to talk about the illustrations.  I had not planned on talking about them at all.  He had thought about them and shared his insights with me!

The theme of the story is that we all need meaningful work, that we need to treat everyone with respect, and that no one is too old to have a rich meaningful life.  If X-man brought it up we would follow his bunny trail.  But I knew going in that I would not chose to discuss it. 

Many times morals and themes are best caught by the story rather than taught by the teacher.  I did discuss it with his mother in case she has the opportunity to catch him exhibiting the positive character traits – then she can comment that he is behaving like Charlie or Birdie. 

Our first book discussion was a great success.  I spent a few hours tracking down the next book I wanted to read. 

My goals?  Good books – good both from a literary standpoint and morally.  A variety of genres and authors. Books that are increasingly challenging while not being overwhelming. 
My next choice?  TheBox Car Children.

Oma’s Book Club… to be continued…..

Colene Lewis
wife, mother, grandmother, speaker, curriculum writer (KONOS Russia curriculum) and currently working for Alliance Defending Freedom.

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1 comment:

  1. Wonderful idea/technique, and thank you so much for describing it so well! This is tutoring at its best, another glorious benefit of the home education model! He is going to love Boxcar Children!!!