Book club enriches summer for Elm City Middle students, teachers

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Elm City Summer Book Club members sipped peppermint mochas, iced caramel macchiatos and mango dragonfruit as discussion over their latest novel got into the weeds about plot twists, character development and alternative story lines.

A dozen perspectives on Gordon Korman’s “Restart” emerged from around two tables in a nook at Starbucks.

It was a coming together of the young minds organized by Elm City Middle School teachers Jayme Daniels, Jennifer Joyner and Brittany Kopka.

Over the summer break, the group of 15 to 20 children read three novels and had three meetings to discuss them.

“I think they enjoyed being able to come to Starbucks and get a coffee, and it’s so grownup and chic and we get to do something fun,” said Joyner, who teaches sixth grade English as a second language. “Starbucks has been wonderful to let us be here, and the kids have enjoyed their macchiatos.”

“I think in the summer it is fun to do that because everybody is a little more relaxed, and you get to see different sides of the students,” Joyner said.

Daniels, a seventh grade language arts teacher, said having a more relaxed atmosphere made for better discussions.

“They all surprised me,” Daniels said.

“They all would pick out something that I didn’t necessarily take from the book, so it was obvious that they all read. It is a dream for us teachers because our love is reading, and they are no behavior problems. We just simply come and talk about what we’ve read,” Daniels said.

Over the summer, the children read “Harbor Me” by Jacqueline Woodson, “The Bitter Side of Sweet” by Tara Sullivan and Korman’s “Restart.”

Joyner said students led the discussions.

“I think each time there have been observations by the kids that have surprised us, where they talked about a dynamic character that changed or how the setting impacted,” Joyner said.

“It is such a different setup than when we have to do it in class and have to think about standardized test questions. It is just more real and more fun and what real readers do.”

Daniels said the students made more connections because there was no assignment.

“They weren’t stressing about having to go along with it, so they made connections between their real life and the characters and scenes throughout the book,” Daniels said.

The last sessions were more free-flowing than the first, the teachers noticed.

“On the first one, they were much more reserved and reluctant to share,” Joyner said. “It took about five or 10 minutes before they started opening up, but today, they just jumped right in. I could tell a difference.”

“It is just fun and it’s reading, and it’s what we want for all of our kids,” Daniels said.

Joyner believed some of the students would have read no matter what.

“Some kids always do, but I think we have some who probably wouldn’t have,” Joyner said. “They certainly wouldn’t have picked up these particular books.”

Daniels said it would be a good idea for Wilson County to organize summer book clubs for each school.

“It’s a great idea to think about all of the middle schoolers that are in public schools reading over the summer,” Daniels said.

Sixth grade student Jackson Watkins admitted he wouldn’t have read as many books this summer if he hadn’t been in the book club.

“It was pretty fun,” Jackson said. “We all had a good time and talked about the book. It’s good for your brain, I guess.”

Harper Daniels, a seventh grader, liked the club.

“It was good because you get to talk about the books that you read,” Harper said. “It was really cool. It was really eye-opening. You really read the book one way, but someone else read the book another way, and when you talk about it, you understand things you really didn’t understand before.”