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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Kids' Book Club; The Giver by Lois Lowry

I have been running a middle school book club once a month this school year, while a couple friends have held a high school book club concurrently.  (I mentioned it briefly in my post about food from fiction). It has been tons of fun!  Modeled after the Homeschool Book Award book clubs we attended several years ago, which in turn took inspiration from The Kids Book Club Book, the aim is to have a fun, engaging book club built around the assumption that kids like reading.  Far too many book clubs and book activities I've run across are focused making kids prove they read the book, or try to bribe them with unrelated treats and freebees--either way, the assumption is that they don't really want to be there and that they don't really want to be reading.  That's no fun.  I try to do it differently.  Our format is discussion, a book-based snack and a book-based activity.  Now and then there might be a mini lesson on a topic brought up by they book.  I worry very little about reading level, or how the kids read the books--alone, aloud with parents, and audio books are all fine by me.  Below are pictures and a description of our last meeting.

Our April book club book was The Giver by Lois Lowry--one of my all time favorite books.  This dystopian novel was full of topics to discuss.  We started off with an activity illuminate the experience of a world without color.  The kids used a sample pack of theatrical color gels (used in stage lighting) to try and simulate black and white vision.  The most successful combinations used lots of colors and made the world very dark.  From there we talked about how we see color, the differences between rods and cones in our retina, why we see less color in the dark, and colorblindness.  Rods, don't register much color, are responsible for our night vision, while the red, green and blue cones allow us to see color when we have enough light.  One of the students brought up the possibility seeing extra color.  It turns out there are some people with and extra yellow/green cone, just as there are people with missing cones. They may see enhanced color.

I also showed the kids a number of photographs in black and white and asked them what information they might be missing that color would reveal.  Then I showed the same photos in color.  In black and white they saw; trees, a cloudy sky, plants, a clear sky, pencils, bananas, and a diamond.  In color they saw; fall trees, a sunset, poinsettias, a rainbow, colored pencils, red bananas, and an amethyst. Their favorites seemed to be the fall leaves and the sunset.  The red bananas surprised most people.  Neither were they expecting a purple gemstone.  They guessed the rainbow and the colored pencils pretty easily.

We discussed the concept of Sameness in The Giver, race, their process of assigning jobs (and if 12 was too young to decide) and life without knowledge of death.  Many of the kids were surprised when I said that the book took place in the future.  We talked about the technology involved in such a world, something Lowry largely glosses over.  We talked about euthanasia and a world without animals.  We discussed the terms dystopia and utopia.

To kick off a discussion about memory, I brought out a tray of twenty objects, showed it to everyone, then removed several objects.  I asked what was missing.  Everyone remembered some but no one remembered all.  One or two objects were unusual and hard to name.  Those were particularly hard for some, easier for others.  We did the activity one more time.  Some did better, others worse are remembering round two.  Alzheimer's, early memories and aging, and whether or not you can recognize the good without the bad were all part of our discussion.

Our snack was red apples, cheese  and water (though they probably wouldn't have had cheese in the book)--certainly the least interesting snack I've served for book club. The simple plates and napkins were chosen to go along with Sameness.  In The Kids Book Club Book, Lois Lowry suggests apple pie, but we stuck closer to the text.  While the kids had their snack, they thought about what would make a perfect world.  When we reconvened, we went around the circle twice and each person had the opportunity to say two things that they would have in their perfect world (a nice way to encourage everyone to participate in a large group--we had 18 kids).  We briefly debated the pros and cons of some of the suggestions.

The last thing we discussed was how the book ended.  For purposes of our book club, I requested we only discuss this book and not Gathering Blue, The Messenger, or Son, the three related books written by Lowry.  It created plenty of debate.  While most of the kids took an optimistic view of the ending, others were convinced it was far too unlikely to be real.  Fantastic discussions all around!

Note: The high school book club discussed The Odyssey.  I hear they had a great discussion and an amazing Greek feast for snack.

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