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Writing from the end of our program has enabled me to share some particular observations about the Together Program. One observation that was certain for our group was that Shiloh was the favorite of all the books we shared. Looking back over the six meetings, it would have been a safe guess that it was the favorite simply by the energy of the group on Sunday, April 27th. What made it certain was the feedback during our last meeting. As co-facilitators we chose to make a fun time of it for everyone by playing Family Feud with all of books and our three categories of Courage, Freedom and Being American included. The first question on the “board” was, “What was your favorite book?” Eight out of twelve said Shiloh. Tiger Rising swept second place for the only other book chosen as a favorite. Everyone enthusiastically shared the reasons why they chose as they did.
At this point in our series I had an idea that was very helpful in enhancing the energy of our meeting. We had American Folk & Country music playing as everyone arrived which reflected the theme of Shiloh. Parents & children were very happy about it and of course, Marybeth’s “dog bone” cookies were equally enjoyed by all. We decided to continue theme music at the remainder of our meetings. We also realized that we wanted to draw out more responses to questions from the children than in previous meetings. We presented some questions directly to the children which helped the parents be patient and allow the children the time to think about their answers. For example, on page 19 Marty wants Shiloh badly enough to do almost anything. Marybeth asked, “Kids, has there ever been something you wanted badly? That you worked hard to get? You persuaded your parents & proved you were capable of handling it?” Marty puts Shiloh in jeopardy and gets hurt in his care. We asked, “Kids, have you ever done something for the right reasons that turned out wrong, or had a result you didn’t anticipate?” Balance between parent and child answers were definitely restored. These particular questions also prompted constructive discussion between the parents and children. The book was rich with material for a discussion group. Our ninety minutes flew by and a large number of the children were eager to get into the library after our meeting to check out the rest of the trilogy. The children were very excited that Marybeth had communicated with the author who agreed to receive questions by email and sent answers back through the library prior to our next meeting.
Every book and theme discussed, favorite or otherwise, proved to have a positive result for those who attended. I watched children bloom into speaking and sharing in front of people. I observed parents and children sharing and communicating in unexpected ways. They all seemed very pleased with their experience and I know the children were stretched, very happily, into a broader understanding of what Courage, Freedom and Being American mean to them.

Doing book discussions with a mixed group of kids and adults was exciting. From the beginning, Sarah Sachs and I tried to create a space where kids and adults could feel equally free to talk and equally engaged in the conversations. Surely part of achieving that was due to the particular group of people Sarah recruited — everyone was friendly, interested, and everyone came to each session with a positive and interested attitude. A few other things seemed to work especially well:

First, starting with our first session, we read our first book (La
Mariposa) together, from beginning to end, by going around the circle and having each person reading one page; anyone who didn’t feel like reading could “pass” (to make sure no one felt pressured to read if they didn’t want to). This helped to get everyone used to speaking up, and we all liked it so much we ended up doing the same for each of the other two picture books we read.

Second, during our first session we started by having someone volunteer a question to get the discussion going; from there we set up a rule that anyone who wanted to speak could raise their hand, and the person who had just been speaking got to call on the next person (from among those with hands raised). Sarah and I tried to keep an eye on things to make sure that the conversation moved around the group (for example, if many people wanted to speak, we’d suggest the previous speaker call on someone who hadn’t recently spoken up). This worked well to get things rolling, but after our first two sessions of doing this we all decided that the hand-raising part was starting to feel a little artificial/stilted, and as a group we decided we could probably do just as well discussing without raising hands. This became great practice for kids and adults alike to learn when to judge a space was opening up in the conversation, and when and how to speak up, learning to keep an eye on each other and the discussion to make sure no one person was dominating the conversation and that everyone who wanted to got to speak. There were a few times when things got a bit messy because many people wanted to speak (such interesting books!), but overall our discussions went really well, and the hand offs between kids and adults speaking went very smoothly.
Libbie Freed

First let me thank all those who posted on this blog before me and shared their wonderful ideas. This blog was instrumental in making our Together experience a success.

Now to our last session: Ben & Me was a bit of a challenge conversation-wise. Our participants said that the book was “hard to get into” and “didn’t inspire them to think about big issues” the way other books did. They felt id didn’t lend itself to deep discussion. Another problem was that only one of our child participants had studied the American Revolution in school because she’s in fifth grade. For all the other children, being in fourth grade, Ben & Me was their first exposure to this period in history. In retrospect, I wish we had chosen a different book for the “Freedom” theme.

That being said, we did enjoy good moments. We began the discussion with each person pulling out a slip of paper from a bowl that had one of Franklin’s maxims on it. They read it aloud to the group and talked about what they thought it meant. Then we discussed whether Franklin’s maxims still had meaning today and the group shared any “isms” that their family still uses. They ranged from the serious – “Command your own respect” – to the silly – “Always wear clean underwear in case of an accident” but we enjoyed a lot of recognition and laughter.

In closing I’d like to share the activities that our group said they enjoyed the most:
Tiger Rising: Thaumatropes, and draw the character you think is in a cage (idea from this blog).
Tiger Rising: Internet browsing found this: we asked each parent/child pair to write down one question they would ask Rob, one question they’d ask Sistine, and one question for any other character. Once they wrote down the question, they passed their paper to the adult/child team to their right. Then each team wrote down the answer to the posed question, AS IF they were Rob, Sistine or the other character and read the question/answer aloud. No repeated questions, lots of insight.
Lotus Seed: We gave each person a bulb to plant with a piece of paper to write a wish on and plant with your bulb (idea from this blog).
Tar Beach: Group Quilt (idea from this blog, from Oriental Trading website, “Classroom Quilt Starter Kit” Item IN-57/86518, $41.00). We gave each adult/child team one square to decorate during the program (week 5) with their image/idea of “freedom”. We gave them a second quilt square to bring back with them next time (week 6), and decorate the square with their favorite book, character, theme or anything about their overall experience with Together. I’ve assembled the quilt squares as a wall hanging that is on display on our children’s room.
Shiloh & Final Wrap-Up: Mock “Family Feud” Game: Original idea from Christine and me. We used it first in Shiloh, asking participants to write down three things the book made them think about America or “being American”. The group then divided into two teams, parents v. children, to guess what answers the group wrote down. The most popular answer: “working for what you want.” We played the game again in week 6, asking about favorite/least favorite book, character you’ll remember, and book you’d read again, asking people to explain why they answered as they did. It was a unique and fun way to get people talking.

Originally posted on penguinpoplasky:

Wood Library – Canandaigua, New York

Our final session centered upon In the year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson.

As with our previous sessions, our snacks were themed and we enjoyed popcorn, hot dogs, and fortune cookies as well as wasabi peas and sushi. Unfortunately, half our group was not able to attend due to sports, family obligations, and end-of-year recitals. We tried to start earlier in the year to sidestep these spring commitments, but limited initial enrollment caused us to delay until we had a workable group size.

            We started off with a video clip of Shirley Temple in Curly Top, knowing the children might have a limited knowledge of who Shirley Temple was, and that Bandit’s family would have known her through her movies. As we grouped to discuss the book it was evident that the book held more interest for the parents than…

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Three weeks before the program started, panic settled in. After all of our advertising bases were covered, we had talked with many families that were thinking about participating, only one had actually filled out the paperwork. It made me wonder if there were children in the age group who had not heard, so I ran a report, using the LIS, of all users whose birthdays fell within the required parameters. Then I scanned the list and, whenever possible, sent a personal invitation to each parent, with the registration form attached, letting them know how much I thought their families would enjoy the program.

Within four days I had recruited a wonderful, diverse group of families, twenty attendees in all, made up of groups with two parents, two children, a grandparent and a child, and several pairs of parent and child. This approach targeted at card holders rather than just program attenders reached families that had never come out for programs before (every child in our school district receives a card at the end of first grade). It has been one of the most enjoyable programs we have ever done and all are sorry to see it end in a week.

Berne Library group doing the Charleston

Berne Library group doing the Charleston

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When my mom, the Children’s Librarian at the Berne Town Library, asked me to be a co-facilitator for the Together Book Talk program, I jumped at the chance. I have a deep passion for reading, and a heartfelt love for sharing what I read.  My background in teaching literacy as well as being a performance poet helped me to engage our participants in the books that we read as well as encourage discussion.

I have compiled my thoughts after reflecting on the program following its final session.

I think the book choices we presented were very poignant for the group that attended the sessions.  In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson, Dave at Night, and Letters From Rifka were wonderfully written books that provided many opportunities to explore character development, story settings, and writing choices while also allowing for a variety of text to life, text to self, and text to text connections.  The Lotus Seed, The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses, and Martin’s Big Words were gorgeously illustrated tales that brought all the readers into their messages through the use of story and image.

We always provided extra material such as pictures of some of the items mentioned in the books, maps to show where in the world the stories took place, and books by the same author or on similar topics, as supplemental reading suggestions.

For each discussion session we created games or activities that went along with each book.  For Dave at Night we watched a youtube video on how to Charleston and we all got up and did it.  For Letters from Rifka we played a travel game and split the group into two families traveling from Russia to America, For The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses we divided the group into a horse family and a human family and had them answer questions as they moved towards each other.  For In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson we played baseball by creating two teams and having tiered questions so they could attempt to hit singles, doubles, triples or home runs.  For The Lotus Seed we purchased lotus seeds and explored the possibilities of planting our own lotus plants. For Martin’s Big Words we created a word collage of some of the important statements from the book.  Having activities where our group got up and moved around really engaged all of the participants and they left excited and ready to read the next book.

Giving all the readers an opportunity to share passages that were particularly moving to them, and discussing why they felt each passage was important encouraged deeper level thinking and all the parents involved mentioned discussing books that were being read at home (both program books and non) with a new caliber and interest than had previously happened before the series.

It was only the last 2 sessions or so that all of the participants really began to share and engage in discussion.  If we were to do the program again, I’d like it to be a few more sessions.  Two of the parents requested more time between sessions as well so that the chapter books could be consumed with less pressure.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Together Book Talk.  Hearing the parents and their kids talk about what they were reading, and how they felt about it, was a truly uplifting experience for all of us involved.

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