What do 11- and 12-year-old girls talk about when they get together? Boys? Clothes? TV shows? Video games?
Not necessarily. Several young ladies in Bristol get together once a month to discuss books they're reading and how the characters' lives relate to their own lives. Their animated conversations include the yearning to "belong" to something, what other people think about them, the way they feel about themselves, and having a positive outlook on life.
A! Magazine recently met with some of the book club members: Maria Poteat, Maleah Newton, and Lauren Lily, all of whom attend Holston View Elementary School; and Annie Osborne, who was a classmate but is now home schooled. We also talked to Maria's 15-year-old sister, Cheyenne Poteat, a former book club member and a freshman at Tennessee High School.
Annie and her mother, Lilly Osborne, started the book club at their home about three years ago. Lilly says, "We were in a book store one day and saw a book club kit. Annie wanted to do it, so we bought the kit. It laid out how to do it, how to set things up, how to discuss books, and things not to bring in - it's not a gossip session. Participants must respect each other's thoughts and opinions and shouldn't make fun of anyone. The guidelines also suggest keeping the group to a dozen or less, so everyone has a chance to speak."
The girls now meet at another member's home. They find that the get-togethers allow them to continue their friendships outside of school, especially since Annie and others are now home schooled.
Through book club discussions, the girls are learning how to express their emotions and feelings in a mature manner, and how to discuss other topics that affect them, in addition to other social skills. They look like other girls their ages, but when they open their mouths and interact with each other or adults, they are articulate and their manners and camaraderie evident.
Some of the girls' favorite books were written by Katherine Paterson. Interviewed many times, Paterson has often said, "I think children are wiser than we give them credit for. If they start a book and they know it's not for them, they'll put it aside until they're older or better able to deal with it." Cheyenne's favorite Paterson book is Jacob Have I Loved - she has read it three times since the fourth grade. Maria said, "I didn't care for Jacob. It doesn't make sense to me. I guess I'm not mature enough for it yet." Maria's favorite Paterson books include The Great Gilly Hopkins because the lead character is a foster child. She relates to that because she and her sisters are adopted. "I didn't always like the choice of words, but it's a cool book," she says.
Lauren read Paterson's Bridge to Terabithia as a class assignment. Her teacher showed them two film versions: the Disney movie (2007) and a made-for-TV movie (1985), then read the book aloud by chapters and sections. Students had their own copies of the book to read along with her. Lauren says, "We liked it so much, when we finished the book, we begged her to let us read it again."
Lauren prefers the Disney movie: "It sticks to the book better. And I like that the characters dress more modern." Maria likes the 1985 show because of the similarities: "In the movie, Jess and Leslie cross a tree trunk to reach Terabithia. In the book, they use a rope to cross the creek to get there. I also like that [the TV] Leslie better; she wears dresses and big glasses instead of tomboy clothes."
The girls are planning to meet Paterson this month when the acclaimed children's author makes a presentation, signs books, and attends a dramatic rendition of her book Bridge to Terabithia - all at the Paramount Center for the Arts.
Linda Poteat, a retired teacher, remembers fondly when the City of Bristol Tennessee sponsored an authors' series for five years at Holston View. Linda - mother to Maria, Cheyenne and two younger sisters - has been a longtime fan of Paterson's books and has been to several of Paterson's presentations.
In Paterson's The Spying Heart, a volume of her speeches, book reviews, and essays, the author says, "Our task as teachers and writers, artists and parents, is to nourish the imagination - our own and that of the children entrusted to our care."