November 25, 2022

Book Clubs and Enlightened Readers Build Youth Literacy in Evanston

Every year since 2015, a team of students in grades one through eight meet at the Evanston Public Library (or more recently, on Zoom) to carry out a crucial literary mission – to vote for the next book of images Caldecott medal winner, or the next Caldecott Club take.

EPL’s Caldecott Club is one of many programs, from book clubs to book drives, currently promoting youth literacy in Evanston. At each hour-long Monthly Zoom, about 20 attendees read six picture books, discuss their artwork, and send two to Caldecott’s final voting night in January.

Children’s librarian Brian Wilson, who coordinates the club and served on Caldecott’s selection committee in 2017, works each month to select books that cover a variety of art styles, subjects and moods. A year, he said, the club actually predicted Matthew Cordell’s 2018 win for ‘Wolf In The Snow’.

According to Wilson, the meetings are structured less like a typical book club discussion and more like an art walk. He said he was surprised by some really thoughtful responses from younger members.

“We ask them questions like, ‘How does art make you feel?'” Wilson said. “Do you think the art matches the story? Do you think it does a good job of telling the story?

EPL STEM Experiences Library Assistant Kennedy Joseph agreed that getting kids engaged in literature is a great way to promote emotional intelligence skills. They said it helps children practice empathy when working in areas such as science, technology, art and math.

“The idea is to add a kind of emotional aspect,” Joseph said. “How do we interact with these issues? And how do these issues affect the outside world? What do we think of the materials we work with?

This month, Joseph launched EPL’s new programming: the Young Scientists Book Club. There, participants aged 8-10 discuss a monthly choice of STEM-focused fantasy, sci-fi, or graphic novel. Then the members do a science experiment together on Zoom.

Joseph prepares kits with all the components of the experience to pick up before meetings, which they believe are essential in literary programming for young people. To this end, they also try to select books centered on characters with marginalized identities or with disabilities.

They said they hope to use children’s literature as a tool to normalize additional accessibility needs — even in science fiction worlds — and to inspire conversations among club members about a variety of social issues. At its first meeting last month, five attendees read Gordon Korman’s “Masterminds” and discussed topics of censorship.

Joseph found that their readers were thrilled to have a space to discuss books outside of a school setting.

“Even if they don’t really have much to say, they just want to be in a space where other kids are, excited to talk about something that really interests them,” Joseph said.

For Derrick Ramsey, co-founder of the Young, Black & Lit children’s book association, inspiring children to read independently also means promoting access to characters and themes that ring true to their lives.

Young, Black & Lit, which was founded in 2018, provides free books focused on black voices at schools and community events around Evanston, Chicago and Cook County. One of his first “Lit Monthly” drives was at Oakton Elementary School, where students had a selection of about 150 picture books to take home. YBL is on track to offer 25,000 books this year.

Currently, YBL also offers “Lit Year” readers in Cook County schools, where students in grades K-3 take home a book each month in hopes of building a home library. The group also works with Evanston Cradle to Career, EPL and other community organizations in Evanston.

Only 12% of children’s books produced each year feature black characters, Ramsey said. This, along with persistent negative media narratives surrounding black youth, he said, means it can be particularly affirming and build trust when young readers have increasing opportunities to see themselves in books. that they read.

“Every time we give out books, you can see a kid come to the table and say, ‘Hey, this kid looks like me. This kid, you know, represents me,” Ramsey said. “It’s always a joy to see them see themselves in the stories they read (and) feel secure in the stories they read.”

E-mail: [email protected]

Twitter: @ilana_arougheti

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