Book Abundance, Book Joy, and Membership in the Literacy Club

By Maria Nichols

Learning – all learning – is inherently relational and social. Famed reading researcher Frank Smith drew from this foundational understanding to craft the metaphor of a “literacy club”, creating both a vision and a goal for children’s literacy learning (1987). Children’s nurturing into the literacy club begins long before formal schooling as family and caregivers immerse them in conversations, storytelling, drawing and writing, libraries and bedtime stories. Ideally, the ways we design teaching and learning continues this journey by deepening and broadening children’s engagement in joyful literate communities, with the goal of ensuring all students see themselves as readers and writers.

Towards this end, our teaching and learning must balance the cognitive and social processes of being a reader. My collaboration with Excellence and Justice in Education (EJE) Academies, a charter school located in El Cajon, California, includes a focus on creating time and space for independent reading, with an emphasis on building student’s cognitive abilities and surrounding these efforts with attention to process, collaboration, talk, passion, and reflection. Tenesha Jones, a passionate and energetic sixth grade teacher, eagerly embraced this journey, and recognized Bring Me a Book as a partner for creating book abundance, book joy, and constructing reading lives.

I stopped by Tenesha’s classroom one gorgeous spring day as students were turning their attention to their next Bookelicious order. The buzz of excitement wafting out the door hurried my step. Once inside, I found students scattered about in twos and threes, deep into the Bookelicious website. Some were comparing, discussing and adjusting their avatars, others excitedly scrolling recommendations for their next reading gem, and still others sharing and discussing books from their last Bookelicious delivery, with no attempt to hide their goal of enticing converts. To a person, these students couldn’t wait to share their journey.

Leilany Delgado was bursting with excitement over her last find, Anica Morse Rissi’s Hide and Don’t Seek: And Other Very Scary Stories. “It was the cover,” Leilany enticingly whispered. “It caught my eye. Each story changes, like a mini-scary mystery. My favorite is “You’re It”. It’s all texting – so freaky! And now I know I love horror. It gives me goosebumps. I take it home to read alone in my room in the dark! And I like how it’s written – you know, in texting. I’m looking for another story like that.” As we were wrapping up our conversation, Leilany tossed out a bit of strategy. “I’m changing my avatar by seasons”, she advised. “I think I’ll get new book recommendations!”

Leilany Delgado showing off her last find!

Thanks to the Bookelicious book search feature, Jonathan Llamas stumbled on Max Bralier’s The Last Kids on Earth series, and remembered his older brother reading it. Jonathan now had a growing stack of titles from the series on his desk. “Yeah,” Jonathan explained, “I like to keep my books here at school so I can read them. It’s too busy at home because I help babysitting and the housework and stuff. If I keep them here, I can read and talk about them. At home, my [two year old] sister would destroy them!” The sticky notes protruding from several titles intrigued me. Jonathan explained, “See, I don’t do any folding pages or corners or anything. It has to stay perfect. So if someone reads it too, they have to do a sticky note to mark their place like me.”

Jonathan Llamas with The Last Kids on Earth.

Paty Alvarez flagged me down next, launching immediately into her self-proclaimed status as a big “nerd of reading”. True to her title, she proudly shared a HUGE (capitalized at her direction as she oversaw my notetaking) book, The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft. The book, it turns out, was a birthday gift from her big brother, because he (and everyone else it seems) knows she loves mystery and thrillers. Paty’s partner joined our conversation to share how scrolling through Bookelicious led to the discovery of The Traitor’s Game series by Jennifer A. Nielsen. “It was recommended because we liked The Inheritance Games series. We thought it would be just O.K., but we loved it! Now we’re going to try getting the other ones [in the series]. And we have a new author to love!” As I prepared to head towards Damanis Uelala, who had been motioning to claim next-in-line, Paty added a last insight into the depth of her membership in the literacy club. “By the way,” she smiled, “did I tell you I’m writing a screen play?”

Damanis was waiting with her computer in hand, excited to shared her Bookelicious avatar. It seems she and her partner had created avatars with matching outfits, but each added their own favorite dog. Despite the difference in canine preferences, the similarity in avatars led to similarity in comic book and graphic novel recommendations, and the two were becoming Raina Telgemeier connoisseurs. Their current ordering strategy was to find one book in English and one book in Spanish, nurturing their growth as bilinguals.

Damanis Uelala’s book avatar — and her dog!

These four students offer a mere sampling of the abundant joy in this 6th grade classroom. With the support of a caring and passionate teacher, a nurturing and collaborative culture, and our Bring Me a Book grant—that enabled us to select books from Bookelicious— these children are discovering who they are as readers, learning how to share and broaden their reading, realizing the joy in reading, developing reading habits, and learning how to curate and care for books. Clearly, they are building and layering on the foundation for lifelong membership in the literacy club.

© 2022 Maria Nichols