I experienced something completely new in my history of working in libraries last Wednesday, leading three book groups for grade school boys as part of the Guys Read Program at the Eden Prairie Library. After I started my work in the Hennepin County System, I volunteered to mentor these three groups through what may be their first non-school, shared reading experiences. Geared for promoting literacy among grade school boys, Guys Read is among the many book clubs offered by library branches, for people of all ages. I’m leading three groups, one of kids going into first and second grade, one for third through sixth graders, and one for teens. For each group, I’ve chosen four books that I hope would challenge and entertain the young patrons throughout the biweekly meetings in June and July.
This is definitely like nothing I’ve done in the past and, really, I wasn’t sure what to expect. A real challenge to my public service, reader's advisory, and library instruction skills, I selected titles from as diverse and topic a background as possible, and made sure enough library copies to go around. In addition to the themes presented by the chosen books, I came up with fun activities for the groups as well, or at least, activities that I hoped would be fun. It did not take long for each of them to fill up and last week was the first time I met them all.
The group meetings went well, and I was impressed at the diversity and interest shown by each group of kids. I attempted to allow them to dictate the direction of the conversations over last weeks books, I’m definitely learning a lot and, after my first three groups, I’m looking forward to see how they enjoy the next selections. All three groups enjoyed the titles, for the most part, and the books selected sparked, in some cases, heated and energetic debate.
The three books I chose for the first meetings were comics, for the “Junior” and “Guys” groups, and a popular teen novel for the teen group.
This was, as expected from the inimitable James Kochalka, a silly, super colorful, playful romp across another planet with a cast of goofy but endearing characters; the aforementioned Glorkian Warrior, easily distracted, his SuperBackpack, the voice of reason, and the childlike Gonk. Tasked with the important quest of delivering a pizza, the three eyed pizza loving Glorkian encounters obstacles but through perseverance and occasionally zapping things, is able to finally enjoy a pizza of his own. The kids, in general, enjoyed the tale and its characters, though a few seemed to think it a little too silly. Some of the kids loved the antics of the Glorkian Warrior and Gonk, and lauded the logic and wisdom of SuperBackpack. The cute baby alien was also a favorite (looks a bit like a green Space Invader mixed with a cat). There is some fantasy violence in this story, with plenty of lasers, flying kicks (a Kochalka favorite) and punching oneself in the face and the kids definitely enjoyed this aspect.
Meanwhile, Jason Shiga’s intricate, choose your own path graphic novel that explores mathematical concepts, proved the most interesting and controversial book for any of the groups. Beginning with a choice, what flavor to choose at an ice cream shop, leads the reader to a mad scientists lab and his three world changing inventions, and lets you choose where to go from there. There are puzzles here, deep puzzles, puzzles that I myself could not always solve. The middle schoolers were intrigued by this concept, though a few missed the introduction and felt that it was too complex- even these readers were quickly drawn in by the in depth debates and discussion sparked by the philosophical concepts behind the story. What could you use a time machine for? Is choosing the vanilla the only good option, simply because it avoids all of the complications of the rest of the comic? It was not long before they were citing pages in the book to each other, comparing notes about where their choices diverged, debating what you could actually do with time travel.
This one was, I admit, a bit hard going for me, personally. Through the eyes of Cassie, Richard Yancey depicts a harsh and unforgiving world and a chillingly efficient alien invasion. No alien walkers or battleships here; the invaders seem to go about their extermination of the human species without putting themselves at risk, as would befit a space faring civilization with the will to conquer. After all, when humans want to combat an infestation, they don’t hunt each cockroach down personally, right? Comparison of humanity to cockroaches and other insects were a running theme throughout the novel.
The first section of the novel, as Cassie narrates her experience of the end of the world, the death of her parents, loss of her younger brother, and her survival, she describes the cold efficiency of the visitors, as they take out human technology, population centers, and will to resist through a series of staggered “waves;” a global EMP attack, artificial triggering of massive earthquakes and tsunamis, a virulent plague spread by birds, and turncoat humans to sow distrust among any survivors. She questions her place surviving when so many others have died, thinking of herself as a mere roach to be stomped or poisoned at any time. However, the humanity as insect analogy breaks down as the novel progresses, as it seems that humans are far more important to the visitors than Cassie believed.
The teens did seem to enjoy the battle scenes and desperate nature of the world presented, and seemed to have no problem with the female lead (though they did question her wisdom in not straight out murdering a certain character at her first chance) and they also felt the “5th wave” to be illogical when compared to the aliens earlier descriptions. I geared the discussion to why this novel, “soon to be a major motion picture,” was chosen to become a movie? How would they change it to make it more cinematic? What would they leave out? What would they add? In the end, they all said they would definitely see it.
So, all in all, a good start. Looking forward to see the responses to next weeks choices!
*Theme music for entry: "Pizza Rocket," James Kochalka Superstar, Monkey vs. Robot, 1997