I did my first book discussion with kids in ages this week. Fifteen kids signed up to eat some book-related snacks and discuss Whales on Stilts by M.T. Anderson. It seemed like a good idea when I picked the book, but then as I started trying to come up with questions, I began to regret it wasn’t a more meaty, issue-related book. What if they all didn’t get the humor? What if they all just thought it was stupid? Worst of all, I had completely forgotten the satirical book discussion questions Anderson included at the end. some of which were questions I had jotted down! How humiliating.
But I couldn’t back out at this point, so I went to the store and bought the treats for the “Chomp” part of “Chat & Chomp”. Fortunately they eat quite a bit in this book, so there were lots of choices–though I couldn’t find any plankton or kelp (just kidding) there were Spongebob animal crackers, and a few other related goodies. The treats turned into the ice-breaker for the group, and they were able to figure out where each one was mentioned or how it fit in in general.
Here’s what amazed me: They were great at doing a book discussion! They were thoughtful and funny and polite, sometimes even all at the same time. They were keenly interested in the playful ways the book is put together, with all sorts of visual jokes in the ways the words are placed on a page. They genuinely liked each of the characters, and could explain why quite precisely. I had thought they might not like the Tom Swift-like character of Jasper Dash because of his old-fashioned way of speaking, and they noticed his “weird” way of talking but they loved that he was a “techno-geek”. They even compared this book about a half-human, half-whale trying to achieve world domination to the far more genteel Tale of Despereaux, because they noticed the similarity of the author addressing the reader directly. Amazing. Even after this many years, I sometimes forget how cool kids are!