In the feature story “Allowing in the Light,” educator Chelsea Tornetto shares how she started a social justice book club for students at her school. Here are some suggested steps and readings for starting your own club.
Tips for Getting Started
- Choose the books carefully. Make sure the books you choose are not only age-appropriate but also that you are passionate about them. Your enthusiasm (or lack thereof) will be contagious! Also, ensure your book selections present diverse perspectives and characters. To audit your potential selections, use the teacher-friendly tool Reading Diversity Lite.
- Remember that time is of the essence. Choose a time for the book club meetings when most students can easily attend. For example, meeting during lunch or recess might be a good way to avoid conflicts with students’ afterschool activities or responsibilities.
- Find a sponsor. Connect with local businesses to see if they are willing to sponsor the book club. Just ask—and see what they say! You may be able to get weekly snacks for students or funds to purchase books.
- Talk it up! Hang up flyers around your school building, preview the books in your classes and coordinate with the library to promote each novel.
- Go cross-curricular. Ask your language arts department to encourage participation. (Maybe ELA teachers will allow students to use the book club in place of an in-class project?) Better yet, invite an ELA teacher to join you for the discussion.
- Have a plan. Use a simple multiple-choice quiz that students must pass to attend the club meetings—only to make sure they have read the book. Try to keep the structure of the meetings to a minimum. In case conversation stalls, have a backup plan. Share your own relevant experiences, but remember that even something as simple as an evocative photo related to the topic can spark great conversation.
- Make it fun! Not everything has to be academic. Take the opportunity to do things you wouldn’t be able to do in a regular classroom setting.
Here are four novels that can expose kids to different cultural perspectives.
Crossing the Wire by Will Hobbs
Follow the journey of Victor as he tries to cross the border from Mexico to the United States. This adventure and survival book looks at undocumented immigration through the eyes of the migrants themselves and can open students’ eyes to migrants' struggles. (ages 10-16)
Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah
Sixteen-year-old Amal, a Muslim girl living in Australia, decides to start wearing a hijab. This witty, well-written novel gives students a modern perspective on Islam in Western culture from one girl’s perspective. (ages 13 and up)
Facing the Lion: Growing Up Maasai on the African Savanna by Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton
This autobiography details Joseph’s journey from a child in Kenya to a teacher in the United States. It is an engaging story of overcoming adversity and holding onto your roots. (ages 12 and up)
Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan
Married and widowed by age 13, Koly is left to fend for herself on the streets of Vrindavan, India. This beautifully written novel gives students an inside look at everyday life in the world’s largest democracy, while highlighting Hindu culture. (ages 8-12)
For additional recommendations, see What We’re Reading.