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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Takes of a Fifth Grade Book Club: Part 8-- Pages 489 to End

Part 8 of my fifth grade book club took on the last 100ish pages of the novel. Please refer to the other posts in this series and the discussion guide I compiled which includes a summary of ECHO.

It is with a bit of sadness that I report that we had our final meeting of the fifth grade lunch time book club this past Monday.

I will begin this final post with the regular report on how the discussion itself went, but then I will wrap it all up with a few lessons I learned that I feel are worth passing on to all of you.

  • I told the group that since we had now finished the book, I was going to start their book club just like I start my adult ones by asking them to vote- like, dislike, or so-so. The votes were 7 like, 0 dislike, and 1 so-so
    • I asked the so-so boy to go first and explain why he voted so-so. He said it was because the book made him cry.  In a good way, but he didn’t like having tears over the book.
    • I thanked him for being so honest.
    • Another participant shared that “I liked that I cried."
  • The kids were bursting with things to say now that the books was done, plus we brought pizza, so they were a bit excitable in general.  I just let them go.
  • I feel so bad for Elizabeth at the end of the book, and I didn’t like her at all before. She is stuck in Germany. (later in the book club the other parent drew a picture of what Germany was like post WWII and we talked about the divided city of Berlin. We explained how people in East Germany could not leave. The kids said, oh like in A Night Divided-- that author came to their school earlier in the year.)
  • This book was set during times of war and bad things happened but in the end, it was mostly happy.
  • I liked the ending
    • I thought it was too big a coincidence, but since it was the harmonica that brought them together, it was okay. There was a reason they ended up in the same symphony-- the harmonica brought them together.
    • I was very excited to see that the kids came together as adults at the end. I was especially happy for Friedrich. He had the toughest journey.
    • I liked how the harmonica actually saved Kenny’s life. It was better that it wasn’t one of the three kids whose life it saved. This made more sense. That would have been stupid.
    • But the harmonica did still save those kids. It started them on their paths to their careers. It also protected them in their times of great need.
    • The adults asked if the kids thought the ending came too quickly on the heels of the end of Ivy’s story. The kids were fine with it because time had passed between the last page of Ivy’s story and the first page of the 4th section.
  • More about the harmonica itself.
    • I liked that the harmonica was no longer playable. It was still in Kenny’s possession, but having stopped a bullet, it was unplayable now.
    • The destruction of the harmonica also broke the spell for the three girls from the fairy tale.
      • I liked that they got to go home and got real names.
      • I liked that they cared for Kenny when he was recovering.
    • I loved learning about how Otto created the special harmonica.
    • I went home a put a big red “M” on my harmonica so it could be just like the one in the book.
  • Were the coincidences in the book too big for you?
    • No because the book explained that the harmonica was magical and that it connected all who possessed it with a silver thread through time and space.
    • They were all together in Carnegie Hall at the end and the thread was there, connecting them. The harmonica was there in the audience with Kenny.
    • Three girls in the fairy tale, three “kids" together in the concert. I liked that.
    • I think with all the coincidences and connections made possible by the harmonica it was great that Elizabeth was Kenny’s nurse. I was starting to enjoy all the coincidences and waiting for more.
  • Predictions about what happens after the book:
    • Kenny and Ivy will get married
    • Elizabeth and Friedrich will be the only siblings not reunited. All the rest were, but their experiences were graver and harder to overcome.
  • I asked the kids to vote for the favorite character in the book.
    • Mike: 2 votes
    • Friedrich: 1
    • Frankie: 2 
    • Ivy: 1
    • Uncle Gunter: 1
    • Friedrich’s Dad: 1
    • And I said the harmonica was my favorite.  I was surprised no one else mentioned it.
  • The other parent said, the kids in this novel are vert forgiving. Could you be that forgiving?
    • Our problems are small compared to theirs
    • They had life and death situations to deal with. 
    • We all talked about how one of the messages of this novel is to not worry about small things, but fight larger injustices.
  • We ended by talking about the title. 
    • The kids’ stories still echoed through the harmonica.
    • The sisters were set free. No longer trapped as an echo in the instrument.
    • I would have liked to have had the three sisters there in the concert hall, but ending with their story was also good.
I want to thank the kids in our book club for always coming to our meetings prepared and ready to share and listen. They did a great job and had fun.

I really learned so much by leading this book club. Here are my biggest take-aways that I think are worth sharing with you:
  • My “group norms” work just as well with kids as adults.  On day one I told the kids one of the most important things about being in a book club was to make sure that they “share and listen” equally.  Yes we all want to hear your ideas, but we also want you to listen to your fellow classmates.  Throughout the multi-week discussion, the kids only needed to be reminded a few times that they needed to listen to each other [because they were having side conversations.] But the reminder, phrased in the same language as the norms we set out from day one, worked easily.
  • I have mentioned this in a previous post but leading a book group that was so different from the type of group I have led for years, really helped me to assess my own skills.  Not only was the age group a change. but doing a book in pieces was also new to me.  I HIGHLY SUGGEST EVERYONE WHO LEADS A BOOK CLUB TRY TO DO ONE THAT IS COMPLETELY DIFFERENT FROM THEIR NORMAL ONE AT LEAST ONCE EVERY FEW YEARS. Being forced out of my comfort zone was scary, but it also made me think about why and how I facilitate book discussions in a more conscious way than I have done in years. 
  • Kids are way more perceptive than you think. For example, they get the symbolism, they notice the foreshadowing, and they understand that the author is repeating themes to make a larger point.
  • Kids are way more willing to think outside the box for readalikes and...
  • Kids consider all media when making readalike connections. Movies, tv shows, video games, plays, etc... They see similarity everywhere and are not limited by a format.
  • More adult groups should consider discussing middle grade novels. I know a lot of adult groups do YA, but award winning middle grade novels, like Echo, would be great for discussion by adults.
I will probably lead the 6th grade book club next year, so until then it’s back to adult book clubs.

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