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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Tales of a 5th/6th Grade Book Club: As Brave as You-- Week 2

Yesterday the group met to discuss Chapters 1-4 of As Brave As You.

Below I will recount what we discussed and how the meeting went without identifying any of the children, but please note that this is merely 1 of multiple meetings over which we will discuss the entire book. To access the full series of posts, use the 5th/6th gr book club tag.

Now on to the discussion:
  • I began by reminding the kids that this was their book club, that they were in charge of what we discussed, and that the parents were just there to make sure everyone had a chance to talk and that we stayed on topic [and appropriate]. I then said, who has something they really want to talk about?
  • One girl raised her hand quickly and said that she had so many questions about what she read. I replied, great. Like what? We can start there. So she started us off by asking, " How can Genie's Grandpa function so well blind? It seems like he can see. Is he lying?"
    • This question led us into a much larger discussion about Grandpa. Many kids were not convinced that he was blind. They thought he was lying.
    • We talked about how as people who can see, we cannot imagine being able to function so well as a blind person but they do it very well.
  • I was surprised by how adamant many of the kids were that Grandpa was lying but then I asked, but why would he lie? And here is where we got to the heart of their issues with the Grandpa.
    • He seems kinda "sketchy." 
    • This thought was elaborated on by the kids listing all of the questionable qualities of the grandpa
    • He has many more secrets than that he is blind.
    • Genie's dad and him don't talk...at all.  As one kid actually exclaimed, "But that's his Dad!" Yes it is a big deal to not talk to your own dad for years. I reminded the kids that they were the target audience of this book and that key issue should be in their minds at all times. It makes you look twice at the grandpa.
    • They talk about Uncle Wood in the past tense.  What happened to him?
    • Grandpa carries a gun in this pants at all times. But he is blind. How could he use it? Why does he need it? Just why.
      • The kids speculated a lot on this point. Could the gun have something to do with Uncle Wood and his death?
      • Does the grandpa have PTSD of some kind?
      • Did Uncle Wood die in a shooting accident? Did Grandpa shoot him?
      • Is it guilt?
    • They were still persisting that he was lying about being blind, so I explained Glaucoma to them [actually I asked my husband, a doctor, to explain it to me and our son and then my son explained it to the group and I filled in where he left things out]. But I also shared that there is a way to manage it so you don't go blind. This book is set right now, so he could have used medicine to stop the progression of the disease. Why would he have let himself go blind if he could have stopped it?
      • to show how self-reliant he is
      • because of guilt over Wood's death
      • as a punishment to himself
      • he no longer wants to see the world
      • because the book isn't medically accurate-- I jumped in on this one and said that this book is highly praised and has won awards. If it was not medically accurate that would have been pointed out in a review as a problem. Then I probed a little deeper and said, haven't you ever read a book before when something small seemed wrong, weird, or like the author just didn't care but then...WHAM...it actually turned out to be really important. Every single kid's eyes light up with recognition and they started blurting things out. So, I said, let's keep this comment in mind for later.
    • The kids spent so much time listing Grandpa's "sketchy" issues that another parent asked-- What about Grandpa's good side? They chimed in:
      • He is very nice to Genie.
      • He encouraged all of Genie's questions even though everyone else gets annoyed by them.
      • He told Genie to add sugar to his grits to make them taste better.
      • He is going out of his way to make Genie feel welcome.
      • The grandma seems like a nice, smart, and tough lady and she loves the grandpa, so he must be an overall good guy. We should trust her.
      • He seems like a fun, joking around person.
      • When asked by Genie he knew their Brooklyn home phone number even though he never calls. He knew their address even though he has never visited.
      • And someone said-- he is my favorite character so far. That was something a lot of the kids thought was interesting after all the time we spent "dissing" him. Slowly a few more said, yeah, I like him too.
      • A few are still solidly on team Grandpa is sketchy though.
  • For the record, the text clearly sets up this dichotomy from the start. The first three chapters are very much focused on Genie, our 11 year old narrator, and Grandpa. And Grandpa is clearly a flawed character. Resolving this issue is clearly going to be a focus of the novel. I am so glad the kids noticed this right away on their own.
  • Chapter 4 turns the action away from the house and introduces, Tess, a girl who lives just down the steep hill from the Grandparents' house. So I said, with the few minutes we have left, let's talk about Tess:
    • She was a prankster.
    • She makes the boys think she is giving them beer when it is really just ginger beer.
    • She is strange. She makes earrings out of bootle caps and fishing hooks, she hangs out in her father's bar. Is she poor? Or does she just like making those weird earrings.
    • A few of the girls were wondering who would wear those.
    • Compared to these city boys [and as I reminded them, compared to them, city kids themselves] her life seems weird.
    • She is much more independent than the boys.
    • She knows how to pass the time in the country with unreliable internet.
    • But where is her mom? They mentioned her dad working in the basement of the bar. No mom is mentioned.
    • We were running out of time, so I said that is a very good question. Maybe we will know more after next week.
  • On a side note, the success of opening the discussion with a kid's question led my son to note later when we were home that evening that everyone should write down all of their questions as they read, just like Genie does in the book. I loved that idea, so in my email to the parents recapping the discussion and reminding them of the next assignment, I also told them to encourage their children to write down any questions they have for us to use. 
    • It worked really well for this first meeting AND our narrator uses this method to make sense of his world. Seems like the perfect way to discuss this book. But we will have to wait to find out.
That's all for this week.  Next week we will discuss chapters 5-7 [pages 84-146].

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