Truesdell Education Campus can’t keep its most popular books stocked. Boys crowd the library before the morning bell, students read in class instead of paying attention to their teachers. And it’s all because of a book club.
With the help of one of their administrators, ten fifth-grade boys started a book club at the school in Washington, D.C.’s Brightwood neighborhood, and it’s quickly become the most popular club on campus. The school staff struggles to keep up with their students’ book demand.
“The books that we read here, we can relate to,” said 11-year-old Devon Wesley. The book club has allowed Devon and other students to find black characters—characters who look like them.
The club began when a fifth-grader complained about his less-than-stellar results on a citywide English exam. He felt the grade he received did not reflect his reading abilities. His principal, Mary Ann Stinson, gave him a book and told him to start reading. The book was Bad Boy: A Memoir, by Walter Dean Myers.
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Michael Redmond, the assistant principal, saw the interaction and suggested a few boys read the book together. They quickly became enthralled by the book, which focused on Myers’ childhood in Harlem. By the end of the day, other students spotted the trio with the book and asked Redmond if there were any additional copies. There weren’t, so he ordered more copies and helped his students organize an all-male book club, which accepted the first ten students who were interested in extra reading and discussions outside of school hours.
Redmond, whose dissertation focused on the educational advancement of minority boys, said he remembered being aware that people didn’t expect boys of color to be readers. He wanted to destroy that stereotype for his students.
“What a beautiful thing, for teachers to be able to see boys who look like this be so into reading,” Redmond said. “We did not imagine that kids would be this serious about reading and about doing something that we didn’t ask them to do.”
Redmond and the boys meet at 8:15am once or twice a week and use the book to begin conversations about their own experiences with race, identity, and adolescence. At last week’s book club, Redmond led the boys in a discussion about a specific line in Bad Boy, where the protagonist says, “I prefer not to be seen as black,” because he didn’t want his accomplishments to be seen as “Negro accomplishments.”
“He wrote that line not because he was ashamed of being black, but why?” asked Redmond.
“Because you can be smart, not because you’re black, but because you’re smart, period,” said 10-year-old Kemari Starks, an aspiring zoologist who finished the 200 page book in just two days.
The club is moving onto its second book, Monster, another Myers novel, this time about a teenager on trial for murder. Most of the boys said they’ve already finished the book. “In our classes, there are way less interesting books, and these books are way more interesting. These books are about people.”
The book club is already changing the reading culture around campus, and Steve Aupperle, Truesdell’s vice principal in charge of literacy, suspects it’s boosting the students’ reading levels. The book club reads books intended for seventh and eighth graders.
“They are now seeing that reading is amazing and, through reading, you can find people to relate to,” Aupperle said. “That’s what reading is.”
“It’s a blessing to be in this predicament, to have kids who are becoming ravenous readers,” Redmond said. “We’re disrupting the notion of what public education can be and what little black boys can do and be.”
Featured Image Via The Washington Post.