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Parent-child group reading 'Corner of the Universe'

An interview with Herb Malveaux, coordinator for the Parent-Child Book Club at the east Columbia branch of the Howard County Public Library.

What is the age range of the children in this group? Ages 9 through 12, officially. Occasionally we have a child a little older or younger. The literature can be kind of expansive, even though it's in the children's section.

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What are you reading this month? A Corner of the Universe by Ann M. Martin. It's a story of a young girl, Hattie Owen, who lives in a small town with her family who runs a boarding house during the 1960s. She meets a girl, Leila, from a traveling carnival and becomes involved with her. It's a threefold story about Hattie's relationship with her family at the boarding house; her encounters with the people from the traveling fair; and thirdly, and most profoundly, Hattie's discovery of a mentally retarded uncle who also comes to live in her hometown.

How long has this group been meeting? This is our fourth year coming up in September. We started off with three families. We fluctuate between three and eight families. Of all the book groups that I have led, this group has never taken [time] off. They've met every single month for all four years.

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What kinds of stories do your club members like most? The majority of the children are boys. They enjoy a lot of adventure and life challenges. The girls prefer relationship books. I try to have a contrast from month to month. We're trying to stretch our reading desires so that the girls are reading some adventure, and the boys are reading historical fiction and some love stories. We just finished The Rope Trick by Lloyd Alexander, which could be classified as a fantasy. It's about a girl who is challenged by her father to perform a rope trick, supposedly the ultimate magic trick. There are some other worldly elements toward the end of the story.

Do you have other activities for them in addition to the book discussion? We usually start out the group with a discussion of the author; then we get into talking about the story. Last month, we learned how to do a rope trick. That was augmented by a child magician in our group. We usually end with a little social time with snacks and catching up with what's happening in their families. We've become friends in the course of four years. Sometimes I give them an extra task to write or e-mail the author about a question we had that couldn't get resolved in the discussion. The authors are pleased to respond. It's always a big deal when we read what the authors have said.

Are there any particular challenges to holding a discussion with this age group? I try to be mindful that everyone gets a chance to talk in each meeting. I do have to keep a tight rein to make sure everyone gets to say something. We do have kids debating topics among themselves and with the parents. This book club is unique because often the child is given the task of defending their view against an adult perspective.


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