Club fosters cravings to read

At a Towson elementary, Book Munchers spend lunch discussing stories

April 15, 2001|By Joy Green | Joy Green,SUN STAFF

Instead of trading sandwiches and laughing about what happened during class, a group of pupils at Cromwell Valley Elementary in Towson spends lunchtime sharing ideas about books.

The children are members of Book Munchers, an award-winning lunchtime book club started by the Cromwell Parent-Teacher Association in 1995 for second- through fifth-graders. It has proven so popular that younger children are clamoring to get involved.

"The main view behind the program is to convey the idea that reading is fun," said Mary Ellen Pease, club coordinator, whose daughter, second-grader Cecelia Scheeler, participates. The program was opened to first-graders later in the school year.

"Reading isn't just work anymore," said Pease.

Kids in the club agree.

"You can learn a lot while you're reading, and have fun while doing it," said Peter Smith, 10, a fourth-grader who has been a Book Muncher since second grade. He says he reads at least 20 minutes each evening at home.

The lunchtime club was started with the help of parents Sally Gold, Anne Carroll and Nancy Edwards, and continues to rely heavily on parental involvement. For three weeks, parent volunteers visit group members and ask them which books they would like to read.

Teachers assist pupils with their decisions, a process that has resulted in the selection of books such as the Boxcar Children series.

Participants are divided into groups of six or seven and spend one lunch hour each week discussing a chosen book. The volunteers try to devise an activity related to the theme or subject of the book the children are reading.

Because the groups meet during lunch, working parents might be able to participate without taking time off.

"Parents love the opportunity to come in and work," said Pease, noting that the program has about 10 to 12 volunteers per grade.

Parents say the program makes them feel they're an important part of the group. "When my children started, we got a really nice note about it," said Tracy Myers-Preston, whose daughter, second-grader Elyse Preston, and son, first-grader Michael Preston, are members.

Myers-Preston said she recognizes how the club encourages reading - the children sign a "neat little contract" saying that they will be active participants. And, she said, although initially it was hard to convince her son to be part of the group, he heard from others that the club was fun and now is excited about reading and about Book Munchers.

One recent afternoon, the children in parent-volunteer Brenda Prevas' group discussed the book "Number the Stars" by Lois Lowry.

While talking about the novel, which tells the story of young girl in Copenhagen during World War II and her Jewish friend, the children noted how one of the characters in the novel wished for pink cupcakes. So the young readers put pink icing on cupcakes and later chatted about how much they enjoyed the activity - and the book.

Sometimes, the club's activities are included during class.

Stacey Sewell, a first-grade teacher at Cromwell, said she allows pupils to read portions of their books to classmates during "buddy time," and that sometimes she asks pupils to share thoughts about the books they are reading.

"Reading for them is so structured," Sewell said. "These children are reading in every possible content area; to give them the opportunity where they can enjoy a book is a wonderful experience."

The club's success has not gone unnoticed. In 1998, the Cromwell PTA received a Baltimore County Council International Reading Association Literary Award for its effort and initiative in creating the program.

Although Book Munchers hasn't spread to other schools, Pease said she has received inquiries from educators about the concept.

Jan Clemmens, Cromwell's principal, is enthusiastic about the program. "It's just one more effort that the school and parents do that encourages the love of reading," she said.

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