On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Forts Ferry sixth-grader Angelica Sandul sat reading a book to a group of kindergarten students in a corner of the elementary school library. The young students listened intently as she read and when prompted, they took turns answering questions about the story.
Angelica and her friends Rosie Elebyjian and Sahana Vinothkumar, also sixth-grade students, have made it their mission to instill a love of books among the younger students in their school through a program they introduced earlier this year called Book Buddies.
This program grew from a book club the trio of sixth-grade friends first organized in homeroom called the PBC, which stands for the Picture Book Club. The students were inspired by their own love of picture books. “We started the PBC in September. During indoor recess, we would read each other picture books,” said Rosie, “Our classmates would swarm around, some would join us and listen. It was pretty cool.”
With encouragement from Jessica Lansing, the library/media specialist at their school, the three students began the Book Buddies program, where every fifth day, they read picture books to kindergarten students or second-graders during recess.
“They were really excited by the idea when I first approached them about possibly starting a book club for younger students,” said Lansing. “They have been running it on their own ever since. I have been extremely impressed with their initiative and their passion for books.”
“We all love books a lot (a lot!),” said Sahana, “and we wanted to extend it to younger kids and get them interested in reading.”
“We are trying to introduce them to themes, and what a picture book can teach you,” added Rosie. “They have a slight understanding, but hopefully it can help them when they are actually learning about it in third or fourth grade.”
The students explained that they chose picture books, not only because they favor them, but because chapter books can be a little more challenging for younger students. “We did have one second-grader tell us that he only learns things from non-fiction books, and so we got into a debate that took up most of book club,” recalled Rosie.
When asked how they select which picture books to read, Angelica said they generally like to stick to the classics. Shahana added that they often choose books they can act out, such as those from the “Scaredy Squirrel” series, by award-winning children’s author and illustrator, Mélanie Watt, a French-Canadian writer. Rosie favors funnier books. “I like reading books that are on the comedic side, as long as the students don’t take it too far, and start rolling around on the floor,” she said.
Speaking of behavior, classroom management is a responsibility the sixth-graders take quite seriously.
“When we first started books buddies, they (kindergartners) would jump around,” said Sahana.
“What we said to them would go in one ear and out the other,” Rosie added.
“So, we made up a reward system with stickers,” said Angelica, who had a large collection of stickers at home. “We even made our own little special notebook to track who has the most stickers, which means they behaved during book club.”
The sixth-graders explained that when a kindergarten or second-grade student reaches 10 stickers – no one has yet, a few are close – they will receive a book mark or some other small prize.
Angelica, Rosie and Sahana set up a Google classroom that allows them to meet electronically to plan or brainstorm ideas for the program, including upcoming Book Buddies events and activities. On Valentine’s Day, for example, the Book Buddies celebrated by providing “goodie” bags to the primary students and by reading books with Valentine’s Day themes.
When asked if they would consider a teaching career, Angelica said she has thought about it. Rosie and Shahana expressed interest in being authors as both are members of the school’s Young Writers program. Both agree they would recruit Angelica to be their illustrator. “She is a great artist,” said Sahana. “Yeah, we will write the books and Angelica can draw the pictures.”