For the first few months, I only had one person at each meeting (one month there was no one that showed up but I try to forget about how badly that stung me). I had plastered Lincoln in flyers and emailed English teachers all over the city trying to spread the word. My focus for the club was to create a free discussion space for teenagers–because there really aren’t enough of those available for them. As an education major, I know that classrooms have certain expectations to uphold and only have so much time for student discussion.
Even with all my good intentions, I still had no idea how to start a club. The only one I had ever founded before was a kindergarten rolly-polly club– and I can assure you that those had a great turn out. But, even with just one person showing up each month, I was having a blast. Talking about young adult books has always been a thrilling experience for me, but getting to provide young adults a space to talk about them? I have found that to be the best experience of my life.
The club now has three consistent members and I have had the pleasure of watching them grow in comfort and ability to digest the books they are reading. While the people in the club love fantasy and sci-fi, I have tried my hardest to curate a book list that expresses diversity, topics that urge a healthy dialogue, and windows into other worlds as well as mirrors that can help us understand our world a little better. Hearing one of my club members say, at the age of 13, “I love how this book has so many different types of people in it,” was both flooring and emotional for me. And, she said this for a book that I chose to be our cute, and horribly cheesy, February read! Never did I imagine that these teenagers were going to thrive off the kind of diversity I was urging them to explore. I didn’t even dare hope that they would end up embracing and loving it!
At our last meeting, we had a great discussion on the lovely effect reading has on people’s level of empathy. Did I bring up this topic? No. Was this a fact I didn’t learn until my freshman year of college? Yup. It has been incredible to watch the members of the club grow as readers and thinkers. And have them turn into the strong leaders of discussion. It has also been an incredible experience to see the effect that turning reading into a social experience can have on teenagers. If we only give out reading as homework, place it in a purely academic format, and use tests to help students gain a “deep” understanding of the text, we are teaching students that reading is only good for a grade. Yet, it can be so much more.
Here is a mindset I really dislike: “You’re too young to understand this topic.” In this past election, I heard so many young people silenced by adults. I heard them get told that their opinion doesn’t really matter because they can’t possibly understand such adult topics. I know this to be wrong. In the past year, I have heard so many insightful and radically new ideas come from the minds of 13-15 year olds. I could never imagine being told to sit down and be silent in the kind of social and political climate we are experiencing right now. Our youth deserves more than a muzzle from their elders. They deserve to be listened to. In the prophetic words of David Bowie, “And these children that you spit on/ As they try to change their worlds/ Are immune to your consultations/ They’re quite aware of what they’re going through” (Changes).
Remember, the children and teens of our world are experiencing it. They are living with it every day and they need the tools to interpret and cope with what is going on. If you have a chance, read this interview with Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games.
As we continue forward, I am excited to see where our discussions go! We meet the last Tuesday of every month at 7pm. If you’re 13-20, come on down and see what we’re all about.