The lockdowns of 2020 triggered a rise in online book clubs, as readers formed active communities to connect virtually. They have also encouraged young readers, who are discovering classics, hand in hand with contemporary bestsellers.
Under the Mango Tree
Thirty middle-schoolers of classes VI and VIII log into Microsoft Teams as author Ramendra Kumar’s voice crackles to life, narrating a story of a droplet that enjoys travelling the world but is disheartened to see polluted water bodies, from his book, Boond .
Initiated by principal Usha Reddy, ‘Under the Mango Tree’ at Meridian School in Hyderabad was launched in October with an online story-telling session with students and teachers reading excerpts from classics like Treasure Island and contemporary bestsellers like the Harry Potter series, to a captivated online audience.
Run by the department of English and teachers of the primary section, the book club has about 350 students from primary to high school classes, and meets every fortnight.
The team was initially apprehensive about launching in times of remote learning, but as it turns out, this was also the best time for students to connect and read books at home, says English teacher Geeta Shyamsunder. “We introduce a book, read excerpts, and also show clips of a film adapted from the book,” says Geeta.
“When you take the book up to a point and add interesting information, the students get attracted to it. We cannot make them read only classics as they might not relate to them. We need to have a blend with popular modern-day books so that their language can improve, ” she adds.
At the club’s virtual meet-up in December, science adventure novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas: A World Tour Underwater by French writer Jules Verne was in focus. Around 25 students and English department teachers are all ears as Mahanya Kesireddy, a Class IX student takes over as emcee and Krishika and Samhita of give a short presentation and also conduct a quiz.
Rehyal Sehgal, of Class III, is the youngest member of the book club. Rehyal was introduced to reading by his Class IX brother Nahyr, who gifted him Diary of Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney and a bookmark. Nahyr, also a member the book club, says, “I look forward to the session so that I can interact with students who have a similar interest in reading and discover new books.” Nahyr set reading goals during lockdown and read Harry Potter and the Deathly Harrows, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince as well as PG Wodehouse’s Carry On, Jeeves . He excitedly shares his current reading — A Promised Land by Barack Obama given by his father.
Once schools reopen, the club members plan to continue their bi-monthly meetings, but this time literally under the mango tree in the school’s amphitheatre.
“Since students are burdened with screen time, an interest in reading can only be sustained by introducing ‘reading for pleasure’,” says SL Faisal, librarian, Kendriya Vidyalaya (KV), Pattom, Thiruvananthapuram.
When schools went online, this one created a Readers’ Club for book lovers from Class VI to XII. With 175 members (one can join voluntarily), the Club has a variety of books — Harry Potter , the Butterfingers series, stories by Sudha Murthy — audio books and student book talks (more than 100 videos). The Readers’ Club members meet weekly on Google Meet platform.
“We have 30,000 books in our library but some classics, like the unabridged versions of Greek classics Oedipus Rex by Sophocles and The Odyssey by Homer are not available in the physical library but are easy to find online, so we guide them to different online resources so that they can download and read,” says Faisal.
Although ‘deep reading is not an easy task when you read online’, Faisal observes, “Historical fiction, when read with virtual tours related to historical places or monuments, make them happy; interactive content creates curiosity.”
Neeraja Unnikrishnan, a Class X student of the school was bored of reading same books at home. “It was only due to the book club that without venturing out I could read classics by Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens, David Copperfield and novels like Little Women, Moby-Dick and The Time Machine ,” she adds.
The library shares links of only Open source e-books. Faisal adds, “The library digital literacy sessions (now online) make students aware about copyright issues and how to verify the authenticity of a source and cite it.”
The Aga Khan Academy Clubs
Eight-year-old Arunima Ghosh of Aga Khan Academy Junior School, Hyderabad, mails a Zoom invite to her book club buddies, for a meeting. In minutes, her classmates and friends log in from Hyderabad, Mumbai, Kolkata and even distant Shenzhen in China. The group of 10 members quickly dives into the business for the day: discusses their recently-read books — Looking At Planes, The Mahabharatha: A Child’s view, Goodnight Stories for Girls 2 and My Dream .
Yashwin Sai Pratapaneni, a Class IV student connects with classmates on Wednesdays, where they share their latest reading list — Cat Ninja 5, Bright Family , The AeroSmurf and Harry Potter 1 . That is not all: the club also encourages participants to make props of a character from the book they read. For instance, when the team discussed The Cat In the Hat, the students made a wacky DIY hat with paper, glue, elastic, and thread.
Spread across 100 acres, the school is at Maheshwaram mandal, Shamshabad in Hyderabad has had only online classes from April. Since then, the book clubs have been virtual, says principal Sreelatha Kumar. The junior students of Class III and IV send Zoom invites to members every fortnight (they have had more than 20 sessions so far). Students can come up with their own book clubs depending on their interest in science, sports or other subjects.
With a lead speaker and 10 participants, there are now four book clubs in English and Hindi at the Academy. With around 10 students in every book club, the book clubs have different names. Arunima who suggests the theme and order of speakers at the session shares, “We discuss fairy tales, folk tales and fantasy books. In the Mother Tongue session, we discovered regional books like the Bengali book Tales from Thakurmar Jhuli by Dakshinaranjan Mitra Majumdar.”
New entrants to the book club league are third graders Evaan Sohil Awadiya and Keya Patolkar with their new Hindi book club launched in November with eight members. Besides playing Shabdon ki Antakshari , the students read Bal Geet on the occasion of Children's day.
These clubs help students in their social and emotional health by keeping them connected to their peers despite the pandemic, says Sreelatha. She adds, “It has also made them more interested in reading. And I see leadership development through leading and participating in book clubs.”
Pick A Book Juniors
Books can create a social movement. That’s exactly the objective of Pick A Book (PAB), a reader’s club. The Visakhapatnam chapter was launched in pre-pandemic days in March this year to nurture reading habit among people of various age groups. It was never intended to go online. The pandemic, however, forced them to pivot.
In June, the group started the Pick A Book Juniors segment, aimed specifically for the six to 13 years age group. The sessions saw the young book lovers discuss the Harry Potter series and books of writers like Ruskin Bond and Roald Dahl and also the man behind their favourite Tinkle characters, art director and illustrator Savio Mascarenhas.
“Every PAB meeting has three leaders (all children) who host the session; a presenter speaks about a book, followed by an interactive session of questions and answers. Every month, we run a theme. This month’s theme is ‘Write your own story’, aimed at inculcating creative writing among children,” says K Kavita of PAB Visakhapatnam. At the end of four weeks, a quiz is organised on the books read so far. The PAB Juniors has 25 members. “We want to cap the membership strength at 30, as it’s difficult to manage the energy of kids in an online meet,” adds Kavita.
Through such meets, the children understand different perspectives of a book. They encourage active listening,” says Kavitha, adding “All participants select a book, read and research on it thoroughly and present a summary; all this helps to hone public-speaking, communication and presentation skills.”
PAB Juniors is also active in Chennai, Vijayawada and Mysuru. “We want to reach out to schools too eventually,” adds Kavita.
(with inputs from Nivedita Ganguly)