Pelicans Join School-Wide Summer Reading Book Chats

In a new addition to the Loomis Chaffee summer reading program, students from across all class years took part in school-wide Summer Reading Book Chats on Tuesday, September 11.

Group book discussions organized around 18 fiction and nonfiction Book Chat titles took place in venues across campus with faculty members facilitating the conversations.

In addition to the usual grade-level reading requirements and the all-school read, this year, students were instructed to read at least one Book Chat selection and come prepared to join group discussions based on that title. Designed to spark an interest in reading for enjoyment, the Book Chat titles were chosen by faculty members representing the academic, arts, and athletics departments; the Katharine Brush Library; the College Guidance and Deans Offices; and by Head of School Sheila Culbert.

"A third of American teenagers did not read a single book for pleasure last year," noted Sheila at the beginning of a Book Chat she led in Founders Chapel on the novel History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund. Nearly 80 students chose to read History of Wolves, a genre-bending work of fiction.

Sheila acknowledged that students, especially during the school year, have many time-consuming activities and responsibilities, but she encouraged the group to make the time to read for enjoyment as a way to "explore the life of the mind."

During a one-hour session of lively interaction, Sheila posed several questions to the students about the characters, themes, mood, and setting of the book, to which students responded with personal opinions, observations, and reflections.

Senior Michelle Fickett, who joined Sheila's Book Chat, said it was a nice change to read a book without having to annotate it, or be tested on it, and she enjoyed listening to the points of view of students she doesn't encounter in her regular classes. It's helpful to be reminded every so often of the value of reading for pleasure, Michelle said.

The discussion groups for the books ranged from 101 to two readers, and some of the larger groups were separated into smaller subsets to allow everyone to participate in the conversations. Each group was led by one or more teachers, some of whom employed active methods for engaging students in the book discussions.

"I wasn't sure how we were going to pull this off logistically," admitted Kathie Popadin, librarian and coordinator of the summer reading program and the Book Chats event. "But I am encouraged by the positive feedback I've received from students and faculty. I'm especially pleased to hear that many students were eager to join in the conversations and willing to voice their opinions about what they've read."

In one Book Chat, 60 students who read the novel American Street, by Haitian-American author Ibi Zoboi, gathered in the Nee Room of Founders Hall. Led by deans Patricia Sasser and Nick Barker, the students broke into several smaller groups and worked together to create a "cross roads" poster depicting the intersection of ideas, themes, and emotions associated with the immigration experiences related in the novel. Representatives from each of the smaller groups presented the posters and shared their groups' ideas with everyone in the room.

Joe Cleary and Hudson Harper, teachers in the Math Department, led nearly 50 students in a discussion of How Not To Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking, by Jordan Ellenburg, a nonfiction book that explores the relationship of economic and social ideologies with basic math and statistics. Joe noted that the Book Chat forum was a welcome departure from a typical math class. The group generated good discussion and posed "good questions to contemplate going forward," he said. Joe jokingly described the opportunity to share this time with students who read the book as a "mathical moment."

Junior Andrej Novakovic and sophomore Alan Abdrazakov came away from the How Not To Be Wrong Book Chat saying they enjoyed both the book and the interaction. Andrej said he particularly appreciated hearing perspectives from students with a variety of experiences and from all class years.

The Floating World by James Michener — about Japanese printmaking — was the Visual Arts Department Book Chat selection, and Mark Zunino, who teaches printmaking, took an unusual approach to discussing the book's topic with his group in the Richmond Art Center. He gave a printmaking demonstration to students and brought them into the Sue and Eugene Mercy Jr. Gallery for a preview of some of the Japanese–style prints that will be displayed in the 7th Annual Connecticut Printmakers Invitational exhibit that opens September 18.

A Book Chat on the Hubbard Performance Stage related to The Queen of Bebop: the Musical Lives of Sarah Vaughn by Elaine M. Hayes, a biography of the American jazz singer. Music Department faculty members Sue Chrzanowski, Kalena Bovell, and Ken Fischer led the discussion.

"The students demonstrated significant thought and reflection on a large number of themes from the book — music, jazz, music industry, race, gender, civil rights ... ," commented Sue. "Kalena, Ken, and I were impressed by their exchange of ideas and their application and relation of the life and musical journey of Sarah Vaughan to not only the music artists of today, but their own experiences. Certainly, this event was a highlight of our opening activities in the Music Department."

"It was refreshing to hear so many takes on the same book," remarked senior Becca Mucheru, who participated in the Queen of Bebop Book Chat. She said she appreciated the opportunity to connect with others in the school community through a common interest — a great summer read.

Other Book Chats titles included:

A Moonless, Starless Sky by Alexis Okeowo

led by Eric LaForest

American Wolf by Nate Blakeslee

led by Stu Remensnyder and Sally Knight

And then, You Act by Anne Bogart

led by Candice Chirgotis

Evicted by Matthew Desmond

led by Reem Aweida-Parsons, Ruth Duell, and Harrison Shure

Full-Court Quest by Peavy & Smith

led by Lori Caligiuri and Eliott Dial

In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri

led by Marc Cardwell, Jackson Fleming, Rachel Nisselson, and Ludmila Zamah

No Barriers by Erik Weihenmayer

led by Don MacGillivray

One Goal by Amy Bass

led by Lilian Castillo de Hutchinson and Elizabeth Parada

Start Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie

led by Scott MacClintic '82 and Jen Solomon

The Chosen by Chaim Potok

led by Steve Colgate, Will Eggers, Jessica Hsieh '08, Scott Purdy, Laura Rochette, Kate Saxton, Jeff Scanlon '79, and Fred Seebeck

The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan

led by Gratia Lee and Alec McCandless

The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan

led by Neil Chaudhary '05 and James Sainz

Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be by Frank Bruni '82

led by Frederique Dupre and Jed Stuart

For more information about the school's summer reading program or this year's Book Chat selections, connect to the Katharine Brush Library page of the Loomis Chaffee website.