Thursday, May 31, 2012

Program + review: beTWEEN the lines

I decided that it made more sense for me to talk about the book club and the book we read in the same post - something incredibly logical that you think I would have figured out before now. Anyway, for our May meeting of beTWEEN the lines (my library book club for kids in grades 4-6 for any newbies who might be reading), we read Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett. I have conflicting emotions about this book club. This was our last meeting before summer. I put the club on hiatus for the summer because, well, it seemed like the thing to do with all the other programs I'm running (at least weekly). But, thinking about it now, I realize that while I may not have as much time to read the books for book club, the kids have even more time. So perhaps halting the book club over the summer months was not the best idea. I guess I'll re-evaluate next year.

Anyway, onto the meeting itself. I actually had the most attendees I've had so far for the program - five girls showed up, all ready to chat. I provided water and apples, as I always do, plus M&Ms (they are important to the book, after all). We had introductions and then dove right into to talking about the book. Now, here is where my main problem with running this program lies. Consistently, I have enthusiastic talkers that show up. Often, they never stop talking, even when they've begun talking about things other than the book. My problem is that they lose focus easily and I don't really know how to rein them back in. On the one hand, I don't want it to be like school - quiz them on the book, what did you learn from it, etc. On the other, I do want to actually focus on the book - that's the whole point of the program and I know they actually have insightful things to say. But, I have a hard time trying to bring them back to the book once they get off-topic. Part of it is that they seem to be having fun and I don't want to discourage that by being mean librarian Miss Sarah. But I also realize that it's my job to be the adult and keep them on task. I guess I just need more practice trying to find the balance for myself. As usual, our discussion of the book ran for about 40 minutes. I then gave them each their own set of pentominoes and had them try to build rectangles with them (I practiced while I was on the desk earlier in the week - it is incredibly difficult!). Nobody was able to make a complete puzzle in the time we had, but they seemed to have fun trying. Then, because I want to entice them to come back and also to like me and also because I had a bunch of galleys my colleague had brought from TLA, they each got to take home one ARC of a book. They were, predictably, very excited about this. Additionally, they seemed disappointed that we wouldn't be meeting over the summer but I did promote my other programs, so hopefully they will come to some of those.

Here's my review of the book itself, which I'd been meaning to read for some time and chose because our summer reading theme is "Get a Clue!" (I thought a mystery would be apropos).

Chasing Vermeer
By Blue Balliett
Published 2004 by Scholastic

Hailed as a sort of Da Vinci Code for the middle-grade set, this book introduces an art mystery and two unusual heroes: Petra and Calder. When a famous Vermeer painting is stolen, both Petra and Calder begin to notice some coincidences that seem like more than just coincidences. Soon, they are off on their way to solving the mystery on their own.

I remember this book getting a lot of praise when it first came out and I've been recommending it to kids looking for good mysteries for a while now, even before I read it myself. Now that I've read it, I will certainly continue to recommend it because I found it a very engaging read with easy to relate to characters and a lot of fun puzzles for readers to solve as they read. This book flew by for me, even though I was trying to read it more slowly than I usually do so I could take notes for book club. I loved everything about this book - it's a complicated plot but at the same time, it's written in a very straightforward manner that lets readers keep pace with all the happenings. Like I said, the characters are very easy to relate to and very realistic - they are not friends when the book starts, and I actually really like this little difference from the norm. Their friendship develops very naturally and very slowly, which is not surprising for a friendship of two kids of the opposite sex in this age group. I liked that readers are invited to work the puzzles alongside Petra and Calder - and there was even a bonus puzzle in the illustrations. This is part of the reason why I like The Mysterious Benedict Society series, too. I very much enjoyed reading this book and I think it makes for a great book discussion or classroom novel - it touches on many issues, even beyond art. I will definitely be checking out Ms. Balliett's other novels in the future!


  1. Check out the author's website at Lots of background information on the real-world locales that are the settings for her books.

    1. Yes - I used her website to get some additional information for the kids before we talked about the book. I'm looking forward to reading her other titles!