It feels especially appropriate that the first Blue Birds discussion I’ve had with readers was with the fourth-grade book club I help lead. These girls are dynamite and had so many great questions and observations.
The last time we met, I introduced the history behind the story, giving each girl a copy of the Lost Colony timeline before handing out their books. This background information helped them grasp the historical events so the story could unfold without confusion.
Beth (my running partner and co-leader) and I read the first four passages where Alis and Kimi meet. And the girls got it! They talked about the initial reaction both characters had to each other and how this slowly changed, how they moved from viewing each other as “other” to friend.
It can be strange for readers to candidly discuss a book with the author present, so I try to tell groups two things ahead of time:
- If you don’ t like the book, please don’t pretend you do, just because I’m in the room. (Ideally readers will have a chance to discuss without the author present, too.)
- My opinions on the story are only that — opinions. Once a book is in the world, it no longer belongs to the author. While I might see things one way, that doesn’t make it the only way to experience the story.
It’s been so satisfying to see these girls grow as readers this year. The discussions have become more natural, richer, deeper each time we’ve come together. Several drew parallels between Blue Birds and the other historical novel we read, Fever 1793. There were some predictions about the end (we’ve only read half at this point) and comments about George, who though not a main character feels like an important one, as one girl said.
In my mind’s eye I’m imagining these six sitting in their fifth-grade classrooms next year. When they get to that little textbook paragraph about England’s first colony, that doomed one called Roanoke, they’ll know the history because they now own a piece of the story. Historical fiction makes the past personal, vivid, real. I love that I got to participate in some small way in opening up the past to young readers.