Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Grand Discussion With Emma Jean Lazarus

Two years ago, our enrichment teacher came to me with an idea for the fifth graders at our school. She wanted to encourage parents to get involved in their children's reading lives using a book that was somewhat challenging and not something that the kids would pick up on their own. The child, and at least one parent, would read the book and we would all meet several weeks later to discuss it over cookies. I offered to help her select a book, and then was so intrigued by the idea of a book group made up of children and adults, I agreed to be part of the evening activities as well.

Our first selection was Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt. We had about 24 participants, and they all raved about the experience. The following year we did 3, one in each grading period. Our crowds have grown to close to 40 people at each Grand Discussion and it continues this week with our second book of the year, Emma Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshis, (for a great review go over to Fuse #8).

Although this book may not be as challenging as some of the other books we have chosen, the theme of adjusting to middle school life is one we felt our students and their parents could benefit from. Emma Jean is an extremely gifted child of a single parent due to her father's death. She is highly logical and approaches everything in life from that standpoint; there is very little gray in Emma Jean's world. When the girls in middle school begin to play their middle school girl games, Emma Jean tries to help by using very logical steps in the very illogical world of middle school. What follows is sometimes humorous, sad, confusing, but never boring.

Being the father of a now high school daughter, I could definitely relate to the three sides of middle school girls as the author portrays them. There is Emma Jean, bright and not at all interested in the games middle school girls play, she is way beyond all of that. Colleen Pomerantz who wants to please, and is easily frustrated to tears when she can't fit in with everyone all of the time and Laura Gilroy, the mean girl, who works behind the scenes to keep things stirred up. All three of these girls can be found in middle schools everywhere and Tarshis writes them to perfection.

Just for reference the other books we have used for our Grand Discussions are:


  1. What a cool idea! I'd be game for something like this. I'll pass this along to some teachers I know.

    Nice site, y'all. And welcome to blogging!

  2. I did this with kids and parents from my classroom, and eventually it fizzled out. Good idea to open it to the whole grade level.

    Will you try some primary Grand Discussions with picture books?