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Sandy Journal

Union Middle book club allows ‘safe space to share’ for students

Feb 23, 2022 06:23PM ● By Julie Slama

Union Middle’s teacher-librarian Elaine Zhang leads the lunchtime book club discussion based on the book, “Ground Zero” by Alan Gratz. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Union Middle seventh-grader Bella Moody has a goal to read more—not just textbooks for assignments, but mysteries, graphic novels, fiction and other books for enjoyment.

She participates in the school’s monthly book club that meets during lunchtimes, discussing the same book that all club members read. This month they were sharing insights based on “Ground Zero” by Alan Gratz.

“It’s pretty awesome that real life events are put into the book,” Bella said.

The No. 1 New York Times best seller has two stories—one about a nine-year-old boy who went with his dad to work to the World Trade Center in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, and discovered themselves trapped when the airplanes hit the towers; and the second, an 11-year-old girl from Afghanistan helping an injured American soldier, putting her family in more danger.

Union’s teacher-librarian Elaine Zhang guides the student discussion, asking thought-provoking questions about the book: What does he go through being trapped, covered in ash? Why did the author include an image? What emotions and thoughts would he likely have being stuck in the tower?

The conversation shifts from 2001 to 2019 and how Afghanistan has changed in the past 20 years and how females don’t get an education, but they are expected to be home as wives and mothers.  The book club also talks about perspective and how likely many people weren’t even aware of the events on 9-11 in the United States or its impact since they live in a war-torn country.

Zhang said that discussions are free form.

“It’s a safe place to share what they read and relate their own experiences with the characters,” she said. “We get to understand more about the books through each other.”

Sometimes after discussions, students go back and reread the books that they are allowed to keep. Zhang uses funds from the school’s Scholastic book sales and library fines to purchase the books for their home libraries.

“We want students to have books in their own hands to learn from, to enjoy, to be exposed to different literature they may not always read on their own,” she said.

The middle school students have read a range of books from the 2017 Newberry Medal winner, “The Girl who Drank the Moon,” a book about a girl who figures out her magical powers, to the young readers edition of “I Am Malala,” the account of a girl who was shot by the Taliban for going to school.

“The students are learning about different genres from a fun fantasy story to a true story where they learn about acceptance and have empathy,” Zhang said. “I’ve learned students are more likely to pick up books that they normally wouldn’t have if they’re reading more genres and liking them. This helps to broaden their reading.”

Recently, book club members and others in the school listened to author Brandon Mull share about his writing and last year, author Jennifer Nielsen talked with students virtually.

“It’s great when they have the opportunity to hear from authors about their experiences and inspire students in their own writing and rewriting,” she said.

Zhang added that book club students also may participate in the Book Blitz program, which is similar to Battle of the Books in Canyons School District middle schools this spri