Helen and I met at the American Library Association MidWinter conference in Boston, Massachusetts this past January. I was volunteering my time at the YALSA booth (Young Adult Library Services Association; a division of ALA) and she was an international librarian hailing from London, England. We hit it off immediately, exchanged cards, and promised to keep in touch. We both run after-school book clubs and are committed to literacy in young adults. Initially we thought we’d read a novel together and have our students discuss it thus forming a transatlantic book club. However, when my school decided on hosting a Big Read with the book I Am Malala, I contacted Ms. Swinyard to ask if she was interested in reading along with us. Things took off from there.
This week we communicated online with our book club friends at the Heartlands High School in Haringey, England. This was our first online session and to get started we felt that understanding education in other countries would be beneficial. After all, education is Malala’s predominate focus. Students on both sides of ‘the pond’ were fascinated by each others responses. One notable exchange regarding school uniforms had us all in stitches. While our British counterparts wear school uniforms throughout their academic careers, Islip’s student body have never worn one. In fact most American public school attendees do not. I hadn’t really thought much about students rights, freedom of expression, the first amendment, or Tinker v. Des Moines until I saw the reaction of non-American students. Their reaction to the question, “What did you learn in school about the American Revolution?” was priceless, as well. It was a wonderful hour long exchange of ideas, thoughts, and laughs. We are grateful for this and for our new friends!
We’ve planned another online session in mid May when we’ll discuss the book and Malala. I’ve had numerous students stop me in the hallway, “When are we Skype-ing again?” I’ve also had at least half a dozen additional students take out a Malala book to read over our Spring break based on the ‘buzz’ going around the building. I can’t wait to volunteer a the YALSA booth again at the upcoming ALA Annual conference in Orlando. Who will I meet next and what benefit will it have for me and my students?
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