From Boston to London: Connecting YAs through a transatlantic book club.

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?


If you want to follow our transatlantic progress, check us out on Twitter:







Tea Time in the Library

As part of our Big Read we host a program called Chai & Chat on Wednesdays. It’s a way of having a relaxing book talk experience. On Fridays we host a multi-sensory activity called Tastes, Textures, and Thoughts where we can taste Pakistani foods, smell aromatic spices, and feel the unique textures of authentic salwaar kameez. We are reading I Am Malala.

Last Friday I had a group of young men come to the library and join our activity. We served a traditional rice pudding, Kheer, topped with pistachios, as well as other sweets. Savory would be served the following week. A student asked, “Mrs. Seymour do you have anymore chai tea?” Yes, of course; I actually have several varieties of tea stored in my office as I can’t seem to go two hours with out a cup. It’s Friday, not Wednesday so I hadn’t planned on serving tea until a second student chimed in, “Oh, I like chai tea. I tried it last week.” And a third exclaims, “I’ve never had tea.”

This is the point when my eyebrows raise involuntarily and an incredulous look permeates my face. “Seriously?” “No, Mrs. Seymour. I’ve never had a cup of tea.” Okay, we have to rectify this situation – immediately. Get the tea kettle from my office. Fill it with water. You, get the milk from the fridge in my office. Let’s get to work.

As we wait for the water to boil, we talk about Malala, history, and the Marines; one of the boys has enlisted and will be off to Parris Island this summer. He expressed a desire to read about Malala’s situation in Pakistan and the Taliban. I hope any new information and cultural experiences acquired will serve him well.

I leave the students with tea, milk, sugar, and a sense of amazement. For I have in front of me a group of young men, upperclassmen, Seniors, marine-in-waiting, sitting around a library table sipping tea. Shaking my head, I think, ‘you just can’t make this stuff up.’ I also think, if a group of students can graduate high school knowing how to read and in turn choose to read about things that interest them all with the comfort of a cup of tea, well then, life is good and I’ve done my job well.


Chai & Chat

Many of us love to read; it’s a wonderful activity. It’s something usually done alone, often with a cup of tea and a litany of ‘just one more chapter and then I’ll go to bed! However, there’s something special about a shared reading experience. We have the ability to laugh, cry, ponder the same questions and overall experience a range of emotions with one another. I think that’s why book clubs are so popular. We just have to talk to someone about what we just experienced (read).

This week our school started our Big Read where we, students and staff, can all read the same book. I Am Malala has several reading levels and is translated into Spanish making it a wonderful choice for the inclusion of all our students. We love the theme of the importance of education. And where better to share that message but in a school and who better to share it with than students and staff together.

On Wednesday, we started our weekly Chai & Chat sessions – one of the many activities scheduled for the Big Read. Again, there’s nothing better than a book and a cup of tea! We sat in the school library sipping chai, some tasting it for the first time, and since we just got the books in, we read an excerpt aloud each participant taking a turn. It was a moving experience as was the discussion of education around the world.

I’m looking forward to many more Wednesdays.

cup of tea


Carpe Librum. Seize the Book!

The phone rings at 5:30 am. It means nothing to me. After all, I am married to a doctor the phone rings all hours of the night (and day). “Gina, school’s closed today,” he says. Let that sink in. Hmm, I can catch up on emails, committee work, make soup! So much to do. So much I can get done. Heavy eyelids fade to black. He has to go to work, so I get up and join him for my first cup of tea of the day. There will be many more cups to come – it’s cold out there.

So what did I eventually accomplish? Yes, I did get two loads of laundry done. No, I didn’t make the soup. And the only committee work I attempted was the @YALSA Twitter chat hosted by YALSA President Candice Mack (@tinylibarian) with an update about organizational planning. Well, I’m already on Twitter so I should post some updates, right? And why stop there I should let the Facebook world know what’s up, too. The morning is over and I’ve drank tea and visited social media sites. The best laid plans of mice and men….

I’m sorry, but it’s a Snow Day. I did what needed to be done! I sat on the couch all day and read!!! (And drank tea, of course.) All the Light We Cannot See is our school Staff Book Club pick and I really wanted to finish the book this weekend (even though we’re not discussing it until next month). Forget the soup, vacuuming, emails, spreadsheets. Life is short. We must seize the day or better yet, Carpe Librum, seize the book!

Happy Snow Day!