When did you start reading for pleasure? For many adults, that moment never comes. But for scores of students at Culver School, some as young as 9, it’s happening now in a program called Famished for Fiction.
“An image that still makes me smile is a student practically running down the hallway on his way to Famished for Fiction, grinning while holding a book in one hand and flashing thumbs-up with the other,” said Culver principal Erica Smolinski.
Every second Friday during the school year, two librarians from the Niles-Maine District Library stroll across the street to Culver, where they “book-talk” with students. Mikey Orzechowski meets with 4th and 5th graders in the board room while Donna Block uses a classroom for her sessions with students in grades 6-8.
“They come with literally bags of books,” Smolinski said. Some are new titles that have just come in to the library while others are chosen from genres that are popular with students, such as dystopian tales, coming-of-age stories, light romance and fantasy. “It’s liable to be anything. Some kids like dragons, some like romances — for all I know some like dragon romances.” And despite the name of the program, some of the books considered are nonfiction works such as biographies and nature studies.
The program was originally intended for the older students, but when a parent asked why it couldn’t include younger ones as well, it expanded to accommodate 4th and 5th graders. It became so popular that a second room had to be added.
“When the 4th and 5th graders meet, it’s standing-room-only. I set up 40 or 50 chairs and they’re all filled,” Smolinski said. “And this is for books! It’s not like they’re watching a movie or eating cupcakes.”
individual book-talks run one to two minutes, with a summary, a brief excerpt and an explanation of what students might like. The students hear about approximately 20 books in one session.
“Students also have the opportunity to do their own book-talks about something they are currently reading or that they enjoyed,” said Orzechowski, who is known to the students as Miss Mikey. “Many of the 4th and 5th graders are excited to book-talk their favorite books. The 6th, 7th and 8th graders are eager to hear about new titles. They really enjoy this program. It feels like the children have a space to share their love of books and reading.”
Culver School has had a relationship with the Niles Library for years, with librarians offering field trips to the library, classroom visits, research and database help, and seasonal promotions such as winter and summer reading programs. Orzechowski has helped out with Culver’s Battle of the Books and librarians have participated in the school’s Back to School Bash, school registration and Literacy Nights.
However, the partnership picked up this year after Smolinski was named principal. “I had a summer meeting with librarians to introduce myself, told them we were eager to partner and one mentioned Famished for Fiction,” she said. “Since the program began, I will order books that were discussed if we don’t them have in our library, or students can check out a book they want from the Niles Library using the library app. We want to be sure that if a kid is interested in a book, we have it available.”
Orzechowski added, “We greatly appreciate our partnership with Culver School. Erica Smolinski’s love of reading and books has really translated into the work she does with the students and the library. It has been and continues to be a pleasure partnering with her, the staff and the students.”