by Maurna Rome
I admit that I am sometimes envious of my friends who work in the business world and get to enjoy frequent dining out excursions during their lunch breaks. A 20 – 25 minute rush to digest school cafeteria food, microwavable leftovers or a brown bag sandwich isn’t the most appetizing mid-day meal experience. However, once a month I do get to enjoy a special book club of sorts, called “Lit Lunch,” with some of the most thoughtful, deep thinkers I’ve ever chatted with about books!
It might be hard to believe that “dining in” with thirty 9‑year-olds could be such a delightful affair, yet this once-a-month event has become one of the highlights of the year in Room 132. From a kid’s point of view, getting to eat with the teacher in the classroom has some kind of magical appeal. For this teacher, anything that motivates kids to think and talk about a good book is worth doing.
When choosing our lunch book of the month, our criteria are quite simple. The book must have a connection to some type of food item that can be added to the lunch menu with a reasonable amount of prep and cost. It also helps if the story has a “meaty” author’s message we can really dig into.
I’ve used “lunch with the teacher” as a special reward for many years, but this is the first year I’ve realized that adding a literacy element gives it an added purpose. An unexpected result from hosting the first few Lit Lunches was that many kids made it their mission to find the perfect book for next month. My students are always on the lookout for a good story that features a favorite fare to nibble on. I know the extra effort and small investment in a few ingredients are more than worthwhile. I’m not sure who enjoys Lit Lunches more — the kids, our lunchroom supervisor, or me.
Through chowing and chatting, my students identified several common words of wisdom from the books we’ve devoured so far this year. “Don’t judge a book by its cover” applies beautifully to The Sandwich Swap by Queen Rania of Jordan Al Abdullah, Enemy Pie by Derek Munson, and Green Eggs & Ham by Dr. Seuss. Nibbling on a hummus and PB&J sandwich, slice of pie, or green eggs and ham while chatting about the importance of getting to know someone or something before passing judgment helped made our first few Lit Lunches a success.
The message “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade” came through loud and clear after reading and discussing The Lemonade Club by Patricia Polacco. This selection was special for several reasons. Several of my students and I have dealt with the challenge of helping a family member battle cancer. It was also the first student-selected book, thanks to an enthusiastic young lady who visits the public library often. Amanda was so excited to share her checked-out collection of Polacco’s books. As we swapped our heartfelt personal connections, we shared lemon poppy seed muffins and, of course, lemonade.
Our most recent lesson to be learned came from the light-hearted best seller Dragons Love Tacos. “Always read the fine print” was the take away from this silly but fun tale. The food tie-in was by far the biggest hit with kids, though it also proved to be more time intensive and costly than the other monthly selections.
My advice for any teacher who is interested in making lunchtime a little more interesting, though perhaps not as relaxing as a meal out on the town, is to start small. Consider inviting a group of 5 – 6 kids to join you for a Lit Lunch based on a recent read aloud. For your second helping of Lit Lunch, add another group of kids. When holding a full class Lit Lunch, a hand-held microphone that can be passed around is a must. Securing funding through the school parent-group, a grant, or grade-level budget would be a good way to offset the cost of providing appetizing titles that are paired with some tasty treats.
It may take time, practice, and group reflection to make the Lit Lunch feel more like a real book club with impromptu contributions versus a traditional classroom, teacher-led discussion. It is helpful if kids practice being a part of informal conversations in both small and whole group settings. Facilitating a productive discussion about character traits, the gist of the story and/or the author’s message is not an easy feat with a group of thirty hungry 3rd graders, but Room 132 is proof that it can be done.
Finding the right food-related book is a must. A free 100-page, annotated book list featuring “over 400 books with positive food, nutrition and physical activity messages for children in grades K‑2” can be downloaded thanks to a project from Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan State of Education.