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No Talking in the Library, Except...

Assistant Librarian Felicia Ballard and English Department Chair Christine Taylor participating in a Book Talk with Ms. Taylor's eighth-grade English class.

As Winter Break approaches, teachers are encouraging students to find time to read; some might borrow books from the C.B. Newton Library, having been inspired by Book Talks.

What are Book Talks? Picture this scene: Middle School students, in the same English class, sit together on the quiet side of the library, a book of choice in many students' hands. They take turns discussing these books they have read or are reading (no spoilers!), perhaps motivating their classmates to seek out the same titles.

These talks were started by Assistant Librarian Felicia Ballard and English teacher and Form III/IV Dean of Student Life Carol Mahida in 2015-16* (the year Ms. Ballard and Ms. Mahida joined Pingry). "It's about honoring the act of reading, getting students to read, and valuing their opinions," Ms. Ballard says. Ms. Mahida brought the idea to Pingry, based on Book Talks at her previous school. "It feels like a real-world experience," she points out. "The students aren't sharing things like sentence structure. It's a more balanced approach to talk about content, and it's important for them to realize that, whatever you're interested in, there's a book about it, and you can talk about it."

The literature in question could be anything—biographies, mysteries, young adult novels, poetry, short story collections, even magazine articles. Following the group discussion, students have time to read or explore the shelves.

"We believe in self-selection," says English teacher Bria Barnes, "so students can build independence as they figure out what they like to read." English Department Chair Christine Taylor reminds students about "different kinds of books for different purposes . . . some might not be the best to read before going to sleep!" And, of course, the librarians are ready and eager to help students make discoveries.

Another element is at play, too: because the C.B. Newton Library is the campus's library, Middle School students have been getting to know the librarians and the library's resources, and becoming a more frequent presence. "Middle School students are going to the library on their own, checking out books, and holding their own Book Talks," Ms. Mahida reports. "I love seeing students there who might not normally visit the library."

* Originally launched for Ms. Mahida's sixth-grade classes in 2015-16, these talks expanded to all of Grade 6 the following year and then the entire Middle School, so this year's eighth-grade students are the first to have participated all three years. Ms. Mahida has introduced Book Talks to her Grade 9 classes, and plans are underway to bring them to the rest of the Upper School.

Contact: Greg Waxberg '96, Communications Writer