“Awkward” by Svetlana Chmakova. Students in grades six, seven and eight can sign up by March 1 to participate in a Scarborough Public Library book group, which will discuss the title further. Courtesy photo

SCARBOROUGH — The Scarborough Public Library is hosting a new virtual middle school book group, funded by the Maine Humanities Council Grant, beginning March 3.

Youth Services Assistant Connie Burns answered questions about the details of the group, which will be reading “Awkward,” a graphic novel by Svetlana Chmakova.

1. What sets this book group apart? How might it be different from other book groups middle schoolers might have experienced?

“The book group will be virtual, on Zoom, and focus on the graphic novel, ‘Awkward,’ by Svetlana Chmakova. Graphic novels are wildly popular and flying off the shelves in the Youth Services room. While we will talk about the technical elements of graphic novels and the middle school issues raised by the book, the emphasis will be on having fun. We will do some ice breaker activities to get to know each other (M&Ms may be involved), do some sketching, create shared group stories, and who knows what else. The interests of the kids will determine the direction of the group. Unlike school, there are no grades and no right or wrong answers. Everyone’s opinion is valid and valued.”

2. What background and experience does the librarian leader of the group have?

Lucy Jackson Norvell, coordinator of programming and communications said, “Connie Burns, a member of the Youth Services staff, brings many years of experience as a middle school librarian, book reviewer and lover of young adult and middle grade books to her role as leader of the Virtual Graphic Novel Book Club.”

3. Could you provide a brief synopsis of the book?

“Trying to blend in on her first day of middle school, awkward Peppi Torres ends up being mean to Jaime and attracting the attention of the school bullies. By finding friends in the art club and helping the club get along better with their archenemies in the science club, Peppi finds her voice and the confidence to apologize to Jaime, making a new friend.”

4. What do sixth through eighth graders need to know about getting involved?

What: Virtual Graphic Novel Book Club

When: Wednesdays, March 3, 10, 17, 24 from 3-4 p.m.

Who: Students in grades six, seven and eight, who live in Scarborough

How: Email [email protected] or call 883-4723, option 3

Kids should sign up by March 1 so that they have time to arrange curbside pickup at the library of the book and materials.

5. Tell us about the Maine Humanities Council Grant and how that makes this opportunity special?:

“The Scarborough Library was fortunate that its grant application to host a Maine Humanities Discussion Project was funded. Traditionally, Discussion Projects have been geared to adults, but the library was able to make a compelling argument for the importance of offering a four-week virtual session on Zoom for middle school students.

“Pre-pandemic, we long have had an active and engaged middle school book club that met weekly in the library. We now are unable to gather in groups for programs, but we are aware of how much middle schoolers miss being with friends and sharing their passion for books. The grant will allow us to give each of the 12 participants a copy of the selected book, a sketching journal, a gel pen and a mechanical pencil.”

6. What do you hope middle school students get out of the experience?

“Middle schoolers will deepen their appreciation of the artistic and technical elements of graphic novels and how those elements work together with words to enhance the reader’s experience of this very popular format. As kids share their ideas, opinions, and reactions, each reader’s experience of the book grows.”

7. Why was a graphic novel chosen instead of a more traditional book? How can storytelling differ in a graphic novel?

“‘Awkward’ is one of many wonderful award-winning graphic novels that look at the middle school experience from the point of view of a student. It is the first in a three-book series set in Berrybrook Middle school. Kids might be encouraged to read the two sequels.”

Jackson Norvell added, “The difference is in how they deliver the plot. A graphic novel provides both illustrations and text. The reader’s imagination benefits from the context provided by each independently and by both text and illustrations together. This is something that members of the book club will discuss and learn more about in this book club — the nuances of reading graphic novels and how to catch the details.”

8.How can a student’s reading experience be enhanced in a book group?

“A book group that exists outside of the school setting is different! There are no grades. Children can participate with other children who are not in their school classes. Children have the opportunity to connect with the book and each other.”

9. Are there any differences in a virtual book group versus in-person and what might those be?

“While a virtual book club will be different from an in-person club, students have been meeting in online classes for nearly a year and are becoming more comfortable with the experience. During the pandemic, most kids are just as hungry as the rest of us to spend time with their peers, and especially with peers who share their interest in reading and graphic novels.”

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