In the Dog Days edition of the popular children’s book series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Jeff Kinney’s young hero, Greg Heffley, gets into mischief with his friend, Rowley, after watching a cheesy horror movie found in his brother’s possessions. Greg’s mother becomes cross: “Mom lectured me about how boys my age watch too many violent movies,” Greg wrote in his diary, “and play too many video games.” His mother’s counter-measure is to establish the “Reading Is Fun” club. Mrs. Heffley wanted to introduce the boys to more elevated works, but the club devolves as the initial glut of boys and their books on “Ultimate Video Game Cheats” and “Sudoku Insanity” fall away from the imposed standards for “literature.” The “Reading Is Fun Club” played a minor role in the days of the Wimpy diarist, but a prominent role in Kiera Swartz establishing her own “Reading Is Fun” club.
Kiera is a fourth-grader who shares a classroom with my granddaughter, Imani. I was in New Jersey with my grandchildren for Christmas and my daughter, Lisa, assigned me to ferry Imani to a meeting of her friend’s book club. Lisa showed me the invitation and explained how the club came about. In third grade, Kiera “wanted to come up with something social that included reading. She likes to read,” Lisa told me. Lisa thought that Kiera’s initial invitation was to all of her third grade class, but “at that age, the girls tend to stay with the girls, and boys with boys,” so the club now has all girls. The club’s first meeting, in October, 2016, was held in a park, and the last meeting was this December 27th, at Kiera’s house.
I met Kiera, and her parents, Christine and Tom Swartz, who told me that they helped to facilitate the activities of the club. Imani joined four other girls in a big, warm den. Kiera read the agenda and the club rules, which she types up. This day’s rules included “Be nice to everyone; sit properly; be appropriate,”and “HAVE FUN!” One amusing rule was “No turning upside down on furniture,” something my granddaughter does as often as she can, and a talent shared by other members of the club. The girls defined nouns, verbs and adjectives as they supplied words for a “Hidden Present Mad Lib” game, then read for five minutes from the books they’d brought. Imani is reading Roller Girl by Victoria Jameson, and Kiera is reading Greenglass House by Kate Milford and Jaime Zollars. Chris read a story that required them to pass their books to each other on command, and Tom provided the girls with humorous hints as they labored to complete “Hangman.” The hour ended with the Kiera, Imani, Sadie, Aaliyah and Demi working on a word search game and chewing on cookies.
I could not imagine the energy those five girls brought to that room being multiplied by five. Chris showed me a picture of about twenty girls in the den, with someone mid-somersault on the couches. She and Tom did a superb job of harnessing and directing the electricity of those young, quick minds. Of course, in everything, we look for grander reasons for the small things we see. The “Reading Is Fun Club” is a tumbling mass of sociable girls who have been delivered to the nurturing care of Chris and Tom, to read, and have fun. These few cold steps into the new year were warmed, for me, by the sight and sounds of a future worth working for, embodied by the hope and joy of the gamboling girls of the “Reading is Fun Club” in Morris Plains, New Jersey.