Lunch Bunch reading club inspires youth to embrace different genres and authors

NILES — At Eastside Connections, the Lunch Bunch book club sticks to one major motto: Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Since January, roughly two dozen middle school students have taken part in the club. Once a week, they spend their lunch and recess meeting with fellow book lovers to dive into new novels, and discuss what they have read. 

The club and its discussions are led by parent volunteer Angie Lundberg and Tara Hunsberger, the Niles District Library youth services coordinator. Hunsberger helped to identify books she thought students would enjoy. While some of the books’ covers do not appear to be the most appealing to young readers, many of the books on her list have become students’ favorite reads.

Through Hunsberger and Lundberg’s efforts, students said they have discovered new authors, new genres and been inspired to try new activities at school.

Students have read nine different books in their time in the club, including a graphic novel called “Snow White” by Matt Phelan. The novel takes place during the Great Depression and the crash of the stock market in 1929. They also read “Little Fish” by Ramsey Byer, which chronicles the life of a smalltown Michigan woman who goes to college in a big city on the east coast. Students also helped with a focus project to evaluate the relevancy of various children’s books.

Hunsberger said through the club, she wanted students to experience new authors and genres that they might overlook.

“They say you’re not supposed to judge a book by their cover, but we all do it,” Hunsberger said. “I brought in a bunch of books at the beginning of the year, and they went through and looked at them … I threw in some [books] they said they didn’t want to read because I knew they would like them.”

Matigan Riggenbach, an eighth grade student, said what she liked most about book club is discussing the material with her peers.

“In book club, you can have so many people to discuss it with,” Riggenbach said. “It’s somebody to talk to about it and [share] different ideas about it,”

Samuel Kaufmann, an eighth grade student, echoed that the club has been key to discovering new reading material.

“A lot of people say, ‘I don’t like reading,’ and I think that’s because they haven’t found something they like yet,” Kaufmann said. “Then, there’s the other side of the spectrum. People like me, we love reading, but you don’t try different genres. So, the genre studies helped me see [that] there are other books … and it’s really good to read different things.”

Caelyn Hines, a seventh grader, said her favorite book was “Orbiting Jupiter” by Gary D. Schmidt. While Hunsberger said the cover and title do not reveal much, she felt students would enjoy the story, which centers on a boy’s family who has taken in a foster teen.

“[The story line] never slowed down,” Hines said. “It was really good.”

For some of the students, the club’s reading material inspired them to try something new. After reading “Ghost” by Jason Reynolds, two of the book club’s students wanted to try out for the track team. The story follows the life of a middle school boy with a talent for running, but troubled past that threatens his future.

“We thought we would try [track] for ourselves,” said Lukas Quist, a seventh grader.

With the aim to continue to inspire youth to find new books to enjoy, Hunsberger said she hopes to bring the club back to Eastside Connections again next year.

“I’m so impressed by you guys because getting middle schoolers to read for fun [can] be so hard,” Hunsberger said. “I’m just so happy because I just love to talk to people about books.”

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