The first Book Club meeting at Bal Vihar School begins with the teacher reading an excerpt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In order to get children to empathize with poor Charlie Bucket, who subsists on watery cabbage soup, the teacher asks, “Would you like to eat cabbage soup for breakfast, lunch and dinner?” The question is answered with an emphatic “No, Ma’am.” The kids identify with Charlie’s great longing for chocolate and drool when Charlie takes “long deep sniffs of the gorgeous chocolatey smell”. The children are in for a surprise when the teacher releases a tap and cold chocolate flows from what used to be the water-dispenser in the room. As children drink cold chocolate in tiny paper cups, they continue to be transfixed by Grandpa Joe’s descriptions of the factory.
“Mr. Willy Wonka can make marshmallows that taste of violets, and rich caramels that change colour every ten seconds … He can make chewing-gum that never loses its taste…”
The teacher then takes a poll: “Who would like chewing-gum that is sweet and sugary all the time?” Kids raise their hands in unison. But a lone dissenter gives his point of view, “No, Ma’am, it will be boring if it is sweet forever.” A benign comment that imparts an important lesson that each reader has to make meaning for him or herself. Moreover, we do not have to always agree with the author. By encouraging children to react to books, they stop being passive recipients of an author’s message but start engaging with a text.
The author is Director, PRAYATNA, Centre for Educational Assessment & Intervention. In addition to providing remedial education, PRAYATNA conducts a book club for children. The author may be contacted at [email protected].