Bringing the Generations Together
Posted by: Ted Balcom
Last week, I experienced something new — an intergenerational book discussion. I wasn’t the leader — that job went to a friend of mine, a fellow librarian, who organized the activity at the request of a local elementary school principal. My friend asked me to participate in the group, along with five other adults, mostly library volunteers like myself, plus the principal. Joining us were seven fourth and fifth-graders (both boys and girls).
The book we talked about was Granny Torelli Makes Soup, by Newbery Award winner Sharon Creech. The story is about the relationships of a 12-year-old girl, Rosie –most importantly with her best friend, Bailey, a neighbor boy with low-level vision, and her energetic and wise Italian grandmother. Rosie has a temper that causes her some problems, but her kitchen conversations with Granny, while making soup and pasta, help to sort things out and create satisfying solutions.
Granny Torelli Makes Soup is well written — for one thing, the descriptions of food preparation made everyone’s mouth water! But it was also an excellent choice for a discussion with people of various ages, because it provided opportunities to talk about common experiences — specifically, quarrels with friends and conversations with grandmothers. Along the way, one learns quite a bit about cooking and the Italian language.
The children in the group were eager to contribute to the discussion — they needed no prodding. They shared how they related to the characters, and they compared their own grandmothers to Granny Torelli. They were sensitive to Bailey’s vision problem and spoke about their own encounters with blind people and their awareness of the Braille language.
The discussion, which was held in the school library, lasted an hour, and the time seemed to fly by. The children were intermingled with the adults at the table we sat around, and there were humorous remarks contributed by all the participants, creating a lively, enjoyable atmosphere. Perhaps it helped that we were served pizza, fruit, and cookies before the discussion began, and we were all smacking our lips in between comments.
The school principal, who had the idea for the program, was so pleased with the result that he wants to schedule another session in the spring. I thought it was a great way to get children together with adults they’d never met before, to talk about an entertaining story and what it meant to each individual. I’m sure the kids learned quite a bit from the experience, and I’ll bet the other adults were just as impressed as I was with how perceptive and articulate the children were. If you have the opportunity, this might be an activity you’d like to try to replicate in your own community.