School may be out, but reading is always in – especially when kids get to read along with NPR's award-winning host and special correspondent, Michele Norris.
Recently honored with a 2013 Impact Award from the Children's Book Council for the NPR Backseat Book Club, Norris hosts the interactive series as a way to engage young people in conversations about books and the authors who write them.
Each month, Norris announces the latest Backseat Book-pick on All Things Considered, and encourages kids ages 9-14 to read along. But the Club charges its "members" with more than just reading: Norris relies on kids' feedback - submitted throughout the month - to steer follow-up discussions with the author. In essence, once kids climb into the driver's seat, Norris hands over the keys.
"I knew there was a captive, back seat audience out there - force-fed a steady diet of NPR news - because I, too, grew up as a prisoner of public radio," says Norris. "An interactive book club seemed like a great way to engage our youngest listeners and help ensure that kids still reach for books."
Since Backseat Book Club launched more than a year ago, young listeners have been introduced to a boy who dreams of becoming a samurai, a girl who must confront a snow queen to win back her best friend, a child who hears voices from the neighboring graveyard and a lunch lady who moonlights as a superhero. Past reads include graphic novels, like the wildly popular Wimpy Kid series, and classics, like Black Beauty. The books are whimsical and mysterious - and sometimes even a bit ghoulish. But they all offer life lessons and a starting point for rich discussions.
While Backseat Book Club is aimed at kids, Norris' vision extends across the entire highway. "I hope that adults in the front seat read along with their back-seat youngsters, and that teachers share the titles with their students," she says. "It's exciting to peek in the Backseat inbox and also see emails from parents, teachers and librarians."
Last week, Norris and The One and Only Ivan author Katherine Applegate brought the discussion to the National Zoo, where they chatted about Applegate's tale of confinement, friendship, and perseverance - all told from the perspective of a gorilla behind bars. According to Norris, "the authors relish hearing questions directly from young listeners who enjoy, and often critique, the books."
Norris also announced Backseat Book Club's July pick: Glory Be, by Augusta Scattergood. Centered on a segregated "community" pool in Civil Rights-era Mississippi, the novel explores how young friendships are tested by society's rules. Kids (and adults) can read along with Norris, and submit questions for the author.