By Alex Medina
A group of mothers circle around a table at a Boyle Heights high school, but they aren’t there to talk about their children’s grades. Instead, you can find these mothers engaged in an in-depth conversation about a book, going around sharing ideas and drawing conclusions from the text.
The books these parents read are ones you’d typically find in the hands of high schoolers, such as Rain of Gold by Victor Villaseñor or One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. By doing so, parents are taking cues from their children and experiencing the wonders of literature themselves.
The Parent Book Club at Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School started six years ago when Principal Maria Torres-Flores brought the idea to parents. Parents who are now part of the club have often gained new friendships in the form of other club members. The moms in the club eagerly await each meeting as it’s not only an opportunity to become more involved in literature, but also changing relationships with their children and their education.
“I was trying to promote literacy with the students here at school,” said Torres-Flores. “I thought that if the parents were able to be part of a movement for literacy by reading, that then they would encourage their kids to read.”
The club, which consists of 15 to 20 members at a time, meets at Bravo’s Parent Center for about an hour every two weeks. The club usually meets at 9 a.m. and ends at 10 a.m.
At the meetings, Torres-Flores is present alongside parents, who go over the books they’re reading while sharing opinions and thoughts about the text. Parents then take turns reading the story from where the whole group left off.
So far, book club members have read around 30 novels, including The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne, and Across a Hundred Mountains by Reyna Grande.
The club lends the books to parents, which they can keep if they attend at least 75 percent of the meetings. Some of the members have a small library at home containing the books they’ve earned from being in the club.
Many parents say that reading with others rather than on their own gives them a deeper understanding of the text. This is because some parents may interpret the book differently or have a varied opinion about the content.
Nereyda Arenas, a four-year member of the club, has always had a strong love of reading throughout her life. Even so, she says that the club has helped her to explore books to a whole new level.
“I love this club because I can talk about books with others,” says Arenas. “When I read a book before, it was just for my enjoyment and I didn’t have the opportunity to talk about why I liked the book, but in the club I can share opinions and ideas.”
Many parents have told Torres-Flores that they have decided not to work on days when the club meets in order to attend the book club meetings. Others take a later shift so that they don’t miss a session.
The club requires that books have both an English and Spanish version in print. Parents choose whichever version of the book they’d have an easier time understanding.
Even though parents often suggest books to read in the club, Torres-Flores consults with the English teachers at school to decide which book to read next. By choosing a book that students are reading, parents are able to relate to their children and spark a conversation about the many wonders hiding within the pages of a book.
“Being a part of this club has helped me be more involved with my children,” says Boyle Heights resident Cleotilde Flores, who has been part of the book club for two and a half years.
“Sometimes I talk with them about what I have read”, she said. “I also like to talk with my husband about the books.”
After learning about about the club from a friend, Flores decided to join because of her love for reading.
“I have always loved to read books,” Flores says. “The book club allows me to talk with others about a book, and gain a better understanding of the book.”
While some like Flores come into the group already loving to read, others grew to love books because of the club.
Maria Onate, a member for three years, was invited by the Parent Center to join the book club. At first, she refused because she had only read one entire book throughout her life. After being continuously encouraged to join by other parents, Onate decided to give the club a try.
She says that her son has always been very passionate about books, which she never really understood until she became a part of the Parent Book Club.
“From the time he was little he was reading, but I would say ‘leave those books already’,” Onate says. “He would go to the bathroom with books, eat with books, have breakfast and dinner with books, and sleep with books.”
Nowadays, Onate says she better appreciates his love of reading, and loves to engage in conversations with the other parents about books.
Sometimes the Parent Book Club goes beyond the pages of a book in order for members to experience first-hand the message a book is trying to convey. This was the case when the club read The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.
The book club visited the Anne Frank Exhibit when it opened at the Museum of Tolerance in the Fall of 2013, so they could see some of the horrors of the holocaust they had just read about. Flores says the visit to the museum was a powerful experience that added to her understanding of the book.
“Race, religion, and ethnicity are not important. We are all human and mustn’t attack others for our differences,” Flores said.
Although parents graduate from the Parent Book Club when their children leave school, parents say the impact of the club resonates with them. By being a part of this club, many parents are now happy to say that they love to read.
Alex Medina is a junior at Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School.