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Reading the Menu at the Genre Café

Fancy flowers. Tablecloths. A menu to serve all tastes. And a highly knowledgeable Maître d' (Librarian Teacher Ms Porter). What’s not to love about the Junior School’s Genre Café!

Junior School Teacher Librarian, Ms Porter meets with all students from Kindergarten to Year 6 each week. She exposes them to a wide variety of books, sharing her love and knowledge of literature in order to spark their love of reading for pleasure.

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As part of her activities this term, Ms Porter has set up The Genre Café in the Junior School Library for students in Year 3 to Year 6. It comes complete with bright, red gingham tablecloths, vases of flowers, candles, and a sample menu. Each week, there’s a different ‘genre’ of books for the students to try out. Ms Porter explores key features of the genre, reads a chapter, and then encourages the students to select a book from that genre to ‘taste’.

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While the Junior School Library is a favourite haunt for our resident bookworms at Wenona, for the students who find reading more challenging, wandering the stacks and trying to choose something suitable to read can be an overwhelming experience. It’s why the Genre Café is proving a big hit with readers of all shapes and sizes.

For Year 5 students this week, Anne of Green Gables was the signature dish. LM Montgomery’s 1908 novel – and its seven sequels – has been a popular choice throughout the ages. It tells the story of orphaned red-head, 11-year-old, Anne Shirley, who is sent to a remote farm by mistake, but who wins its occupants over with her enthusiasm and joie de vivre.

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Ms Porter read to the girls before asking them to think about books that have female protagonists. Do they prefer stories with girls as the central character and if so, why? The students thought about it and decided that the majority preferred a female protagonist because they felt they were more relatable. And while they might never experience some of the things that Anne of Green Gables does, they could all relate to her energy, her imagination and her spirit of adventure.

Ms Porter then handed out menu cards to the students. She told them to all find their tables where there was a wide selection of books awaiting them. However, she said, try not to judge a book by its cover or its blurb. Be brave. Experiment. Try something new.

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The students all sat down at their tables, chose a book and then sat down to read silently, taking time to really immerse themselves in the story. Ms Porter then asked them to reflect on the experience. Why did they choose that particular book? How did the author hook them into the story? Did they use a ‘sizzling start’? Did they use a cliffhanger? What was it that made the book resonate with them? She then asked the girls to note down their opinion of the book in their ‘menus’ and give the book a rating. A bit like the Michelin Guide… but different!

As Ms Porter explained, a book tasting at the Genre Café might not lead to students loving every genre. However, what it does do is spark the students to be more adventurous in their choices and read things they normally wouldn’t choose. It has really encouraged them to read outside their comfort zones and listen to recommendations from their peers.

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Many of the girls have also decided to enter the Premier’s Reading Challenge and the Genre Café was a great opportunity to borrow different books that perhaps they wouldn’t have thought to read.

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As Ms Porter said, reading is regarded as a ‘good thing’ for students, but the benefits of reading for pleasure extend far beyond academic benefits of vocabulary and knowledge acquisition. They include empathy and inclusivity, relationship-building and relaxation.

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The Genre Café is a wonderland of new and exciting books: old favourites, classics, or brand new and unknown tales. It’s helping to boost enjoyment and engagement and will hopefully encourage our students to be lifelong readers. Three Michelin stars must go to Ms Porter!