According to the 2009 Nation’s Report Card in Reading, Washington, D.C. ranks near the bottom nationally in reading test scores among fourth- and eighth-graders. Fortunately, library associates Angela Redmond of the Francis A. Gregory Neighborhood Library and Michelle McIntyre of the Parklands Turner Neighborhood Library in Southeast are doing something about it. Through entertaining book club sessions, the duo has taken a hands-on but voices-off approach when it comes to helping kids improve their literacy—and the results have been impressive.

Redmond and McIntyre’s book reviews aren’t routinely packed with information hungry youngsters, but they do attract handfuls of predominantly Black youths ranging from ages 8 to 14 eager to read during the school year. By letting their kids select the books, the instructors aren’t necessarily “running” their book clubs; they are merely facilitating them.

“To connect reading and fun should be the aim in any book club,” says Redmond. “Kids should share the joy of what they’re reading.”

Providing suggestions, game ideas, feedback and an occasional snack, Redmond and McIntyre are trying to fill in when D.C. public schools file out. “If you have food for the kids, they’ll come,” says McIntyre, who has an unbreakable rapport with her teen participants. “I order pizza, sodas… I bring my (Nintendo) Wii and we play that, we have fun.”

Both instructors know the real key to reaching their younger learners on an educational level is catering to their wants. “To get them in you have to read what they want to read,” says McIntyre. “It’s give and take.”

Budget cuts and other political reforms have resulted in the District’s Ward 8 reporting one of the highest illiteracy rates in the city. With parents unable to help their kids read better and the school system not partnering with area libraries, both library associates continue their efforts to link their libraries to their learners.

“If D.C. public schools work with the library it would get better,” says McIntyre. “They need to encourage kids to come to the library and get a book and stop learning from the Internet.”

Editor’s note: September is National Literacy Month.