When Belleville West sophomore English students got an assignment last month, so did their parents.
Teachers Nick Johnson and Julie Schloesser had each student and parent decide on a book from a world literature list. The Home Literacy Project, in its second year, gets teens and parents learning about a book, and each other, through reading, talking and writing.
Sue Pusa, mom and reading partner of Jeremy Soehnlin wasn’t sure about the assignment.
“Initially, I was ‘Oh my gosh, no,’” said Sue. “I told my husband that Jeremy thought I was going to be the reason he didn’t get an A on it. We read ‘The Kite Runner’ together. I’m proud to say I read it in a single day at a swim meet.”
Now, the busy mother of two who is a project leader at Washington University medical school’s computer department, plans to read more.
The journaling part was another challenge.
“I’m 43. I’ve been out of school a long time. I wanted to use proper English since it was an English assignment.”
Here’s what teens had to say about the book they chose and the project.
Jeremy Soehnlin: “We chose ‘The Kite Runner’ (by Khaled Hosseini). I had a little bit of a choice, but it was mainly my mom (Sue Pusa). She had seen the movie. We talk every few chapters about how the characters have changed. The main character has gone from liking one of the side characters a lot to not liking him very much. The main character’s dad gives the side character a little more attention. It’s been pretty fun including Mom in school work. I’ve learned that she likes to finish a book in a day and I like to space it out a little more.”
Katherine Gemmingen: “We are reading ‘Anna Karenina’ (by Leo Tolstoy). My mom (Lee Ann) picked it out. It’s actually a really long book. My copy has 800 pages. It’s really good — long, but not boring at all. It’s set in Russia. It’s interesting to see a different society and a different time period. She’ll tell me, ‘Oh, I really liked that part.’ Mom is an English teacher at West Junior High. We talk about books a lot. I prefer regular fiction. I just read ‘Conversion’ by Katherine Howe, a book my mom recommended. Because Mom is a teacher, I get to see the teacher side of her a little more (in the journal). It’s interesting to see her do homework, instead of just grade it.”
Madeleine Brown: “We read ‘Life of Pi’ (by Yann Martel). Mom (Amy, a parent-teacher liaison in Mascoutah) chose. She had seen the movie and wanted to see what the whole book was about. The major theme of the book was religion. It’s been very good so far. It’s fiction, but there are instances of realism in it. What I learned about Mom is that she sees life the way Pi does. He kind of sees God in life and everything, even if it’s something that’s scary. When he was cast overboard, at first, he thought it was a curse. He was alone in the ocean. But if he hadn’t been cast overboard, he would have sunk with the ship. He thanks God for doing that. I would recommend the book. I’ve always liked to read. I really liked the Harry Potter series when I was growing up.”
Alayna Wells: “I chose ‘The Kite Runner.’ I liked it because there were so many twists. It had insights. It was really bold. It said things that other books don’t talk about — Afghanistan and war. The way it started out, I thought it was going to be more of a happy book. It turned out to be extremely dark, but I liked it. It was a good balance of happy things and tragedy. I’m reading it with my dad (Jeoffrey, a Belleville cop and SWAT officer who teaches self-defense at SWIC. He and mom run the Shop With a Cop program.) ... Dad is a really smart guy and I like listening to his opinons of things. It’s how I form my opinions. I do like reading, but don’t read that much. When I have a book in my hands, I read a lot, but when I have to go and get one, I’m not good at finding books and getting started.”
Mara Reed: “We are reading ‘I am Malala’ (by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb). My mom (Kelly Reed, who works in customer service) was onboard right away. It’s the autobiography of a girl who grows up in Pakistan under the Taliban. It’s about her struggle to keep going to school. She eventually speaks out about women’s rights and later, on education. She was shot by the Taliban when she was 14. You learn so much about different cultures and the struggle she had. Here, it’s ‘Oh, I’ve got to go to school the next day.’ She didn’t know if she could. I learned that Mom and I see very similarly on most issues. She has read a lot of what I have read. ‘Hunger Games,’ ‘Twilight’ when it first came out. If my sister and I are into something, she’ll want to read it. We can all have conversations about it.”
James Beverly: “I read ‘ The Bonesetter’s Daughter’ (by Amy Tan) with my mother (Makisha Binns). When we looked at the sheet, it seemed like an interesting type story about an Asian family who moves to San Francisco and discovers secrets about the father who was an old bonesetter. I would recommend it. She was excited (about the project). We really do things together, like reading. I I finished first. Mom doesn’t like to write. She wrote, ‘I agree with my son and everything he said.’ I had a hard time getting started. She had to take certain things away. I couldn’t watch TV till I read a chapter or two.”
Ishaq Choudhury: “I read ‘The Alchemist’ (by Paul Coelho) with my mom (Jessica Wright, an SIUE college professor who teaches biology). She was pretty excited. She liked the idea. It was kind of a simple read and easy to understand. It’s about a boy who lives in Spain, and about a king who finds him and tells him about a personal journey he has to make to find himself. He goes to the pyramids in Egypt and to North Africa. I liked the book OK, but thought it was kind of preachy. I don’t always read as much as I should. Mom reads a lot. I think we wrote (in the journal) about the same amount, only because I told her not to write too much so I didn’t look bad.”
Peter Romero: “My dad and I read a book in Spanish, ‘Mis Bellas Historias De La Biblia,’ stories about the Bible. I chose it. My dad can read and speak English, but it’s easier for him to read Spanish. It’s just a book I found at home on the shelf. I wouldn’t say he was too excited. It’s interesting to see someone’s view of the Bible, a different perspective. For the journal, he wrote in Spanish, but I translated. He is from Chilpancingo in a state of Mexico call Guerrero. It was a fun project. He has to encourage me to read. His name is Pedro. He works with horses.”
Taron McCray: “I’m one of the students who didn’t read with his parents.... I asked if I could work with a friend instead and that’s what happened. I asked (Kailyn Goodrich), ‘Would you help me with reading the book, “The Alchemist” (by Paulo Coelho)?’ She’s someone who likes to read and I can relate to. I liked the book. Being a teen during these years, we are supposed to be searching for who we are. In that book, the boy does the same thing. Did I have to do something for Kailyn in return? We went to an audition for an after-school play. She needed help practicing lines. We sang songs and did that. It was payback, I guess.”
Jill Ann Buettner: “I chose ‘People of the Book’ (by Geraldine Brooks).’ Dad (Mike) finished it. I’m 3/4 of the way through. It’s kind of slow. It’s set up in different sections. At the beginning, she’s a book restorer of century-old books. ... You go back into the past and read all the different stories. I think he reads a lot like me. When I would say something, he would agree and would share something he saw but I didn’t, which I thought was kind of neat. ... He loves the ‘Lord of the Rings.’ He likes to read as much as I do.”
Jordan Thompson: “Me and my mom (Rhonda Thompson who works for DCFS) chose ‘ Jellico Road’ (by Melina Marchetta) that follows a teen named Taylor. She lives in foster home. The book follows her and other children. There’s a border war between her school and two other schools. Mom reads a lot, also. She thought it was like going back to school. I learned that we have the same work ethic. I’ve never seen her do homework. It was fun to see that. I had to encourage her, which is hilarious. She encourages me to get things done early. This time, it was me, and that was nice.”