About once a month a group of students at St. Francis Xavier School in Winooski voluntarily gives up lunch and recess to talk about books.

They participate in Dorothy’s List Lunch Bunch, eating their lunch in the library and talking about a book they’ve all agreed to read; recent books have included “Some Kind of Courage,” “Mayday” and “The Boundless.”

Facilitated by Kathleen Finn, library/media specialist, one Lunch Bunch is for fifth graders and a second is for students in grades six through eight.

Named for author Dorothy Canfield Fisher (who died in Arlington in 1958), Lunch Bunch members plan to vote this spring for The Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Awards, created to honor excellence in children’s literature. Each year since 1957, Vermont students in grades four through eight have selected their favorite book from a list of 30 nominees. It is recommended that students read at least five of the year’s nominated titles before voting.

As technology such as video games, social media and YouTube compete for students’ time and attention, the Lunch Bunch is a way to foster an appreciation of reading. “People want to spend time on devices rather than reading,” lamented Caroline Canney, 14, an eighth grader who has participated in the Lunch Bunch.

“There are tremendous distractions in their lives,” Finn agreed.

But the Lunch Bunch gives a social dimension to reading, said participant Roma Vallabhaneni, 11, a sixth grader. “You get to talk to people face to face rather than on something” (a device), added Evelyn Quinlan, 11, a sixth grader in the Lunch Bunch.

“Talking about a book is different than a zombie video game because sometimes the book relates to your life and things going on in the world,” Roma said.

“I don’t think anybody ever has been in a zombie apocalypse,” joked Nick Herrera, 11, a fifth grader in the Lunch Bunch.

Addressing the widespread use of devices, Finn said with a smile, “We’re fighting back,” to which Caroline quipped, “Take that, Instagram,” to the laughter of the other students being interviewed.

But the Lunch Bunch is not the only way students at St. Francis Xavier School are encouraged to read. Recently they were offered a “blind date with a book,” selecting a book wrapped in brown paper with only a brief description of the book attached to the outside.

Students participate in Vermont Reads, a statewide program, and this year the eighth graders read “Brown Girl Dreaming” by Jacqueline Woodson. Seven participated in a community-wide book discussion.

The pre-school and pre-kindergarten families are encouraged to use the school library to check out books, and often free books are distributed to those who want them.

The eighth-grade language arts students have been introduced to a feature in the online catalog Destiny Quest called “Friends.” It’s similar to Facebook; students send a classmate a friend request, if the friend accepts it, the student who sent the request can send the friend book recommendations of titles in the school library.

“I’m very keen to see how this evolves; I think it will help put kids’ natural inclination to be on devices to an end with more ‘nutritional value,’” Finn said, adding her hope that it will extend to sixth and seventh graders soon.

Students in the Lunch Bunch are quick to enumerate benefits of being in the group: It helps develop communication and listening skills, helps them articulate their thoughts, gives them the opportunity to hear different points of view, it fosters respect for other people’s opinions and it’s fun.

Sally Zuk, 13, an eighth grader, has participated in the Lunch Bunch, and she said reading has helped her to enhance her vocabulary and offers an escape from reality when she needs one.

“There is comfort food in reading,” said Robin McCormick, the school’s volunteer development director.

Some of the readers who sat at a table with her in the school library were quick to select a favorite author while others had to think about it. In the end, these were their selections — for that day, at least:

Evelyn: Ransom Riggs
Sally: Blue Balliett
Caroline: Wendy Mass
Roma: L. Frank Baum
Nick: Jeanne Birdsall.

Check them out.

April is National School Library Month, sponsored by the American Association of School Librarians. Learn more at ala.org/aasl/advocacy/slm.

View All Posts by This Author