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  • Writer's pictureBenay Hicks

Black Boys, Books, and Chicken Subs

By Daniele Berman, Communications and Events Manager

“We should pick that one because he’s black like us!”

That was how one of the eight members of the first ever Book Harvest Merrick-Moore afterschool book club registered his vote for the group’s first read: Ellray Jakes Is Not a Chicken, by Sally Warner.

Eight black boys in grades 2 through 4 participated in the pilot program, led by Education Partnerships Manager Amy Franks. All of them are participants in Merrick-Moore’s afterschool program, and all elected to sign up for the book club, even a few who describe themselves as not particularly big fans of reading.


The activity-based club was carefully planned to be as engaging as possible for its readers. The boys chose the books they read themselves, by vote. Each book club meeting featured not just reading and discussion but a hands-on activity related to the day’s passage, and of course, a snack. While they were reading EllRay Jakes Is Not a Chicken, the boys made s’mores because it is something EllRay enjoys doing with his dad. They made “rock pops” because EllRay’s dad is a geology professor. They made “dirt cups” because EllRay’s teacher, Ms. Sanchez, did a science lesson on the properties of soil. And on the day they finished the book, they had an end-of-book celebration featuring chicken subs as a tie-in with the title. The boys enjoyed the book so much that they elected to read EllRay Jakes Is a Rockstar for their second book.

Why a book club specifically for black boys? According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT Data Center, white boys are three times more likely to be reading proficiently by fourth grade than their black male classmates. Furthermore, children of color have a statistically very low chance of seeing themselves represented in the books they traditionally read in school. According to Lee and Low Books, between 1994 and 2017, only 13% of children’s books featured multicultural content.

One measure of success for the pilot program is the level of engagement of the students. And, Amy reports, her book club members were definitely engaged. One parent shared that when she told her son she would be picking him up before afterschool that day for a doctor’s appointment, he said that he wouldn’t be able to go to the appointment because he couldn’t miss book club! (And while he did, in fact, go to his checkup, he stopped by book club first to check in with Amy about what he would miss.)

While the Merrick-Moore pilot book club has ended for the year, the boys are eager to come back together next year and are already talking about what they want to read — this time, shares Amy, hopefully led by a black man. “Not only do we want the boys to see themselves in the books they read and to get excited about reading, we also want to expose them to role models in whom they can see and imagine their future selves,” she explains.

The book club closing celebration also included a special gift for each of the boys: a copy of Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes and a gift certificate to DM Barbershop, our newest Community Book Bank partner. (We are excited to share more about that partnership in this space soon!)

In the meantime, the boys in the book club — along with all the other 650 students at Merrick-Moore and all elementary students in Durham Public Schools — will soon start their summer break with backpacks filled with more books they have selected themselves and will keep forever, thanks to our Books on Break program. Many of the books they will have to choose from are featured on our Mirrors and Windows list, a collection of diverse and inclusive books for children of all ages. You can learn more about Mirrors and Windows and how to contribute to the project here.

Would you like to help make Books on Break possible for the students at Merrick-Moore and several other Durham elementary schools? Sign up now to volunteer as a “personal shopper,” helping students select books they’ll love to read all summer long and keep forever! Questions? Contact Education Partnerships Manager Amy Franks at amy@bookharvestnc.org.

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