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Maple Heights fifth graders discuss 'Finding Langston' book, encourage kids to read more

 Anna Huntsman talks with fifth graders about reading
Rachel Rood
Ideastream Public Media
Ideastream reporter Anna Huntsman (center) interviews three fifth graders from Barack Obama Elementary School about reading.

Back in March, we introduced you to a new series called "Read With Us." Voracious readers at Barack Obama Elementary School, part of the Maple Heights School District, were getting ready to read 'Finding Langston' by Lesa Cline Ransome.

Ideastream’s Anna Huntsman and Rachel Rood went back to visit with the students and chatted with them about the book.

The book is a historical fiction novel set in the 1940s about an eleven-year-old boy named Langston, who moves from Alabama to Chicago during the Great Migration. Langston deals with being the new kid in town, the death of his mom and being bullied in school. He finds comfort in the public library, where he discovers a book of poems by Langston Hughes, whom, coincidentally, his mom named him after.

Potential readers – beware of spoilers in this article!

Students enjoy book characters they can relate to

Adrianna from Ms. Danna Tenorio’s class said she really liked the book.

“I liked how I got to learn new things about how it's like, like moving to other places, because I might move soon, but I don't know,” she said. ”I liked how it showed, it puts some light on bullying and showed how, like, you can stand up for yourself.”

Tyler liked the book as well. He said his favorite character was Langston because they’re a lot alike.

“We don't have, like, a lot of friends, but, you know, it's okay, because then we get to make a lot of friends in different grades,” Tyler said. “Me and him both moved from places, because I used to have a lot of friends at my old school, but then we moved.”

Marya also said Langston is her favorite character.

“I liked how at first he was like, he was just shy and couldn't stand up for himself. I liked how how in the end of the book, he started standing up for himself,” she said. “And, we both like books. He really loved books. The only difference is he likes poetry. I really don't really like poetry, though.”

Adrianna, on the other hand, said her favorite character was Langston’s teacher, Miss Walton. And she has a theory for what happens after the book ends…

“I like how it left us on a cliffhanger about what happened with Miss Walton and Langston’s dad, because the author was kind of giving us context clues about, like, Miss Walton might like Langston's dad and that something might be happening with them,” Adrianna said.

We also talked with a group of new students from Ms. Evan Stanley’s fifth grade class.

A group of fifth graders at Barack Obama Elementary School chat about a book they read in class with Ideastream Public Media's Anna Huntsman.
Rachel Rood
Ideastream Public Media
A group of fifth graders at Barack Obama Elementary School chat about a book they read in class with Ideastream Public Media's Anna Huntsman.

One of the students, Paighton, said she really connected with the book because Langston’s mom passed away.

“Now, I liked the book full and through, because the first chapter? Depressing,” she said. “My mom knows how to feel when she lost her mom, because she had lost her mom not that long ago, and I can relate to that book … And personally, I love the book because it explains what you should see and what you're going to see in a new school you go to.”

Several of the students, like Deronze, also said they related to Langston’s grief over losing his mom.

“I loved the book personally, mainly because I could relate to it so much. I lost my great grandma this month, so it kind of hurt my mom in a way so I could relate to the book a lot,” he said. “Not only that, I really do love books I can relate to because it's kind of funny, like, ‘Hey, that happened to me too.’ So it kind of it kind of surprised me when I heard that Langston's mom died.”

It’s clear the book brought out many emotions in the students. They related to many of the themes in the book, like grief, but also bullying.

The students all kept bringing up a character named Lymon. Lymon is one of Langston’s classmates who relentlessly taunts him. When Lymon rips up a book of poems, Langston finally stands up for himself and gets his book back.

“When he stood up and he stood up to Lyman, I was kind of, I was pretty happy because he actually stood up for himself,” Xavier, another one of the students from Ms. Stanley’s class, said. “He was helpful, being brave and, like, actually doing what he was meant to do. I mean, at least he was actually responsible in doing it because he told a parent or an adult first and then he decided to deal with it.”

Paighton agreed that violence and bullying are never the answer, and if someone is being bullied, they should tell an adult.

“Bullying isn't cool because you're just bullying on somebody that doesn't know you at all. You're just picking on someone that doesn't know you at all,” she said. “They're innocent.”

Marcus was bullied while playing football before, and that experience inspired him to want to be a coach someday, he said.

“I want to make sure no one gets bullied in football when they mess up. Because one time when I was doing football, I messed up and some people was talking about me as some people like “you bad,” and stuff,” he said.

The students have a variety of career paths - and reading will help them get there

Marcus also wants to be an author and an engineer when he grows up. Other students had a variety of career paths planned, from chefs, to Youtubers, to lawyers, like Kiley.

“I want to go to cosmetology school,” she said. “I’d like being a lawyer because there's a lot of people out there that probably need help and stuff like that. And I want to help people with people, situations and stuff like that.”

No matter what the future holds for these young people, one thing’s for sure: their love for reading will certainly help them get there.

We know that reading helps kids focus, perform better in school and understand the world around them. But, research shows the percentage of kids who read for fun is at a historic low. Experts agree one reason is that they’re turning their eyes instead to their devices - like playing video games and scrolling on social media apps.

The students at Barack Obama Elementary School have some ideas on how to encourage kids to put down their phones and pick up a book. Marya said kids should read about subjects they are particularly interested in.

“Like, for example, if you like comic books or poetry or nonfiction or about a person, like, for example, Martin Luther King, you can get a book that you think you like, and then you try to read it by yourself, and if you like it, get other books about it,” she said.

Kids can try reading a little bit every day to form a routine, Tyler added.

“I tell them that you should probably read about for like 10 minutes, like Monday to Wednesday and then Friday, like three days, three days a week and, and probably read before you go to bed on Sunday,” he said.

Paighton’s advice is simple.

“If you don't like reading, you need to at least pick up a book and try it. Because you might actually like it.”

A special thanks to Gia McCants, Evan Stanley, and Danna Tenorio for welcoming us into the Maple Heights classrooms. We hope to come to more schools in the future.

Want us to come to your school? Email soi@ideastream.org. You can also email us your thoughts on the book Finding Langston.

Happy reading!

Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.
Rachel is the supervising producer for Ideastream Public Media’s morning public affairs show, the “Sound of Ideas.”