- Sarah Priestap
- Mariah Lawrence
This winter, in the tiny town of Tunbridge, librarian Mariah Lawrence organized a virtual book club with a specific goal: connecting people of different ages through a shared love of stories. The Tunbridge Public Library provided copies of a book, discussion prompts and art supplies to make a painting inspired by the story; participants were encouraged to find a partner or small group with whom to discuss the book — preferably someone from a different generation.
"We had people from 8 years old to 80 years old in the group, and the perspectives were really beautiful," Lawrence said.
The book in question, A Wolf Called Wander by Rosanne Parry, follows a lonely wolf traversing the Pacific Northwest. While the story is geared toward children, there is darkness in it, too, and Lawrence thought it would appeal to all ages.
"[The wolf] struggled. He had so many obstacles — hunger and thirst and injuries and loneliness," she said. "We were all blown away at how perfectly that book fit into our lives right now."
Lawrence hosted one virtual group discussion and one painting night, but participants were welcome to choose whether they wanted to attend those gatherings or read completely on their own.
"I really wanted to make it a choose-your-own-adventure style of book club, because we didn't want to limit people to just Zoom meetings," she said. "I mean, we're all sick of Zoom meetings."
For Maria Lamson, a retired librarian living in South Royalton, the book club was a good opportunity to connect with her two granddaughters. Though she speaks to them often, Lamson said having a book to discuss let her see them in a new light. The girls were excited to share their thoughts and perspectives, though the younger one found the wolf's story a little scary. They even watched movies about wolves to add to the experience.
"Both of their parents or grandparents had been involved in a book club, and they were jealous," Lamson said.
Sarah Pease, a friend of Lawrence and her family, participated in the book club from California. Pease is a mentor to Lawrence's son, Miles, and discussed the book with him.
"It was a really great way for us to not just connect but do so over a facilitated activity," Pease said. For a 30-year-old and an 11-year-old, "it's nice to have specific things to talk about," she noted.
Pease is actually considering a move to Vermont, so the book club also gave her a chance to get to know the community. She appreciated feeling included despite not currently living in the area.
Lawrence got enough positive feedback from the book club's 33 participants that she's planning three more iterations, supported through grants from the Children's Literacy Foundation, which also funded the first book club. Sign-ups are open for the March session, which will center on Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin.
After that will come a group read focused on preschoolers and another aiming to connect residents of Tunbridge and nearby Chelsea. The two school districts recently merged, and the issue has been contentious. In January, Tunbridge residents voted to remain in the unified district 144-135 — a margin of nine votes.
"The Chelsea librarian and I knew that we held a place where we could try to connect people," Lawrence said.
Beyond the book clubs, she organizes a weekly virtual story hour and virtual Lego Club. What exactly does virtual Lego look like?
"I get to see people sailing their ships through the air the majority of the time," Lawrence said with a laugh. "We talk about all of the amazing vehicles they're building today."
When Lamson, the retired librarian, asked whether Lawrence needed help organizing the book club or running the Zoom, Lawrence said Lego Club had prepared her well. She knows her way around a mute button.