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Hooked on Books 'n Beans
by Erika Mantz

Book Eaters is an apt name for associate professor of education Ruth Wharton-McDonald's book group. Not only do students devour a new title every month, but a supply of good snacks is vital to their discussion.

About a dozen students from Oyster River Middle School and UNH attend the after-school gatherings one Wednesday of every month at Durham's public library. There's only one agenda: to talk about books and have fun. In December it was The Monsters of Morely Manor by Bruce Coville.

The group's structure is very flexible. It's fine to come without finishing the book and you don't have to commit to coming every month. There are no tests or evaluations. The only constant is enthusiasm for books, and a giant jar of jellybeans.

Often the books the middle schoolers choose are new to Wharton-McDonald and her UNH students, which she says makes them more participants than leaders. The UNH students who volunteer for the group are studying to become teachers after they graduate and have taken Wharton-McDonald's literacy course.

"This is a great way to learn what students are reading and what interests them, because most of these titles weren't around when I was in middle school," says Ellen Donohue, a senior from Manchester, N.H. "I mostly listen because the kids are so excited and have so much to say," she adds.

Wharton-McDonald says the group is "a great learning opportunity for all of us, and a fun way to strengthen ties between UNH and the town." Her goal is not reading skills per se but about helping kids become lifelong readers for pleasure. "I want the kids to see reading can be a social activity," she says.

She just makes sure not to forget the jellybeans.

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