December 27, 2008 in Washington Voices

Bowdish book group a hit

Sixth-graders, parents, adults discuss ‘The Breadwinner’ during class
By The Spokesman-Review
Photos by JESSE TINSLEY photo

The Spokesman-Review Gabe George, Jake Borgford, parent Mary Schwedland, Alek Reiber, Greg Westover and Hayden Bash discuss the book “The Breadwinner” in the library at Bowdish Middle School Dec. 12. Teacher Joshua Evans had his whole class read the book, about a young Afghan girl in the era of the Taliban. He then broke the students into groups, accompanied by a parent, to discuss the book.
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Not many kids are happy to see their parents show up at their middle school to volunteer, but the students in Josh Evans’ language arts classes at Bowdish Middle School seem excited to greet their parents every Friday for parent-led small group discussions on the novel “The Breadwinner.”

Evans started the groups at the beginning of December and they will continue into January. On a recent Friday one sixth-grader greeted his mother as she arrived to head up his group. “Mom, turn off your cellular device,” he reminded her.

“I had to find a fun way to get the parents connected,” said Evans. “They bring another approach.” An added bonus is that the parents get a chance to meet and interact with their child’s friends.

The parents can also help the students understand the issues brought up in the book by author Deborah Ellis. The story is about a family in Taliban-led Afghanistan that has to learn to get by after the father of the family is arrested. Women are forbidden to go out without a male escort and without a man in the family the youngest daughter dresses up as a boy so she can get to the market and provide for her family.

Evans said he picked the book to expose his students to places and issues outside of the Spokane area. “There’s some heavy topics,” he said. He brought up the idea during parent/teacher conferences and found willing volunteers. He also visited the Spokane Valley Kiwanis club and found several retired teachers and principals also willing to lend a hand.

Each week parents and the Kiwanis volunteers get a lesson plan from Evans. They lead their group in a discussion of what they’ve read and take turns reading parts of the book aloud. The adults seem to enjoy it as much as the students. On a recent Friday, one mother came even though her son was home sick. A father came to fill in for his out-of-town wife who usually led a group.

Uhura Wright came dressed in a head scarf and outfit purchased in Saudi Arabia to help her group understand the clothing restrictions for women. She pulled the bright pink head scarf over her face to obscure everything but her eyes. “The women there would dress in this manner,” she said.

Wright encouraged her group to ask questions, then suggested they create trivia questions as they read to prepare for their next discussion.

Student Victoria Hudgeons likes being able to discuss the book in small groups. “It’s so interesting,” she said. “You get really attached to the characters. It’s really fun to get into groups.”

The book also provided a look at how women are forced to live in some cultures. “I can’t even describe how I’d feel if I had to (live there),” Hudgeons said.

After class, Wright said the small group discussions can help make the students think reading can be interesting rather than a chore. “It encourages them, the reasons reading is important,” she said.

Her son, William, who is in her group, is getting the message. “It makes it more entertaining,” he said. “I actually like it.”

Nina Culver can be reached at 927-2158 or via e-mail at

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