Fathers, sons and sports: it’s a typical scene on any weekend of the year, in any city. When Woodbury resident Jeffrey Tousignant was at a weekend baseball tournament in St. Paul with his son, Ben, he didn’t realize the tournament would link him with a far more rare phenomenon—a father-son book club.
The club was first brought together when a group of parents with sons on the same baseball team realized that they lived in the same Evergreen neighborhood in Woodbury, inspiring a post-tournament get-together. Talking about the boys’ schools brought up the topic of reading, and Tousignant, who is a middle school math teacher at Red Rock Elementary School, was struck with the idea to bring the fathers and sons together for a monthly book club.
Starting in the summer of 2014, Ben Tousignant, Connor Murphy, Vincent Hunt, George Bjellos and their fathers began meeting once a month to talk about a designated book, share some snacks and play some games together. Tousignant describes the first meeting as having a definite learning curve for the boys. “They were all a little louder that first meeting trying to establish themselves as little wise guys,” he laughs. “We had to set some rules and make sure that they knew that while it’s for fun, it’s also to be taken seriously.”
Luckily, the learning curve wasn’t long, and the boys were eventually just as interested in the time allotted to discussing reading, as they were the time allotted for play. Asking the boys, now 9 years old and fourth graders, what their favorite part of the club is reveals this changing attitude toward the idea of a book club. “I like playing with my friends,” Connor Murphy says, “and I also like learning about new books I really like.” Mike Bjellos also noticed a change in his son George’s outlook toward reading, saying that he used to think of it as a task related to schoolwork, and now he’s jumping in to the new reads. Ben Tousignant is so passionate that he’s even willing to go up against the stereotypes by saying, “Book club may sound boring. But it is so fun.”
As the boys’ attitudes toward reading changed, so did their reading skills. “I was pleasantly surprised by how much Vincent had retained when reading…I know he said he was enjoying it but when Jeff asked specific questions, it was very clear he was retaining what he was reading,” Marco Hunt says. Even the book choices, which are decided upon by the boys, have been brought to another level. The group started off with the Magic Treehouse series, whose books are a little over a hundred pages each, and the latest book they are reading is a biography of basketball star Michael Jordan, which has a higher page count. “It’s so cool to see the boys wanting to take on more,” Jeffrey says.
When the boys aren’t flipping pages together, they’re now roaming the neighborhood together. “They’re so close now. Even though they go to different schools, they rule the neighborhood together,” Jeffrey says. He also comments on the social benefit for the parents, “It’s been really nice for us as families too, having the chance to get to know one another better.”
So while father-son time may mean grass stains or cheering on teammates, for the boys in this Woodbury book club, it means gathering together to turn pages and talk plot. When it comes to the peer aspect, it turns out that book clubs and baseball aren’t all that different; George Bjello’s reply to the “favorite part of the club” question says it all: “Getting together with my friends.”
Read a Book
Want a good read from the book club? Vincent Hunt’s pick is Shoeless Joe & Me by Dan Gutman.