About two dozen Destin Middle School students eagerly arrive an hour early for school one day a month. These students are all part of Leah McGill’s fifth-grade reading and social club Books and Bagels. 

On the last Thursday of every month, McGill’s language art and social studies classroom takes on a special atmosphere. This Thursday McGill had classical music playing softly from the speakers in the corner, a table — complete with tablecloth and flowers — was spread with bagels, fruit and orange juice. 

“I asked Mr. Meyer (Principal Grant Meyer) if I could start Books and Bagels just for my 45 students,” McGill said of launching the book club this school year. “I opened it up and we generally have 24 to 25 students come to the breakfast, which is the exact amount of books that I have for the classroom sets.” 

McGill explained that she first started the book club with two other teachers in 2010 to encourage reading outside of the classroom, but after a few years, interest faded so the idea got shelved. This year, however, she decided to re-launch Books and Bagels for her fifth-grade students, and she said the response has been overwhelming.

“I have them sign up and commit to reading the book. We do reading logs to see how they’re progressing with the book and then we pick a date at the end of the month to have this breakfast,” she said. “The parents have been so supportive they send in the food and the juice.”

So far this year Books and Bagels students have read eight books and are set to read two more before the end of the school year. McGill said that she has carefully chosen each book to insure a mix of different topics and genres for her students.

As for the students, although the breakfast food is a perk, the youngsters seemed to genuinely enjoy the thoughtful discussion.

When asked what he liked most about Books and Bagels, 10-year-old Alex Shepherd said it was a tie.

“The food and learning about the book and seeing what other people like about the book,” he said. As for his favorite book thus far, Shepherd chose “Black Stallion.”

“I just like survival books,” he said. 

Another student, Gia Hall said that she likes the engaging discussions held at Books and Bagels.

“I like to hear other people’s thoughts on the book,” she said. “I’ve gotten into a lot of good authors that Ms. McGill picked out; she knows all the good books.”