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Secret Society of Readers

Third grader Jesse Jessen and second grader Josie Houghtaling get comfortable while reading during a meeting of Morningside Elementary School's Secret Society of Readers. Twice a month, an invited group of kids are allowed to indulge their love for reading inside the school's closed library.

SIOUX CITY -- Jesse Jessen was getting comfy underneath a Pokemon blanket while skimming a book about snowboarding.

Is this the way the Morningside Elementary School third-grader normally acts inside his school's library?

It is whenever he and fellow Secret Society of Readers members convene for one of their meetings.

Principal Dawn Stansbury started the by-invitation-only club earlier this school year as a way to reward avid readers.

"I wanted my 2-5 grade teachers to select the students whom they felt were the most passionate about books," she said.

Creating a Secret Society of Readers would encourage recreational readers to read more while prompting others to up their game, Stansbury said.

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Secret Society of Readers

Morningside Elementary School fourth grader Alexis Peterson finds a quiet place inside her school's library to read Mary Downing Hahn's ghost story "All the Lovely Bad Ones." Alexis was one of the 36 students chosen by teachers to become members of Morningside's Secret Society of Readers.

"Plus a secret society sounds super-mysterious," she added. "Who doesn't love a mystery?"

When the program began, students were given passes for a free period in the library toward the end of the school day. They were also given a special goody bag that included bookmarks and flashlights.

Secret Society members were encouraged to bring in their favorite books, blankets or stuffed animals. In other words, anything that would make them more comfortable.

"We started with two students from each class," Stansbury said. "Originally, the club would convene for a half-hour, once a month on a Friday."

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Secret Society of Readers

Morningside Elementary School second grader Lydia Andersen and third grader Brenaa Ocker hunker down with their favorite books. As members of their school's Secret Society of Readers, the girls are encouraged to bring blankets, stuffed animals and flashlights for a half-hour of recreation reading. 

Due to its popularity, there are now 36 student members of the Secret Society of Readers. Also, they now meet twice a month.

Second-grader Josie Houghtaling said she enjoys reading a book called "The Land of Stories" to her stuffed unicorn. 

"I like this book because it involves twins, a boy and a girl, who always have fairy-tale adventures," she said.

While "The Land of Stories" -- written by former "Glee" actor Chris Colfer -- is a fairly new book, second-grader Lydia Andersen prefers an R.L. Stine classic.

Set inside the dormitory of a boarding school with an unfortunate name, "Rotten School" is told from the perspective of fourth-grader Bernie Bridges and his pals Feenman, Crench, Belzer, Beast, Chipmunk, Nosebleed and Billy the Brain.

"I've read some of the other books in the series," Lydia said. "It's really good."

Third-grader Brenaa Ocker seemed quite content reading from "Smile," an autobiographical graphic novel by Raina Telgemeier.

Plus Brenaa is also happy to be illuminating the illustration-heavy book with the no-hands flashlight she wears as a headband. After all, the lights are turned off during the course of the Secret Society of Readers meeting.

"The flashlight helps me see what I'm reading," she said. "It comes in handy."

Stansbury is pleased that students have embraced the school's new group.

"It's no secret that children who begin as recreational readers at a young age will remain avid readers as they grown up," she said. "We are merely stoking that interest."

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Food and Lifestyles reporter

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