From the Desk of Deb: September 2017
by Deborah B. Ford

Four Ways to Build a Better Book Club

Perhaps you already have a book club for kids or teens in your library. Maybe kids read different books. Maybe your teens read the same book. Could it be better? Probably? But how? What are some best practices for building a better book club? Let’s start by assuming you already have a club and look at four ways to build a better book club.

  1. Teens, especially, want ownership of the activities in which they participate. How much ownership are you allowing in your book club? Do the kids vote on titles to read and discuss? Selections chosen by your members are more likely to be actually read. Younger kids probably need more guidance, but as you’ll hear in our September 7 webcast, Losers, Legos, and Little Bugs: Book Clubs with Renee Newry, sometimes kids can run the book club on their own.
  • Do booktalks or show book trailers about potential titles.
  • Ask your members to vote and/or nominate books.
  • Shake it up and let kids read their own books and take turns selling them to their friends.
  • Use one of the kids to be the moderator.
  • Get them started but let your members do most of the talking. Let their thoughts and ideas drive the discussion.
  1. Does your group have enough members to make conversation comfortable? Do you have regulars, but rarely new kids? Who does most of the talking? Is it a parent-child group? Shifting your group to a time when parents may attend provides another opportunity for advocacy, as well as a chance for families to work on literacy as a team. As a group, discuss what would make your club better.
  • Talk to them about recruiting members. A small group sometimes makes discussion uncomfortable.
  • If your group is large, be sure to allow for smaller groups to break out for discussion so everyone has a chance to speak.
  • If you have parents, be sure the parents don’t dominate the discussion. Set your guidelines early in the season. Everyone’s opinion matters. All voices are safe here.
  • When do you meet? Before and after school often work, but meeting with parents often works in the evening. If attendance is low, conduct a survey before you regroup. It may be that there are too many conflicting events. It could also be that you’re targeting the wrong audience.
  • I know a high school group that meets at lunch, but a local sports hero conducts it. He brings lunch in for the kids. Though it’s an invitation-only group, it works!
  • Maybe you can’t get your teachers to change up their class book selections. Start a group with your teachers. Introduce new authors and illustrators in an informal setting. Perhaps you could meet outside school at a local restaurant or even someone’s home.
  1. What do you do besides discuss the books? If it feels like a class, your attendance could drop once you settle into habits. Think about ways you can jazz up the meeting. Contact local businesses about donations to fund your agenda. Invite owners to talk about related topics. Everyday advocacy begins with community support.
  • Plan a related activity. For example, if you’re going to read As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds, ask a parent or community volunteer to set up a blind putting course in your library. Team up your members, blindfolding one in each pair. The seeing partner must coach the blindfolded partner through the course.
  • Advertising there is food can also be a way to increase participation. Pair your food with books. If you’re reading Stef Soto, Taco Queen by Jennifer Torres,  bring in Mexican food. Depending on your population, you may get audience participation for food, which will save you money. If your group is large, maybe an ethnic food truck would be willing to stop by for an hour. It’s a perfect time to highlight foods from cultures around your community.
  • Show related media. Years ago, we used The Invention of Hugo Cabret in a middle school book club. We showed Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon. They talked about it for weeks.
  1. Location, location, location. Where do you meet? Is it comfortable? Does it feel like just another class? Are there distractions from other activities in the library?
  • Here’s a chance to get new furniture for your library. Perhaps you can apply for a org grant. Make a list of what you need and put it in the school or library newsletter. Check out Facebook Marketplace or Craig’s List for inexpensive furnishings that make your club spot more like a gathering.
  • Can you move the location in your library to a different spot? While it may take effort to rearrange the room, it could be just the incentive you need to reconfigure your space to make it more versatile. Locking casters on bookshelves allow flexibility. Grouping smaller tables lends to group conversation, while long tables sometimes lead to splintering of the group.

A kids or teen book club can be so powerful. If you can create a group that allows everyone to feel comfortable sharing thoughts and ideas, you’re setting up an environment that validates your readers. Establishing a group that learns about characters outside (or inside) their culture can open doors for inclusion. It can teach empathy and kindness. You can help build literacy opportunities for families.

Danny found his comfort zone in a middle school book club. In the midst of parents and teens, he discovered books that he liked. Books he wanted to talk about. His mom said he couldn’t wait for our once-a-month meetings. His first book was The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden. He tried the experiments. He told his parents facts at dinner. He made a list for me of his favorite parts. He found something in a program in the library that changed his life. He became a reader. You can do that your readers too.

What makes your book club work? Share your ideas with #bookclubs on your favorite social media. Tag us @JrLibraryGuild. I’ll curate the best ideas and share them in a future blog post. And be sure to post pictures!

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