Rethinking Book Clubs for the School Age

Book Club After years of tweaking, I have perfected the Book Club for Kids. When I began my career as a children’s librarian, I was under the impression that any child that walked through the door of the library was an avid reader. They had no time to do any other hobbies except have their noses in a gigantic pile of books that they checked out from the children’s room. I was very shocked when I lead my first book club for the school age and realized that not a single child actually finished reading the entire book that was assigned for this awesome Book Club Meeting. Of course when I took a step back I examined my own Book Club habits, I found the following:

  • Did I actually finish the book that was voted on at my last book club meeting? No.
  • Did I care if every person in my book club read the book? No.
  • What did I look forward to the most at my book club meeting? Seeing my friends and finding out what other books they’ve read that I may like, get the latest movie reviews in theaters and DVD, get a recipe or two for new appetizers.

So, why was I so surprised that children were looking for similar things from their book club? Good question! Since working with children over the past ten years and learning to relax and go with the flow, I’ve tweaked my book clubs and you can do the same! My Book Club is no longer a single meeting, it’s held over eight consecutive weeks for one book title. (This may even work well for adult book clubs!) Children are asked to read about three chapters each week (and I usually have time to read one aloud), which makes it much more manageable for everyone. Of course, some children read ahead and that’s totally OK as long as they don’t allow any spoilers! A typical 45-minute meeting is broken down like this:

  • 15 minutes of share time: We go in a circle and talk about one thing that we feel is important (could be something we did, read, or watched, or it could be something we are planning to do this coming week).
  • 15 minutes of book time: We talk about the book: discuss plot, characters, make predictions, talk about other authors we may like. Sometimes I’ll do a which character from the book are you quiz, or a Mad-Lib, or a game.
  • 15 minutes: I read aloud. I almost always fit in a whole chapter. I only stop and clarify something if a child asks. I try not to break in and discuss foreshadowing, predictions, vocab words, etc. unless a child asks me. I just try to make reading fun.

I also always have the children vote (by paper ballot to avoid peer pressure) on the book title and/or genre. When I run this club during the summer reading program, I always choose a book from their summer reading list so they can get their school requirement finished by coming to the library. Book Club with Jupiter Pirates Books that work for the middle grade reader:

  • Deep and Dark and Dangerous by Mary Downing Hahn
  • Closed for the Season by Mary Downing Hahn
  • The Ghost’s Grave by Peg Kehret
  • The Puzzling World of Winston Breen by Eric Berlin
  • Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein
  • Walls Within Walls by Maureen Sherry
  • Spy School by Stuart Gibbs
  • Theodosia and the Serpent of Chaos by R.L. LaFevers
  • The Gollywhopper Games by Jody Feldman
  • Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone
  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
  • Capture the Flag by Kate Messner
  • Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
  • The Harlem Charade by Natasha Tarpley
  • The Winter People by Joseph Bruchac
  • The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich
  • Into the Lion’s Den by Linda Fairstein

Books that work for the tween/early teen reader:

  • Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
  • The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson
  • The Maze Runner by James Dashner
  • Divergent by Veronica Roth
  • The Raft by S.A. Bodeen
  • The Metropolitans by Carol Goodman
  • Woods Runner by Gary Paulsen
  • Vincent and Theo by Deborah Heiligman

What tricks of the trade do you have that I can borrow?

14 thoughts on “Rethinking Book Clubs for the School Age

    1. The kids love mysteries. Anything by Peg Kehret and Mary Downing Hahn have been well attended. Also, books with puzzles because lends itself to some fun activities: Winston Breen series by Eric Berlin, Gollywhopper Games, Candymakers. I’m thinking about doing Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library next! Maybe I’ll update this post with some titles. Thanks! =)

  1. What a great article! You make it sound so easy! Can I ask how the kids get the book? Are they responsible for finding and checking out a copy on their own, or do you provide them one once they sign up for the club? And do you have a limited number of slots for each session?

    TIA for your help.


    1. Thanks, Susan!
      I’ve done this a couple of different ways:

      Order a stack of books from the consortium and check out to each child for an extended period of time.
      This is a lot of work on everyone’s part. I had to track down books for months and order replacement copies for other libraries.
      Most recently I have asked for additional funding to order one paperback for each child who participates, and I would highly recommend this!
      I do this program a couple of times a year and ask for funding from Friends/local women’s club/local veteran’s club/local education foundation to fund one program. They are happy to do it! I work with my local bookseller who gives us a 20% discount on books, so I usually pay $4.79 per child for an 8-week program.
      I don’t put a cap on programs and it works out just fine. Some kids end up not liking the book, but they still want to come and be with their friends and listen, and get recommendations on other things they may like.

      Let me know if you need anything else!

  2. How do you handle kids missing one or more sessions? I assume there’s flexibility but how do you promote consistency? Also, how do you select your read-alouds–is it the next chapter after the day’s assignment, or something they ‘should’ have already read?

    1. I don’t really have a problem with consistency. Sometimes kids miss a session due to illness, but I hand out bookmarks with the schedule of chapters to read each week. I usually read one aloud and have them read two at home. Some kids read ahead and I tell them that it’s fine as long as they keep their lips sealed! I’ll see if I can find a bookmark and post it. As long as you pick a great book they want to come back for more.

  3. I’ve had some success with contacting the author and requesting donation(s) to share w/ the group: skype session, autographed books, bookmarks or posters.Unfortunately, I’ve learned that the more popular authors are least likely to respond. The kids arrive each month and are excited to discover what the “extra” is!

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