By Pamela Thompson, Library Media Specialist, Col. John O. Ensor Middle School, El Paso, VOYA reviewer, School Library Journal reviewer, TX and YA blogger at Young Adult Books - What We’re Reading Now
You’ve heard about it. You’ve thought about it. Your administrator has asked you about it. Why don’t you start a library book club? Everyone knows that reading is important; there is no doubt about that fact. Book clubs offer a safe place for children to read, learn, grow, belong, and communicate.
Starting a book club is not that hard. In fact, it’s easy and achievable. The rewards are amazing. Your readers will become your best patrons and aides. With just a few simple steps, you can have that awesome, fluid, energetic, and inviting book club.
Book clubs do require some prior planning. To attract your audience, you will need to get the word out. Make flyers, posters and ads. Post them in hallways, bathrooms, and the cafeteria. Place a notice on your school and library webpage. Place signs throughout the library. Finally, have a designated Book Club table near the circulation desk. A long rectangular table works best. Make a sign: “These books are members of the Book Club. Why aren’t you?” Display the titles the club will read all year. Kids will see the displays and begin asking about the books. Go ahead and check them out. Make sure you have enough copies for your club. I bought class sets each year of titles we used. I also used book fair profit to buy class sets from the book fair. Get creative.
I have found that I had some readers who read the book in a couple of days and were dying for more. I asked them to check out other books that interest them until our next meeting, but to keep the Book Club book in their mind so that when we meet again, they would be able to discuss it or recommend it.
This question comes up every time I talk about book clubs: Do I let kids choose the books or do I choose the books? You can do either, but I have had more success in choosing ten titles for each grade level at the beginning of the year. I give a short book talk on each title for that grade level. The book club members vote to choose what book to read first. The title that receives the most votes is the first book that the members will read, The runner up is the second book we read. I try to choose titles that will appeal to both boys and girls and have a mix of genres. Try to select adventure, mystery, paranormal, dystopian, and realistic fiction. Possibly add one nonfiction high-interest title and a great graphic novel.
Club members should feel a sense of belonging. They should decide on the name of their book club. I allow students to vote on each name suggested. Students may want to get book club shirts that show their pride in belonging. That would be amazing!
I allow book club members to check out two additional books. Members also check out for summer. With a signed permission slip, students may check out five books over the break. I have done this for two years and never lost a book yet.
At the first meeting you may want to have an icebreaker or two. Some students may be just starting middle school (or high school). Some may just be shy. If you can get them talking about other things in small groups, they will open up.
One game that works every time is what I call the Character Game. Tell the students to think about book characters. Who would they be given the chance? I have areas for the characters: Katniss Everdeen, the Wimpy Kid, Hermione, or Ron Weasley. You can choose characters that are popular with your readers. Then tell them to go to that area. Each person there has to share one admirable trait about the character that they chose.
After the ice breaker, introduce your first book. Give the students a little background and two weeks to complete it. Chances are most will finish early and want additional help from you in choosing another book to read. After two weeks, we have a conversation about the book. I print out questions and give one question to each student. That person reads the question and chooses one or two others to answer it. You can find additional ideas for games on the Internet.
Going forward with your club, search for ideas on publishers’ websites and teacher sites for each book. I have a folder that has all the questions and discussion guides for the year. For fun, ask several students to perform a Readers Theater. This takes a bit of time to set up, but the results are worth it. Videotape it! Share it on your web site or on social media (with parents’ signed permission).
Students can make book trailers and book talks for announcements during the school day. Also, readers can make shelf talkers for book club books. Your book club books should be visible in the library, in readers’ hands and on the web page. So go ahead: begin a book club at your school!