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    Programs Teen Programs Uncategorized

    Jump Start Your Book Club: A Change Will Do You Good

    Welcome to a new occasional feature: Jump Start Your Book Club. Over the next couple months I’ll be sharing ideas for making book club an engaging and meaningful experience for youth.

    This month I want to talk about ways to have a book club outside of the two most common formats:

    1. One book is selected per month. Patrons read the book on their own time and then show up to a discussion where they answer questions about the book.  Read, Rinse, Repeat.

    2. Patrons come to book club and talk about whatever they are reading. The librarian shows off some new titles and takes suggestions.

    There is nothing wrong with either of these formats. I’ve been successful with both of them at different times and in the future I’ll be sharing some ideas for making them even better. But what if they aren’t working for you and your patrons? What if you just need a change?

    Here are five ideas to spice things up:

    Book Club without the Book

    You can accomplish many of the same goals with a “bookless” book club. Instead of reading a book, simply read something else. Copy several poems, a short story, or a news article of specific interest to teens and pass them out. Teens can read them on the spot and then discuss them. They are still reading, analyzing, expressing themselves, and building social skills with no specific preparation required. Talk about lowering the barriers to participation. This can also be a great way to introduce readers to poetry or short story collections they would otherwise overlook.

    Limited Run Book Club

    I’ve often invited patrons to book club only to have them say “I’m not a member”.  Easily cleared up of course, but how many kids just assume they aren’t “in the club” or simply are not outgoing enough to join a group of people that has already been meeting for some time? A limited run book club might solve this problem.  Not only that, but a wise librarian can schedule it when they know there aren’t other huge events going on in their community.

    Another layer to this format is to pick a theme or author for the three meetings and discuss the books within the larger context as well as individually. This is a great time to mix in some non-fiction titles as well.

    A few ideas:

    Girls and Guys
    The Environment
    Books into Movies
    Zombie Zone
    Jane Austen
    John Green

    Quarterly Book Club

    Teens in some communities are over scheduled. Reading a specific book outside of school might be hard to fit into their lives. What if they had three months to do it?  What if book club was something fun that happened on school breaks instead of feeling like another lesson or obligation. Would that work in you library?

    The longer time frame could also support picking longer books that might be tough to finish in a month  otherwise (The Diviners, for example or a Harry Potter title for younger readers). It could also open the door to more complex titles for high school students like something from the Outstanding Books for the College Bound List. You might attract a completely different group of readers.

    As a bonus this also reduces the number of copies the library needs to keep on the shelves since patrons have multiple checkout periods to read the book.

    Genre Book Club

    In my first professional job I was lucky that the local middle school had a wonderful media specialist. She hosted a very well attended monthly book club for her students based around genre. Every month they would pick a different genre and the students could read any book they liked that fit the genre. Suggestions were provided but there were no real restrictions.  Sometimes it was interesting to hear middle schoolers try to explain why their book “counted” as a particular genre.

    I think this works particularly well with third to eighth graders as they are more willing to keep an open mind when picking books that aren’t their usual cup of tea.  While I didn’t originally mean all those ages together it does strike me that this would be a great solution for a multi-age group as each level could pick appropriate books while the elements of the genre remain the same for discussion.

    Guest Speaker Book Club

    While this is easily the most work to arrange it could also have a great pay off.  Invite a guest speaker from your community to participate in book club. Work with them to pick a book relevant to their expertise and let them share a unique perspective with the kids.

    A local detective could bring a mystery to life, or a math teacher could help dive in to An Abundance of Katherines. There are lots of titles that would work with veterans, or pair a book like Breathing Underwater or Dreamland with a visit from a dating violence prevention speaker.  For younger readers a visit from a veterinarian  or even the school principal might add another layer to a chosen title.


    Programs Tech

    How “Beyond MySpace” Evolved to Passive Tech Programming

    Once upon a time I had the responsibility of planning an all day event called the Teen Summit. Around five years later I can almost think about it without my blood pressure going up. We had a large variety of speakers and at the particular facility we were using we also had a computer lab.

    We wanted to use the computer lab for a session and after consulting with what was then known as my library’s Computer Learning Connection we developed a session called “Beyond MySpace”.  The idea was to show teens some useful sites that they might use during their library computer time which at that point was nearly all MySpace all the time.

    Yes, they were still on MySpace – the digital divide is alive and well in Cleveland and over and over I’ve observed our teens behind the trends in website usage because of it. It was a very successful session, and by collaborating with CLC I also met one of my closest friends.

    Fast forward to Teen Tech Week 2012, where it’s now all Facebook all the time. I decided to simplify the workshop concept and run a small contest in the department to introduce teens to some other websites that they might enjoy or find useful. I made a sign for each computer station with very simple directions:

    1. Take a look at our list of great websites.

    2. Visit the sites and fill out a review for as many as you’d like.

    3. Each review enters you for a chance to win.

    4. One lucky winner will receive a $10 McDonalds Gift card and a prize bag.

    5. Two other winners will receive a prize bag.

    Enter your reviews here:

    The link goes to a Google Form which is still there if you want to take a look.

    Keeping in mind some these were much more exciting in March 2012 here are some of the websites I suggested with the description from my sign:


    • Search for a source like a book, article, or website; or enter the information yourself.
    • Add it to your bibliography.
    • Download your bibliography in the MLA, APA, Chicago, or Turabian format.


    • Take notes on the computer or on your phone.
    • Take and save pictures with a camera phone.
    • Clip web pages and save them as notes.
    • Sync notes to all your devices.
    • Notes are taggable and searchable.

    Spark Notes

    • Get study guides on a long list of literature.
    • Find study guides on everything from biology to math.
    • Prepare for the SATs, ACTs, or AP tests.


    • Upload your original writing and work on it from any computer.
    • Share your writing with a group or with the world.
    • Get feedback on your writing.
    • Discuss writing related subjects in the forums.


    • Listen to streaming music for free.
    • Tell Pandora what kind of music you like and it will play similar songs.
    • Create your own custom stations.
    • Find new songs and artists.


    • Search for pictures of things that interest you.
    • Repin the pictures to your own personal inspiration boards.
    • Pin pictures of things you want to remember from other websites.
    • Share your pins on Twitter or Facebook.


    • Browse and create fashion trends.
    • Search or browse for pieces.
    • Create and share your own looks and fashion spreads.

    Stumble Upon

    • Tell Stumble Upon what you are interested in.
    • Let it guide you to websites on your topic from other members.


    • Create an animated movie by choosing sets, characters, and more.
    • Create dialogue by typing and watch characters speak your words.
    • Save and publish your movie online.


    • Select squares on the matrix to create original music.
    • Share and embed your creations.
    • Listen to other people’s music.



    Programs Writing Wednesdays

    Writing Program Wednesday: Haiku Open Mic

    Poetry can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be.

    One of my favorite programs was a haiku only open mic.  I briefly went over what a haiku is and shared some examples.

    This is a great place to promote books from your collection, especially if you have some teen friendly ones like Zombie Haiku and Vampire Haiku by Ryan Mecum. My teens also liked some of the younger haiku titles like Prelutsky’s If Not for the Cat.   These simple examples worked well since I was trying to “sell” haiku as poetry that anyone can write.

    vamp zombie cat


    I gave the teens time to write and then we opened up the floor for anyone who wanted to share. I didn’t do an actual slam, though you could.  I did offer prizes for the overall best, the best nature haiku, and the funniest.

    It’s nice to see personality and attitude come out in a constructive way. It turns out “Get over yourself”, “I’m done with your games”, and “I hope he texts me” all fit nicely into the syllable pattern.

    Programs Teen Programs

    Sneaky Literacy: The Great Debate


    Teens love to argue. Just suggest they might have broken a rule and watch them go. Why not harness that for good and get them thinking at the same time by hosting a great debate? Pick a  book related controversy and challenge them to find evidence in the text to support their opinion. You can even invite a coach or student from a local debate club to give a mini-lesson on building arguments and using evidence before you let them loose.

    What kind of things can they argue about?

    • Team Gale vs. Team Peeta vs. Team Katniss
    • Should Draco Malfoy be in Azkaban?
    • Sirius Black: Doting Godfather or Insane Hypocrite?
    • Superman vs. Batman vs. Spiderman
    • What is John Green’s (or any author with multiple popular books) best work?
    • Are there girl books and boy books?
    • Can you judge a book by it’s cover?


    Programs Writing Wednesdays

    Writing Wednesday: Rory’s Story Cubes (Analog and Digital!)



    I love fun tools that help us spread literacy! Here is a relatively fun and easy program for any age that can write independently, although I don’t recommend mixing age groups too widely. Rory’s Story Cubes are cubes with pictures on each side that represent things that can be included in a story. You roll the dice and write a story including all or some of the pictures that come up.




    Rory’s Story Cubes come in several sets. The original is pictured above, but there is also a “Voyages” and “Actions”  set that has more options. The Story Cube Blog also mentions that fantasy, pre-historic, and mystery themed “mix-ins” are on the way and this is super exciting. I own the originals but if I was going to buy them today I would buy the Max set as the cubes are much bigger and would be easier for group use.

    All you need to do to start is roll the cubes and have the kids write stories using the symbols on the dice. They can do this individually or as a group. The symbols are somewhat open to interpretation which makes the whole thing more fun.

    You can also use cubes for a verbal storytelling game. Let one participant start the story and tell a cube or two’s worth then move around the circle continuing the story using the remaining cubes and storytellers. You could also put the cubes in a bag and have each child or teen pick a cube at random and use whichever side they like as the basis for a story.

    The Story Cubes website has some videos and instructions on ways the cubes can be used, but for some more ideas check out this GeekDad column at Wired, some classroom inspired ideas, and even more ideas from another teacher. Once patrons become familiar with how to play you could even make them available for group or individual use outside of programs.

    But that’s not all!  Rory’s Story Cubes is also available as an iOS App!  So, if you have a group set of iPads or even one iPad to use with a projector you can use the app in much the same way as the cubes. The app is only 1.99 and additional sets of cubes are available as in app purchases for 1.99 as well. Shake the iPad or press the icon at the bottom of the screen to shake the cubes and then write away! You can take a picture of your roll if you get a particularly interesting one.




    So, whether you’re digital or old-school let the storytelling games begin! I’ll be talking about storytelling card games in a future post.