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
Books into Movies
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.