Book clubs are a familiar sight for adults. They are gatherings, maybe of friends or colleagues, with frank discussions about a book and its meaning. But we shouldn’t limit that wonderful sense of belonging to just adults. What about a book group for tweens? I wasn’t sure if such a group existed until I did some research (admittedly very informal and not very scientific) but I found one here in my library district. There is a very active children’s group that meets every month, averaging 12–15 participants ranging from 9 to 12 years old. And the whole thing started in 2009!
Just as with adult book-group discussions,
things don’t always go smoothly,
so the librarians have a back-up plan.
At one of the St. Charles regional branches, the children’s librarians actively set out to engage this age group. Not just to talk books, but to create a place where young readers’ opinions were safe and accepted. The group includes girls and boys, though girls are the majority. As in adult discussions, attendance varies depending upon the book being discussed. The group mainly chooses Caldecott or Newberry award-winning titles but does occasionally venture into the Mark Twain awards and new releases. (The Mark Twain awards are books nominated by kids in grades 4–6 here in Missouri.) It was fun to watch this group grow in number—its members often invite their friends to join—and grow in knowledge as well, their discussions having blossomed from squeals about the latest phone app to what they had read that month. An added benefit of starting so young for this branch is continuity—at St. Charles, the tween group feeds into the teen group led by the YA librarian.
Interestingly, the discussion questions follow the same lines as in adult groups. What do you think about the book? What made you excited or angry? Was it believable? Sometimes, the discussion will start with the leader asking everyone the same question just to see what people are thinking. But there other notable differences. For example, the kids give each book a letter grade. Also, librarians often bring in supplemental material for discussions of nonfiction titles, and pictures or short videos are used to bring people and events to life. In the summer months or during school breaks, movies will be shown during the afternoon. Members gather with soda and popcorn to watch a film about the book and have a short discussion afterward.
But just as with adult book-group discussions, things don’t always go smoothly, so the librarians have a back-up plan—usually a crafting activity prepared in advance. Sometimes when fingers are moving the brain gets clicking, and then people start talking. Some of the group’s recent favorites include Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet (1999) and R. J. Palacio’s Wonder (2012). One of the least-liked books was Will Hobbs’ Wild Man Island (2003). It is always interesting to see what will be a hit or a miss.
When I told them I was planning on writing about their group, the librarians asked me to see if anyone else was doing a tween group and what their experiences were like. So let us know! Are there other children’s reading groups out there? What makes your students excited to jump in? Respond to this post and I will pass along your comments.