Notes taken by Evelyn Cunningham, Children’s Librarian, Norwalk Public Library
The New Canaan Library has an extremely successful book club program with three books clubs: Book Explorers for grades 2-3, Young Critics for grades 4-6, and Pizza and Pages for grades 6-7. Some 6th graders end up going to both groups for which they’re eligible. The library has extra copies of the selected books, which must be available in paperback. The Young Critics group meets on Tuesdays at 6:30 pm and pizza, chips, and soda are provided, plus a special dessert relating to the book (e.g. Scrabble tile cookies for The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman). The sessions are one hour long and attendance keeps growing. Usually 18-22 children attend each session and the kids rate the books on a 1-10 scale. A scribe tallies and averages the scores. The most popular book so far was The One and Only Ivan, with an average rating of 9.9; the least popular was Homecoming, with a rating of 6. The kids sometimes write reviews which are sent in to publishers. New Canaan does a classic every year. Past choices have included the popular The Westing Game and the not-so-popular Homecoming. The book clubs meet once a month, although not in December or August.
Websites are helpful for coming up with questions as well as games and activities; you can just Google the title. Homeschooling sites can be particularly good.
The book club should be fun–it shouldn’t feel like a teacher is making the kids analyze the plot. Trivia quizzes, a game show format, book appropriate games (like Scrabble for Duncan Dorfman) are all good choices, as is showing the book trailer and maybe even filming one.
Sometimes authors will offer to come in or Skype. Adam Gidwitz came without charge (someone else mentioned he’s very expensive now); Katherine Patterson also came.
The Book Explorers group is similarly structured but dinner is not offered. The grade 2-3 level is hard to find books for. At that level, the Irvington library has read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and had the kids design their own chocolate bars. Lulu and the Duck was also good. Goodreads is a good source of suggestions.
The Pizza and Pages group does have dinner. It’s growing since many of the 6th graders who went to or still go to the Young Critics are now going to Pizza and Pages.
The Darien Library has a Nutmeg Club, which works well since the kids have to read two of the books for school anyway. This summer, Darien also had a 00Darien (Double 0 Darien) camp for tweens (Grades 4-6, ages 9-12), where reading spy books was among the activities. One concern is that when kids in Darien age out of the Children’s department, the same programs aren’t offered by the teen department and it’s hard to hold on to kids through the end of 6th grade.
One suggestion was having a Book to Movie Club–have the kids read the book and then come to watch a movie and discuss how the movie differed and why. Darien will be doing this in October with Roald Dahl’s The Witches for 5th to 7th graders. This is particularly interesting since the ending of the movie is quite different from that of that book and Dahl hated the movie.
A NYC school librarian said that she has a lunchtime book club since it’s too expensive to keep the school open at night. She tries to challenge the higher end kids; it ends up being all girls and they bring their lunch and chat. She feels it lacks structure and the time is too short. She also got a Macy’s grant to promote non-fiction in accordance with the common core curriculum. She was able to get multiple copies for several books, which included Knucklehead by Jon Scieszka, which was excellent, and a Michael Jackson graphic novel, which was not.
Public libraries will often lend multiple copies to schools for book clubs. The NYPL will deliver books to schools.
There was discussion of the concept of structured v. non-structured. For the latter, everyone comes in to discuss whichever books they’ve already read. New Canaan sometimes does book talks, where the kids take out various books and then do book talks.
Darien has lots of younger kids who want to join in books clubs. Third graders often want to come to the Nutmeg Club and their parents say their children are particularly advanced, but it’s important to stick to the age parameters.
It’s great when libraries can get advance reader copies of books to let the book club kids read the books before they’re published.
Another good strategy is to use past summer reading books and let the kids keep them.
The White Plains Library has a partnership with Pizzeria Uno. The book club meets at the restaurant and pizza is provided for free.
Book clubs have to build gradually, so don’t be discouraged if few people attend in the beginning.
Contest-type games can get too competitive sometimes. One librarian does a non-competitive game where she puts the names of characters, places, etc. on cards and then each child in turn has to give clues for the other kids to guess what’s on the card.
Providing food is always popular.
At a roundtable one of the librarians attended, Michael Sullivan, a proponent of reading for boys, said that boys should be read to, even as they get older. Even in middle school, to have a lunch time book club–perhaps with men (like custodians) reading to the boys–is a good idea.
The idea of having all girl and all boy book clubs was discussed. For the boys, it’s good to have a man leading it.
The New York equivalent of the Nutmeg Award is the 3 Apples Award.
(photo courtesy of Flickr user US Embassy Canada.)