School-age book clubs in libraries are nothing new. They’ve been a staple of public library youth programs for decades. However, they are usually geared towards youth in middle
grades and rarely include extension activities. Students in primary grades fall into a gap: they’re past storytime, but not ready for chapter book discussions. How do we bridge this gap? One way is to form a book discussion group for younger readers.
For the past 12 years, I’ve conducted a monthly beginners’ level book discussion for students in grades Kindergarten through Second grade. We usually read a picture book, but have also read graphic novels and shorter chapter books. The kids don’t read the books before we meet – we read the book together. The hour long program has two parts. The first half hour is dedicated to reading and discussing the book. In the second half of the program we do some sort of extension activity, where the kids can make connections and bring some aspect of the book to life.
The first half hour I read the book to the students, and ask questions about the book. We start with an introduction to the story and an explanation of the literary device or artistic method we are discussing (fables, onomatopoeia, concrete poetry, etc.) Once the introductions are complete, we read the book. I ask anticipatory questions throughout and then lead the children in a lively discussion after we finish. In addition to general comprehension questions, we talk about what we like and don’t like, how the book was an example of the literary/artistic device. We also end up talking about pets, birthdays, school, new shoes, what they had for lunch (because they are, after all, only 5 to 8 years old.)
When the discussion started 12 years ago, it was a cooking and reading program called Cook-A-Book. We’d make a recipe related to the book we read. The great thing about cooking
with kids, is that it utilizes so many skills: reading, measuring, fractions, counting, following directions. The students stretched their culinary taste buds and made exotic foods from a Tashkent carrot salad with coriander to vegetarian sushi (when we read the kamishibai story Hats for the Jizos). We also made simpler fare like applesauce (for Apples to Oregon) and stone soup. They’d all sample a finished version of their recipe in a taste test at the end. Parents loved it as well. Many reported that their children wanted to cook the dishes at home, even though they refused to eat the same vegetable or food their entire life.
Over the years, the program has morphed into a group we call The Bookaneers. Instead of cooking Bookaneers focuses on fine art (not crafts).The first half hour is the same as before
(reading and discussing the book). But, the second half is now dedicated to a fine art project. Often we experiment with the technique used by the illustrator of the book, or else one that is related to the subject of the book. I make it a point to let the kids spread their artistic wings. I make a point of telling them there is no right or wrong in art; it’s all about personal expression; and that we create what we feel. This is one of the hardest concepts to impart to the kids — that there are no mistakes in art.
We’ve been inspired to try splatter painting like Jackson Pollock, Japanese brush painting, collage, pointillism, etching, pastels, water color, sculpture, ….. and, you get the idea. Every few months we put the art on display. The students love this, because they can share their work with their family and friends.
If you aren’t currently hosting a book club for newer readers, you should consider adding one your program roster. The students will have a ball, and you’ll have a “feeder” program for established book discussions.