Programming Ideas

Tweens & Teens…Book Clubbing in Harmony

by Traci Glass

About a year ago, I was hired into my very first Teen Librarian position. Technically, I was hired to serve tweens and teens. Unfortunately, tweens haven’t been frequenting my teen room or the programs I’ve offered. However, I had a breakthrough that I’d really been hoping for…I had two tweens make the big step from our 4th through 6th grade book club into my teen book club! I was so excited to have new members that I didn’t realize that I might have some new challenges in regards to discussion topics, books chosen, and the acceptance of younger members by the older book clubbers.

When I started my new job this past January, my book club was well established by my predecessor; it had a core group of teens who attended every month. They knew what they wanted to eat (natural snacks) and what kind of books they wanted to read every month if I’d let them (fantasy). The teens in my book club were and are pretty advanced in their reading; they had read a good mix of adult and young adult fiction. They are a great group of kids; they welcomed me with open arms when I took over even though I knew they had really loved the woman I replaced. So, when a few new kids signed up, I hoped that my clubbers would welcome them with open arms, as well — and they definitely did. I was so proud of them because I know cliques and friendships can be quite overwhelming during the teen years, but there wasn’t one second when they made the new members feel ostracized.

However, I realized that in order to fully incorporate tweens into the book club, certain things that “had always been” would need to change. First, I realized that what is considered “appropriate” reading for a 16- or 17-year-old isn’t necessarily considered “appropriate” for 12-year-olds, which was the age of my two newest members. In my book club, the members and I vote on what we’d like to read in the months to come. Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club and Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner were two of the books on our potential voting list. I felt I had to step in because there was a good chance that Fight Club was going to be our February selection based on discussion I heard from the group. I love the book Fight Club; I think I read it when it first came out when I was about 18 or so. I know the older book clubbers could handle it — I know we would’ve had a great discussion about it. Yet, looking at those two 12-year-old faces, I knew I had to get some kind of guidelines in place in order to ensure that the book club was offering reading material that was appropriate for all the ages in my group. I empathized with them, told them I knew the book was good, but since it wasn’t housed in the Teen Fiction area, we would have to pass. Same went for The Kite Runner. They complained — said they wanted to start reading books with more substance, books that would encourage big discussions. I suggested that we read the graphic novel Persepolis to show what it was like to live in a different country with different religious values and opinions. They couldn’t believe that a graphic novel would show that as succinctly as other, more “adult” books, but they were wrong — and happily admitted it at last month’s book club. And, I felt good knowing that all the members of my group could take our selection home and show it to their parents or guardians freely.

So far, book club has been going great with the teens and tweens. One of the 12-year-olds hasn’t been back lately; even with the most simple of books we get into really long winded, philosophical discussions that he didn’t seem to enjoy. But, the other 12-year-old comes almost every month. We had a great discussion about The Golden Compass that he was highly interested in. The discussion about Twilight was less interesting for him. But, I guess that’s how it would be for any member — some books you really want to discuss and others you don’t. No one is ever disrespectful about book choices of others and everyone has to read at least 40 pages to even participate in the discussion.

I’ve learned that reigning in isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and I’ve learned to incorporate new mediums to keep everyone interested. This month we’re doing a special book & movie discussion on Watership Down. Due to my love of graphic novels, we’ve also started incorporating those into our book selections, which was met with weirdness at first, but now members are recommending graphic novels left and right. Tweens have been a welcome addition to my “Teen” book club and I hope that more continue the journey from Children’s Book Club to Teen Book Club.

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