Book Clubs are always an excellent tween and even teen program, but it is often difficult to get one started. There can be many barriers to making it work. One of which is competing against school activities and precious time with family. Tweens and teens are busier than ever, and libraries are having to go the extra mile to attract families to library programming.
In the past, I have only been able to have success with book clubs through outreach. My former library was lucky enough to team up with the local school librarians to offer a book club over the lunch hour for students.
Recently, I moved out of state to pursue another job. One of the things I missed most was doing a book club. Looking back, I realized it was my library’s version of a tween advisory board. I felt lost with it. I decided that I needed to create a new book club, so STEM bookclub was born.
At first, attendance was meager. At one point, I only had one person show up. It was discouraging. I was worried that book clubs were something that wasn’t going to work in my library. I became so frustrated with the low turnout, I almost cut this program and stopped offering book club programs altogether.
However, I knew that book club programs could be successful.
The adult book club at my library has been an enormous success. Adults are a different audience, but I started to wonder what my adult programming coworkers were doing differently to make their program successful. After much collaboration, I came up with a new plan and my attendance multiplied.
I found that the recipe to making a tween book club successful is to do these six things: Give tweens a voice, involve the grown-ups, use social media, offer something new, pick buzz-worthy books, and if possible include the school district.
Give Tweens a Voice
At the beginning of every book club, make it known that the programming space is a safe space. Clearly outline expectations and identify ways participants can voice their opinions and empower them to do so. Follow up the introduction with an ice breaker. My favorite game to use is Bring Your Own Book. If you are not familiar with it, this game is similar to the game Apples to Apples. It requires participants to find particular passages in a book. It can get pretty silly and can be a nice transition into the book discussion.
During the discussion, give your tweens a voice by having them find ways they relate to the book. Did they experience or feel the same way the character did?
At the end of the program, give participants time to talk about their favorite book. Peer book recommending is the best reader’s advisory tool. It gives you a chance to book talk some new books too!
Finally, allow the group to vote on upcoming books to discuss in the future. This will help tweens feel like the library cares and values their thoughts and feelings.
Involve the Grown Ups
Parents and guardians are adjusting to their child becoming a tween. Use the book club as an opportunity for them to bond and start a dialog with their child. Challenge participants to read books as a family. Pick old favorites that parents might relate to or remember as a child or find books that the whole family can enjoy. One of the best ways to do this is to have participants listen to an audiobook. Usually, families only have a CD player in their car, so the whole family is forced to listen to it. I try to sneak in Odyssey award, or honor books that I know will get the entire family talking like The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex or Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan. I have even gone as far as recommending the family read it together before bed.
Recommending these things might seem odd, but just because tweens can read, doesn’t mean we should dismiss early literacy skills. Print motivation is just as crucial to a preschooler as it is to a ten-year-old. They have to enjoy what they are reading, and it has to be a positive experience.
By involving the whole family, you are creating accountability. More importantly, you are creating an exciting reading adventure that will cultivate life long learners.
Use Social Media
Don’t limit your club to just your programming space. Tweens and their caregivers are actively online, and they are telling stories in new ways using things like emojis and gifs. Libraries can use social media as a platform to give these stories a voice. Actively engage and encourage your tweens and their parents with discussion questions, prompts, and other book recommendations.
As an added benefit, by having it online, you can reach more participants then you could with people in just your programming space.
Offer Something New
Offering an activity in a book club isn’t anything new. The thing that has evolved is that the event has to be worth the trip. For example, for my STEM Percy Jackson book club, we made blue cookies, played trivia on a giant screen, and made buttons. My program worked because no one in my community offered anything comparable. Percy Jackson might be a massive fandom, but no one is selling merchandise. Having a craft, food, and a place for the fandom to meet up was enough to draw in those customers. Find what’s missing in your community and fill in the gap.
Create an event that will make lasting memories.Maybe you read The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson, and you do a treasure hunt around the library or tie it in with community geo-cashing event.
Or maybe you are really techy and you can use Ren’Py to have participants create interactive games based off their favorite book club book.
What you do is only limited to your imagination.
Pick Buzz Worthy Books
Highlight books that get the kid’s attention. Include diverse books, award-winning books, books from different genres, and books that are developmentally appropriate that highlight things like self-identity.
When you are advertising your book club, use hook words in your description. You don’t have to read Diary of a Wimpy Kid every month, but highlight popular read-alikes in your book club and in your advertising. For example, in my description for my next book club, I might mention that we are going to be discussing the book Nevermoor: The Trails of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend. For my hook word, I would say that this book is for fans of Harry Potter. These hook words get the kids excited, and it helps them to relate to something they are already familiar with.
If you start to get low attendance, don’t be afraid to bring out those popular titles like Wonder by RJ Palacio or Sisters by Raina Telgemeier.
Whatever you do, include your audience! Allow the tweens to pick the book now and then too.
Involve the School District
If you can, collaborate with your local school district and see how you can support their efforts. At my current library, the school district is encouraging kids to read 25 books a year. When my tweens participate in the book club, I encourage them to count our book club book toward their goal. When I go into schools, I also promote the book club as a fun way to read their 25 books.
Also, don’t be afraid to go out to your local schools ! Bring the book club to them.
Are you doing a tween or teen book club? What are some things that made your club successful?
This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: I. Commitment to Client Group, IV. Knowledge, Curation, and Management of Materials, and III. Programming Skills.