Blogger Intellectual Freedom Committee

Incorporating Intellectual Freedom into Youth Book Clubs

How do you sneak complicated and seemingly unrelated intellectual freedom concepts into your youth book clubs? The ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee is continuing its series of blog posts on incorporating intellectual freedom and information literacy into cornerstone, everyday library programs. Just like sneaking healthy food into a kid’s meal, these techniques will enrich the work you already do as a librarian without disrupting your programming routine. For this post, we’ll focus on tips for including important intellectual freedom concepts into a book club for tweens or younger teens, ages 11-14.

Tip 1: Include books that have been challenged or restricted as possible selections for the club to read, especially if the challenge has been recent and/or local. Make a plan to guide the discussion toward aspects of that challenge, or include questions that address the controversial content.

Tip 2: As much as you can, empower your club to choose their own book club selections to read. Allow them to shape the material that the club discusses, even if club is defined by a particular genre or subject.

Tip 3: Explore outside of a predefined age range. For tween/middle-grade book clubs, incorporate YA novels that younger readers could potentially connect with or be inspired by. For teen book clubs, seek out teen-friendly adult novels like those given ALA/YALSA’s Alex Award.

Tip 4: Encourage readers to be honest with their reactions to a book, and don’t limit discussion to positive feedback. Steer discussions into a constructive comparison of opinions, and don’t shy away from examining why a book’s content or premise might be problematic.

Tip 5: Resist the urge to get preachy or didactic. While intellectual freedom concepts are important, in a book club they should still take a back seat to reading that actively interests and engages the young readers attending the club.

With these tips in mind, here are two sample discussion themes you could try with your own youth book clubs— pick out the elements that work for you!

Banned Book Club

The easiest way to introduce intellectual freedom into a book club is to focus on books that have been challenged and/or taken off of library shelves in the past. This not only provides a platform for the explicit discussion of intellectual freedom concepts, but also provides some marketing appeal (“here’s a book someone tried to stop you from reading!”). While there are certainly enough challenged materials to provide for a continuing book club, a simpler approach would be to dedicate one book club meeting to challenged books. For extra novelty, the “blind date with a book” concept that is often used for Banned Books Week displays could be integrated into the title selection.

Sample Discussion Questions:

  • “This book was labeled as inappropriate for readers your age because of _______. Did you notice any of those things while you were reading?”
  • “Would there be any people who you would recommend not read this book? What about people you think should read this book?”
  • “This book has won awards, and is very popular. Books like that often get challenged in in schools and libraries. Why do you think that might be?”

You’ll Hate This Book

Tweens and teens are often as enthusiastic about books they hate as they are about books they like. While this can be a valuable readers’ advisory tool, it can also form the basis of an animated and thought-provoking book club discussion. Challenge your youth book club to pick a title that one or more of the members have read and actively disliked, but is otherwise popular and/or well-reviewed. Care needs to be taken to ensure that conversations are civil and constructive, but in addition to the resulting discussion being lively and often hilarious, multiple pathways to discussing intellectual freedom topics can be opened.

Sample Discussion Questions:

  • “Was there anything you liked about the book? If that was outweighed by what you didn’t like about it, why?”
  • “Do you think that anything in the book is harmful? Could reading it have bad consequences in the real world?”
  • “If someone said that nobody else should read this book, what would you say? Why? What if someone else liked it?”

Justin Azevedo is Youth Materials Selector at the Sacramento Public Library and a co-chair of the ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee. Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competency: Programming Skills

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