Friday, January 9, 2009

Connecting Parents, Kids and Books

In our school district, one of our most successful projects has been our Parent Child book clubs. Even in the dead of winter we have had 40 parents and students in a middle school attend so that they can talk about books they don’t even have to read. There’s no grade. There’s no test… When I talk about the clubs on the road, usually the room goes still. It’s that moment during the day when you know you have everyone’s attention. So before I head out again (I leave for Pittsburgh on Sunday.), I thought I would write about how our book clubs work.

How do your book clubs work?
Once a month on a Thursday at 6:30 one of our middle school book clubs meets for “an hour.” It is never only an hour. Usually folks drift off by 8:00. We read one or two books each month. The Teacher Librarian at the school sends an email reminder a day or so before the meeting. Group participants are now bringing a snack to share and we provide a drink. (It’s a good way to try new recipes and gives ownership to our members.)

What do you do on Book Night?
When they arrive, they sign in using Survey Monkey, which gives us records that we can read, emails and the like. They get a snack and wander over to our activity area. Each month, we choose an activity that correlates with the books. Then we spend the rest of the hour talking about the books we read. There is no set list of questions. It's very informal. At the end of the hour (or so) we booktalk the next titles and talk about what we will do then. Participants pick up the new titles and return the current ones.

Last month we read only one book, Schooled by Gordon Korman. We played sixties music as they entered and left the library. We asked them to bring a healthy snack to share and wear hippy clothes if they would like. I taught them how to make a beaded bracelet- using hemp rope, of course. Then we talked about the book. I thought with only one book, we would be out pretty quickly. But nope, we were there until 8:00, talking about one book.

What if they don't want to talk?
We have observed that some people want to comment, but are shy about speaking in front of a group. We have addressed that in a couple of ways. One is that we provide pencils and paper for comments and “pass the jar.” We randomly read comments or questions before we leave. Sometimes we do door prizes. The teacher librarian also set up a blog so that parents and students can write what they think throughout the month.

What do you read?
At this particular school, we start with the ALA award winners for middle school. You might also look at the Notable Lists. Then we move onto the nominees for our state book award program- CYRA. After that we read student suggested books and other books that are just fun to read. On our last meeting of the year, we take time to make a list of what we might like to read next year.

Where do you get the funding?
The PTA truly supports this program. Parents can see the impact this program makes because they are there. We use proceeds from the book fair. We have an Instructional Media Center in our district which orders class sets of books for everyone to check out. That’s another potential place for getting multiple copies. Another middle school recently worked with the public library to round up enough copies for her program. We usually choose books that are in paperback. We don't always barcode and check them out. Sometimes we contribute to the "literacy of the neighborhood."

You can also try Scholastic Literacy Partnerships. After registering you can receive up to 75% off the cost of their books. Visit their website to learn about the benefits. You might also try a grant from Donors Choose. They are very easy to complete when you keep in mind that what you are asking for benefits the students.

Do you have to read the same book?
No, you don’t. Some book clubs just meet to talk about what they are reading. They swap books with each other. The most important thing is choice and that they are talking about books. You might even try a virtual book club by using a blog. Go to a site like to sign up for a free site. You can also meet before school, at lunch or after school.

Final tips
1. The most important thing is choice. Choice to read. Choice to attend. Not every club member will read for every meeting. Attendance can’t be mandatory. It's not a class.
2. Invite ownership by allowing them to suggest titles, bring food, lead in activities.
Send reminders a day or so before.
3. Monitor success. Perhaps it isn’t well attended because of the time of day. What else would work?
4. Advertise. The more who know the more you will grow.
5. Feed them and they will come. Who wouldn't want to eat in the library??
6. Allow them to write, draw or create while you talk. Not everyone can listen and “be still.” It’s a club, not a class.
7. Have prepared questions in case there is a big lull, but don’t rush the silence. Usually someone else will fill it in.
8. Have a related activity.
9. Booktalk books that are similar. If you like this one…

Print resources

Read The Kids’ Book Club Book: Reading Ideas, Recipes, Activities, and Smart Tips for Organizing Terrific Kids’ Book Clubs by Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp.

See other ideas in Esme Codell’s book, How to Get you Child to Love Reading.

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