Collaborating on Book Clubs

In talking to both my Advisory Board and our local media specialists at the schools, it became clear that there was a desire for a book club for our young adults. As I’ve mentioned before, for me, young adults starts with my fifth graders when they move into the middle school. After a couple meetings, we set up a middle school (5th through 8th  – and we heavily advertise the grades for our home and private schoolers) book club and I’m hoping to get a high school one set up in the next year. Knowing the time constraints that our middle school media specialist deals with because of her incredibly busy schedule, we went into the partnership with the understanding that I would do the lion’s share of the work. Considering the fact I’d be doing all the work if we didn’t partner, this still worked to my advantage. Plus it established a firm, consistent once-a-month face-to-face time with the middle school librarian, where we could talk briefly about any number of things after the book club. It was agreed that we’d host the book club at the library – she liked taking the school element out of it – and that we’d do it Friday afternoons when a) there were not afterschool activities (something she knew and I didn’t) and b) when it could be seen as not too school-ish, something we’ve reinforced with formatting. We did, however, agree, with the kids’ input, to require a specific book (or some months they have a limited choice – last month was Brian Selznick month where they could read any of his three and next month is Graphic Novel month where they have a choice of: Roller Girl, El Deafo and Sunnyside Up).

She came to our initial interest meeting along with the kids to help suggest books we would do for the rest of the year and she’s been instrumental in promoting it to the kids at school. She does her own flyer each month as well as reading the book and attending our discussion to help lead the kids. The kids, on the other hand, have gotten a huge kick out of seeing her outside of school and being able to kick back and have a snack and discussion with her in a laid back setting, which in turn helps bolster her relationship not only with the kids who attend but their friends, who see how comfortable they are with her.

This has been great for a variety of reasons, beyond even the obvious that I’ve got great communication, I’ve also got an extra brain in the book club proper to think up questions and help keep the conversation going. One of the things we’ve been working on with the kids is keeping the conversation flowing organically without the need to raise hands – to really have a discussion – and having our media specialist there to help with prompts when my brain dries up has been invaluable. Although I bring discussion questions from online besides my basics, I rarely need them.

As far as set up of our book club, that we left mostly up to the middle schoolers, who wanted us to model it off our 3rd/4th grade book club, which many of them were participants in previously. The media specialist and I have learned that next year we need to block off an hour and a half time slot instead of just an hour due to how great the discussion is while still trying to leave time for a game or craft at the end, per the kids’ request.

It did help that I already had an in with both schools due to how closely we work together to try and meld the school summer reading requirements and our own summer program, which made it easy enough to slot in a monthly program without too much fuss. With any luck, as our current middle schoolers start to age into the high school, we can tap them to do an older book club too, although probably in a looser format with themes to be discussed rather than specific books. Still, it’s been a good way to deepen my connection with the school while not requiring too much of my busy partner!

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