How to Run a Teen Book Club

Book clubs have become a staple of library services, although book clubs for adults outnumber book clubs for kids or teens. So, how does one run a book club for teens?

My book club has the same format every meeting. All of my teen programs start with a few minutes to chat and catch up, as I have discovered that nothing really gets done unless the teens can talk a bit first. Then there is time to discuss the book. I make sure any questions I bring are open-ended; rather than being a “did you read the book” quiz, this is a time for the teens to discuss what they thought of the book. I try my best to keep my former-English teacher brain out of the conversation and don’t bring up imagery, symbolism, etc. If the teens bring it up, great. If not, we talk about our favorite parts of the book or which character we identify with or how this book is like others or whether we’d recommend it to another person.

I follow our discussion with some sort of related game or craft. It doesn’t have to be super-complicated, but this allows us to continue to discuss the book if we want or to focus exclusively on the new activity. Book discussions can also occasionally become heated, so a craft or game is a nice way to break things up and let everyone find a way to be friends again.

As far as choosing the books is concerned, I give the teens a voting sheet listing six books, and they rank their top three. I use the results to choose the books for the next several months. This way I can be sure we choose books that have enough copies available for teens to read them and feature a semi-wide variety of genres. I try to include classic stories as well as newly published items, keeping in mind that brand-new books may also have a very long holds list. Being able to choose the book we read helps keep the teens invested in book club and also allows me to keep on top of what’s popular among my teen patrons.

In the past I have also run book clubs based solely on a particular genre or characteristic. For example, I could bring in a large collection of fantasy books and each teen could choose a title to read, which we would then discuss together during the next meeting. This way we can focus on award winners or graphic novels or whatever we’d like, and the books themselves are more tailored to each patron’s reading ability and preferences. For my current group of patrons, though, reading the same one book seems to work best.  This past year we read Jodi Piccoult’s My Sister’s Keeper, Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, Rick Yancey’s The Fifth Wave, and a variety of other books. In the new year I’m trying to convince them to try Andy Weir’s The Martian as well as the Shakespearean Star Wars book, Verily, A New Hope.

Two things I always make sure to tell my teens are that 1) it’s okay not to finish the book if you don’t have time or aren’t interested in it and 2) it’s definitely okay not to like the book. Teens are shocked when I tell them I have put down books, even books required for school, because the book was too long or it was boring or I couldn’t relate. I explain to them that my TBR list is so long that I don’t have time to waste on books I don’t like. Likewise, I recognize that book club is not school and I am not grading them, so if they didn’t finish the book, I still welcome them to join book club. If they didn’t like the book, then I definitely want them to come and tell us what they didn’t like. The freedom to express these opinions has allowed the teens to see the library as a place that accepts them where they are, and that’s a vital element in our relationships with our teen patrons.

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