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Let's Talk about Books, Baby: The Beauty of Book Clubs

by Nancy Baumann
 | Apr 30, 2014

Seeking to attract all kinds of readers: eager readers, aliterate readers, reluctant readers, readers stuck in one genre, and even adult readers? Try a Choices Chat or book discussion!

After constantly listening to the same tired dialogue about why kids aren’t reading—they don’t have time anymore, they’d rather be gaming, books are so long and boring, and (my favorite!) boys don’t read—I introduced several informal opportunities for kids and adults to read, gather, and talk about books. The response was positive and sometimes overwhelming. Some of the chats attracted up to forty readers at a session!

My book discussion groups grew from two needs from teachers and one request from students. The teachers’ request stemmed from the Children’s Choices project, a joint venture between the International Reading Association (IRA) and Children’s Book Council (CBC). The fifth and sixth grade students weren’t reading and voting enough, she said. Beyond making the Children’s Choices books easily available to students in the classroom or putting them on display in the library, students needed encouragement to read and vote. Yet teachers and librarians are not permitted to book talk or promote the titles since the students must be free to select, comment, and vote on the books without any influence from adults.

The student request came from kids complaining about the Newbery Award books, and how they are selected by adults who couldn’t understand what kids like to read and what is “distinguished” literature for readers ages birth to 14.

Thus, the “Choices Chats” and “Mock Newbery Book Club” were created to give students a forum to present and talk about the Children’s Choices books and Newbery contenders they read with peers. These discussion groups offered a safe community to express views and ideas. Oh, some also had food!

We selected lunch time for the chats. This is the only time that didn’t interfere with anything else. Three librarians agreed to host them in their libraries. Kids brought their lunches into the library once a week for 25 minutes to talk about the Children’s Choices selections. Each librarian publicized the chat with their fifth and sixth graders. To our great surprise we had 10–15 students weekly at the elementary school, 25–30 at one middle school, and an entire third grade class at a second elementary school.

Here’s how it worked: Students received a pass from their language arts or homeroom teacher to be able to leave the lunchroom. They walked to the library with trays/bag lunches, signed in, grabbed a snack, and prepared to talk and listen. Everyone was required to bring the book they were reading to show as they talked. To keep discussions from getting stale, colored candy (Skittles, M & M’s, Sour Patch Kids) were used as discussion starters. Kids sat at library tables or on the floor and ate lunch while taking turns presenting their current read.

We used a stopwatch to limit each speaker to two minutes. It’s helpful as it gave everyone a chance to talk. Kids can easily run the stopwatch and gently remind the speakers when their time is up. By request from students, these chats have been extended to the end of the school year. Additionally, and upon request, seventh and eighth grade “Choices Chats” groups have been started. All of the chats feature books that are self-selected.

“Read ’n’ Feed” is a variation on a lunchtime book discussion group. Using the professional title “Fiction, Food, and Fun: The Original Recipe for the Read ’n’ Feed Program” (Closter, Snipes, and Thomas, 1998) as a guide, I collaborated with a local teen librarian to facilitate this book discussion. We initiated our “Read ’n’ Feed” program at my middle school library. We book talked four different titles and the seventh grade students checked out the book they were most interested in. Kids had a two-week deadline for reading the novel.

Through a grant from the school district we were able to purchase 20 copies of four different titles. We limited each discussion group to ten students and repeated the discussion (Tuesdays and Thursdays) over a semester. Subway pitched in and delivered sandwiches, a drink, and a cookie at a discount. Kids could place an order to comply with dietary needs. We also invited teachers and our administrators to assist us in facilitating discussions or sit in on the discussion.

We were able to fill each session and had strong support from the kids to continue it next year!

Our “Mock Newbery Book Club” was created to invite students to read and discuss books that could potentially win the Newbery Medal winner. My students had long complained since only adults select the Newbery winner, “How do they know what we like to read?” I also wanted students to improve discussion skills, read for recreation, read books they normally wouldn’t select, and be part of a community of readers.

I used the American Library Association’s Newbery and Caldecott Mock Elections Toolkit as a reference and my experience on the 2010 John Newbery Medal Committee to guide me. I have conducted this book club with several variations: at an elementary school for fourth and fifth graders at lunch time with one adult and no snacks, after school with both elementary and middle school students with two adults and snacks, and an after-school public library club with one adult and snacks. A blog is used to continue discussions as the clubs meet twice a month. Attendees learn about the history of the John Newbery Medal, as well as the guidelines and voting procedures the ALSC (Association of Library Service to Children) committee uses. Members read and discuss a variety of books deemed to be Newbery contenders. Voting and a pizza party takes place at the last meeting. The book club members anxiously await the results of the “real” Newbery Committee in late January.

We couldn’t let the students have all of the fun, could we? That’s why we started “Teachers Under Cover,” a teacher-only book club. Science and Social Studies teachers wanted ideas for novels for a collaborative unit with their teams. Teachers also wanted some good read-alouds for their classes that the kids hadn’t already heard that would also encourage recreational reading.

The “Teachers Under Cover” (TUC) book club started with six teachers. We met once a month, obtained professional development credit, snacked, socialized, and discussed two books. Teachers were encouraged to bring new faculty and administration was always invited.

Hosting book clubs is a great way to build recreational reading habits, assisting students to become confident in discussions and public speaking, and becoming part of a community that values reading. Book clubs also meet AASL (American Association of School Librarians) and Common Core State Standards. Book clubs benefit families by promoting family reading sessions and discussions.

Come see Nancy present “Let's Give 'Em Something to Talk About: Using Book Clubs to Promote Recreational Reading, Comprehension, and Discussion Skills” at IRA’s 59th Annual Conference on Saturday, May 10th, at 1 p.m.

Nancy Baumann is a retired school librarian and classroom teacher, literacy consultant, and author of “For the Love of Reading: Guide to K–8 Reading Promotions.” You can visit her online at

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