Teen Book Club - If You Make Cookies, They Will
Last fall, my son was a freshman at our local high school.
We’re not a wealthy district – we’re very diverse both racially and
socioeconomically, and we’re very proud of doing what we can with what we have.
At open house that first week, I found myself in the hallway with the principal,
talking about volunteer opportunities – she suggested I monitor the hall doors
at lunchtime, which honestly sounded helpful but not all that fun, so I
countered with starting a book club. The principal paired me with Ms. Campbell,
an awesome English teacher at the school, and we put together the first meeting
of our lunchtime book club.
We had almost no expectations – we hoped to get a few kids
who loved to read and turn them on to some great new YA books. On the advice of
the Balboa High School librarian, I made chocolate chip cookies and we put a few
posters up around the school. That first lunchtime we had almost twenty kids
(including four boys) and basically sat around and talked about the books we
liked (and some of the books we didn’t – teens are nothing if not honest about
their literature), what kinds of things they wanted to read that year and
authors they’d love to meet. We decided on the first three books we wanted to
read and by the next class meeting had acquired twenty copies of the books,
which we passed out to the kids to take home. We met every Thursday at lunchtime
and the kids ate their lunch (and their cookies) while talking books and
watching book trailers online. Because the crowd sometimes swelled to almost
thirty, we often broke into smaller groups with the kids who wanted to talk
about the books we’d read, passing out new titles about once every three weeks
or so. Over the course of the year we read ten books – everything from Holly
Black’s Red Glove to Gone by Michael Grant.
One of the most popular things we did was ARC day, and it
came about totally by accident. I was on Twitter one night when Maggie from Not
Your Mother’s Book Club tweeted that she had a ton of ARCs and did anyone want
them? I messaged her that they would be perfect for my book club and I arranged
to go to their warehouse and pick up some boxes – the kids were beyond thrilled
when I spread them out and let them pick whatever they wanted. Several of them
looked up at me in disbelief – these were their books to take home? We
did this every six weeks or so and it was a real treat when Maggie came and
brought ARCs in person!
As we talked about reading, I realized that none of these
kids had ever met a real author before (except me, and trust me, the novelty of
me being a writer wears off before the first meeting is over) or been to a
booksigning. Ms. Campbell and I got permission to do an after-school field trip
and brought about fifteen of the kids to a signing with Barry Lyga and Robin
LeFevers. They got to attend one of the fabulous NYMBC parties, listen to the
authors speak and get autographs on bookmarks and copies of their own signed
books. It was a magical night and more than one came up with tears in their
eyes, telling me that it was one of the best nights they’d ever
If you have a little bit of time and a lot of passion, you
can easily start a book club of your own, either at your local high school or
library. Here are a few pointers I’ve learned from this past
Keep it casual. We set the same time every week, but didn’t
take attendance or monitor who came and went. We wanted it to be fun, not
Pick books that they’ll want to read. We tried to keep it
to newer books and things that interested them. We’d often look at trailers or
read synopsis to introduce the kids to an author.
Partner with a teacher or librarian. By working with
someone in the school we were able to have a place to meet where the kids could
eat lunch every week. Having a teacher as part of the club also helped with
fundraising…which is my next point.
Getting class sets of books can be difficult (and
expensive). We relied on private donations and used Donor’s Choose(which has to
be done by a teacher) to buy class sets of 20 of each book we chose to read.
Hardbacks are best because they stand up to repeated readings– we hope to use
many of the same books for several years. We used an easy ‘check out list’ to
keep track of who had which books.
As much as you want to let the kids choose the books, don’t
- it can get crazy. We’d let them ‘booktalk’ books they loved and see what kind
of books each kid liked and then chose the books ourselves to keep it pretty
diverse – we’d alternate a fantasy title with a contemporary and made sure we
had titles that sparked the boy’s interest. Nobody was required to read any of
the books, but many kids found they liked something in a genre they thought they
hated. One of my girls told me she refused to read any book that had a girl in a
dress on the cover. After losing a casual bet with me, I got her to read Matched
by Allie Condie – she loved it so much she got the sequel Crossed out of the
library before the next meeting.
· Mix it up with some fun things – Skype visits by an author,
watching book trailers, ARC days or fieldtrips to see an author’s visit.
Don’t be afraid – all of the kids in my club were
absolutely wonderful. Nobody comes who doesn’t truly want to be there, and
they’re all grateful that you come and help.
Make cookies. Seriously – that’s the best way to spark
interest in the club and bring the kids in at first. But be warned, once you
start, you need to make cookies every week or you won’t be able to stand the
disappointment on their faces.
The last meeting of the year was
bittersweet – in our district, the tenth graders to on to the main high school
campus and I’ve decided to stay behind with the new crop of ninth graders. The
kids surprised me with a wonderful handmade card and a cake to thank me for
spending time with them - but I was the real winner. I got to spend an hour
every week talking to a group of teens who are passionate about reading and
introduce them to some books and authors they may not have heard of otherwise.
They told me what they loved and what they didn’t and every minute I spent with
them made me a better writer. I can’t wait for this fall to start all over
You can purchase C.J.'s books from Books Inc. She is the author of Dirty Little Secrets and Transcendence.