How (Not) to Have an Awesome Book Club at Your Library: Nine Book Club Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
So your department head has asked you to create a book club for Tweens and you readily agree because you know that book clubs not only offer additional reading practice, they help expand vocabulary and can lead kids to new genres and authors they might otherwise miss. They also give participants practice in articulating what they do and don’t like about a book, its author or its illustrator, and they expose tweens to alternative viewpoints about a book or its subject. These skills help tweens develop their identities as readers, a critical step on their way to becoming lifelong readers.
Before cranking out a flyer, take a moment to think about what type of club you want to create. Your club can be based on the type of book (graphic novels, mysteries, nonfiction for example), on a subject (animals, geography, sports), or on the type of reader who will belong to your club (all boy, all girl, mother-daughter/son, father-daughter/son, etc.). The most common library book club uses none of these limiters and tries instead to appeal to everyone by selecting a wide variety of titles to read. While this approach probably doesn’t truly meet the needs of Tweens as well as more defined clubs, this may be your only option depending on your library’s staff and budget levels.
Whatever your particular library’s circumstances, start where you are and aim to build your program into the book club(s) of your dreams. Once you’ve mapped out a plan for your club, be sure to steer clear of these nine mistakes and you’ll be on your way to making a difference in the lives of the tweens you serve.
Mistake #9: Never bring food. Tweens hate snacks and it will only mess up your carpet.
Not only do most tweens love snacks, there is something about munching on a carrot (or pretzel or cupcake) that lends a relaxed air to your meeting, making it easier for even shy kids to open up and participate.
Mistake #8: Don’t schedule your meetings for the same day and time every month – this way someone who can’t make your Monday meeting one month will be able to make your Thursday meeting the following month.
Be consistent with your scheduling. Accept that whatever you choose will not work for everyone, but by sticking with the same day and time (third Tuesday, second Monday, etc.) you’ll make it easy to remember – and come – to your group.
Mistake #7: Don’t begin your meeting until everyone has arrived – you’ll just have to repeat yourself whenever a new tween walks in.
Reward the kids and their families who do make the effort to be on time by starting on time. By waiting for latecomers you train everyone to come late in order to avoid having to sit around waiting for the last kid to arrive. And by the way, there’s no need to repeat yourself for latecomers. Just greet them with a smile and motion for them to sit quietly and join in!
Mistake #6 (a corollary to #7): Don’t worry about how long your meetings go – you’ve spent a lot of time planning an awesome book discussion, after all, and by George, you’re not going to let it go to waste!
Honor the time commitment of your participants. Just as you deserve their on-time arrival to the club, they deserve your on-time dismissal of the club. Surprisingly (to some), your book club isn’t the only thing on their agenda. Homework, sports, family activities, and a myriad of other obligations and interests compete for their time – don’t make it impossible for them to get anything else done on book club nights or days. With a little trial and error you will learn to plan an appropriate amount of discussion and/or activities to fill your allotted time without going over. Be flexible, stay fluid, and both the tweens and their parents will thank you.
Mistake #5: Be extremely rigid about your age range. If your flyer says “Grades 4-7” that means it’s up to you to make sure no precocious third graders sneak in. If necessary, require birth certificates at check in.
First, there’s no need for a check-in of any type at a book club gathering. Check-ins are for airports and probation officers; book clubs are relaxed gatherings of friends or soon-to-be-friends. Kids vary greatly in their maturity level, reading ability, and interests and many simply want to attend with a friend who happens to be a grade above or below them. If you feel one of your group members truly doesn’t fit in because of his/her age difference, talk it over with your department head and see if a solution can be found. In the meantime, your job is to create a welcoming environment for everyone who wishes to be a part of your group.
Mistake #4: Don’t allow time for socializing – they do enough of that at school.
It’s important for tweens to feel comfortable in your group and some light socializing is a great way to make that happen. Learning when and how to socialize appropriately is also part of the book club learning experience. Do watch for signs of hurtful or otherwise inappropriate behaviors – your book club should be a safe place for all.
Mistake #3: Crafts are for babies – tweens just like to talk.
A craft, science experiment, game, or other activity related to the book is a great way to engage those tweens whose best form of expression is something other than talking. Activities also provide a good opportunity for tweens to socialize and tap into other skills besides reading and talking.
Mistake #2: Don’t bother reading the book yourself, especially if you already read it several years ago.
In order to be able to talk enthusiastically and with confidence about the book, you need to have read it, preferably no more than two weeks prior to the meeting. Your tweens will know if you’ve read the book or not, and their respect for you will vanish if you haven’t.
Mistake #1: Never, ever let the kids choose the books – they’ll just choose junk. Besides, you’re the librarian and that’s what they pay you for!
Despite your (quite possibly valid) reasons for not giving your tweens total control of the book selection process, it is possible to ask, and ask frequently, about the books they are already reading. This will give you an idea of genres, book length, reading level, and topics enjoyed by your group, which in turn, can help you make book selections that are sure to be eagerly anticipated.
If you avoid these common mistakes and listen to your tweens, your book club is likely to be a meaningful and enjoyable experience for all.
Becnel, K. (2006). Picture books and pancakes: Breakfast book club gets Tweens
into reading. Children & Libraries: The Journal Of The Association For Library Service To Children, 4(1), 26-27.
PBS Parents. (n.d.). Book clubs for kids. Retrieved from