Starting a Book Club for grades K-4
I have tried several times to start a book club for school-aged children, and I have had little success. I would set up a club and children would register for it but, when the day arrived, very few would actually show up. Parents would tell me they wanted a book club for their children but, when I initiated one, attendance was always low. I could not figure out what I was doing wrong, but I was determined to find out. In my book, no pun intended, book clubs and libraries go together like love and marriage. My search to create a successful book club began!
I asked other librarians if they had ever offered a book club. One librarian told me that she developed a club
where children ages 4 to 9 could come weekly. The children did not have to read the book before they came; the librarian read portions of the book to them and they talked about it. The program ended with a book-related craft. It worked for a few months, but interest in the club dwindled. At another club that I started, I picked out books that I liked without really considering what the children would like. Even though I thought “Togo,” the story of a Siberian Husky sled dog who carried medicine to sick children in Nome, Alaska, was an inspiring story, my ten-year-olds were not so impressed.
I considered books that were popular with the 5 to 9 year olds. I thought a series would have the advantage of providing a theme and make it simple to choose books. Dan Gutman’s “My Weird School” and Mary Pope Osborne’s “Magic Tree House” both fit my criteria. Even though I knew many of the participants would have already read these books, I didn’t think this would detract from the club. I decided to read one title from each series and see which one I liked better. My winner, hands down, was the Magic Tree House Series. I liked the characters and I liked the concept. A brother and sister discover a magic tree house full of books. When they read a book about a certain period in history, they travel in time to that period. So, they might go to the land of dinosaurs in one book and the land of knights and castles in another. Another factor that encouraged me to choose the Magic Tree House books is that most of the titles have a research guide that accompanies them. This enables you to dig a little deeper into the historical period.
Now that I had chosen the books for the club, I needed to plan the program. The title was easy - “The Magic Tree House Book Club.” I decided on a monthly program, where I would read portions of the book, we’d talk about it, and then look at the research guide for more information relating to the theme of that title. The children would not have to read the book before they came. I would also share other books dealing with that period in history which they could check out. We would end with a book-related craft. I would offer the program to ages 5 to 9 years, and would require online registration.
I know that the craft portion of a program is often a large factor in encouraging children to return. I was determined that the craft portion would be appealing. The first book that we read, Dinosaurs Before Dawn, lent itself to fossil making. We used model magic and plastic leaf rubbing sheets to make a fossil, and colored them with markers. The next book we read, The Knights at Dawn, inspired a painting project. I found coloring sheets of knights or castles and enlarged them onto 11 x 17 inch paper. The children glued their sheets onto construction paper as a frame, and painted them with watercolors. For the third book, Mummies in the Morning, we had the kids wrap each other in toilet paper to create mummies. They also made pyramids out of cardstock. They decorated these with markers, cut them out, and then folded and glued them according to the pattern.
Each month we have been ironing out the kinks. Initially I did not want moms and siblings to stay as I wanted to encourage the participant’s independence. But the moms enjoyed the stories, and they kept siblings on their laps, so I allowed them to stay. Also, I found making a circle of chairs helped the kids to focus, and kept them in their own space. After the story, and before our discussion, we did some stretching exercises. We had very simple discussions where I might ask “What is a mummy?” or “What dinosaur would you like to be?” The children were eager to participate.
Now, you may ask “How did the Magic Tree House Book Club turn out?” So far we have had 3 months of programs. I actually read the whole book (it takes about 30 minutes) at the meeting. The parents who stay often tell me that they enjoy the stories too. Each program has a built-in theme and this makes planning simple. There are 50 titles in the series, so we have at least 4 years of material. We are averaging 15 children a month and at least half of them have returned each month. I think I enjoy the club as much as they do! Of course, time will tell if the club has staying power. I will report back in May, 2014.
- Susan F.