“Hey, Mrs. Miller. You know that book you came and talked to us about this morning? You think I could maybe grab a copy? It sounds kinda cool.” The boy is slouched in one of our armchairs, looking at his phone. He has never signed out a book that I can remember. I maintain my composure and smile at him–not too eagerly and without revealing my utter jaw-dropping surprise, lest I scare him away. I play it cool. So cool. “Sure thing,” I tell him. “Let me get one for you.” I say this as though he asks me for books all the time, but inside I scream in delight. These moments never cease to amaze me. And yet this happens once a month with at least one unexpected student when a new book is coming up for book club.
With an 8-12 population of approximately 400 students, nearly 80 of them participate in our book clubs. These are numbers I couldn’t have even imagined my first year, when 5 students approached me about starting a book club, and then never showed up to our after school meetings. And yet, here we are with almost 20% of our kids taking part.
This is important to me, because the amount of reading a student does–especially for pleasure–has a direct correlation to his or her academic achievement in all areas, not just English. Study after study has shown that a love for reading impacts everything from vocabulary acquisition and fluency to overall general content knowledge. We all have a vested interest in encouraging school-wide book love. This should be important to everyone.
Since that first year, when I sat, discouraged by the empty table, changes have been made to the structure of book club. These are four of the major ways our book clubs have become successful:
- Everybody gets the book “sold” to them.
Once a month, I grab a copy of the book and make my way through every first period class, talking up the book. I work with an incredible faculty who allow me to interrupt their class at any point during that period for 5 minutes to do a book talk. A bulletin board advertises the book; signs are put up around the school; and all-student emails go out as reminders to sign up.
- Book clubs are held during lunches.
Instead of competing with after school sports and other obligations, we meet once a week during lunch. This also helps disperse the numbers, since meeting with 40 kids at a time is too much. With our organization, we have 10-15 kids at the table.
- Faculty investment.
Our faculty believes in independent reading and supports the program. They talk up the books, sign out the books, grab and follow up with kids they think would be interested, and sometimes even join us for lunches. It’s an everybody-thing, not just a librarian-thing.
- Real World Connections
Whenever possible, we try to Skype with an author, watch speeches by the author, connect the book to current events, or meet with specialists in an area. My current 8th grade book club is reading Prisoner B-3087, a Holocaust story based on a real man’s survival. After finishing next week, we are Skyping with the author one afternoon and then having a Hungarian WWII survivor come and meet with us.
Sometimes, when I am standing in front of a class, I look at the kids sitting there and try to fight becoming deflated–I realize that nobody in that group will ever sign up for book club, and I’m just wasting my time. I start to feel foolish and am tempted to sell it short and bail. But every single month, some new kid, like the one slouched in the chair, surprises me and shows up for a copy of the book. Every. Single. Month.
And sometimes it’s not until later–sometimes months go by and somebody strolls in and says, “Hey. Remember that book you talked to us about? You got an extra copy?” And it’s moments like this that my heart sings. Because as educators, we are often unsure of the seeds we are planting–sometimes we get thank yous years later, but more often than not, we never know the impact we made. So when a student shows up and remembers a book talk and wants to pick it up the following year, you know that it doesn’t matter if 80 kids signed up or just 8, because you suddenly have a quiet glimpse of a seed that was planted.
So, get out there. Get kids reading. Plant seeds. Make it important to everybody.
Need book suggestions to start with? These are some of our students’ favorite book club picks!
Everyday by David Leviathin
The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore
Maus by Artie Spiegelman
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
Legend by Marie Lu
Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz
See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles
Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick