Boys' and Girls' Summer Book Groups: A Success Story and What We Learned

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This article is meant to give ideas about how a book group for kids might work at your library, and also to share things we learned in the process, and some mistakes we made, to help others who might be thinking about starting, or in the planning stages of, a new book club program. We have two summers experience with a boy's book club, and one summer with a girl's club, not all that much you might think, but it's amazing what you'll learn in just one season!

At our library these programs were half book groups and half activity clubs. Boys and girls had their own groups. Each group met once per week for eight weeks in the summer. We alternated with book discussion nights and planned activity nights, beginning with a book discussion on the first meeting to set the tone (and convey the idea that our primary focus was books and reading.) By only having a book discussion every other meeting, kids had two weeks to read each new book, an important point for including weaker readers. Ages of participants were 9-12 for the girl's group and 10 to 14 for the boys. Our primary goal with both groups was to encourage involvement with books, and secondarily (but also importantly) to bring kids together in a group where they could make new friends and socialize at the library. We put a high value on building community in our library. We hoped that by meeting eight times, rather than just four for the book discussions, that the kids would have enough time together to develop a group identity, a small community if you will, a club feel. We had good participation for both the boy's and girl's groups, and good feedback from parents and kids. We also made some mistakes, and heard about it, as you'll see below.

We received many benefits from running the summer book clubs. First, we got to know many new kids and parents and strengthened bonds with those we already knew. This was a "feel good" and easily visible benefit, with us coming away from the experience feeling that the time we had spent was well worth the effort. Secondly, we heard from some parents that their kids did much more reading over the summer as a result of the clubs, and that the books they read in the clubs stretched their reading and thinking skills. We felt great about that and realized that we had met our primary goal. Third, we sent a strong message to the community that we value and support reading for kids (especially for boys, in an area where reading is still seen by many residents as unmanly.) You might think this is obvious for libraries, but we sent the message with these programs that we cared enough to do something about it. Fourth, we built visibility and branding for the library with this program. We had publicity and great pictures in the local newspaper, an email praising our program to the chairman of the county Board of Supervisors (thanking him for supporting the library's funding), and lot's of "word of mouth" publicity about the library from families involved. Fifth, we raised good will with appreciative families and provided summertime fun for kids in our community. Lastly, staff and volunteers also read new childrens books as a result of being involved with the programs and got a better feel for what books work for what ages.

Here are some specifics that we learned:

  • Think Carefully About The Name For Your Program