Building a Reading Culture with Book Clubs

  • High School
Mary Moser

Kids don’t read.  That phrase is on my top 5 banned phrases.  I hear it in different iterations, at different times.  By educators. By community members.  By news anchors.

While statistically reading for enjoyment has dropped, it still holds that 58% of students do enjoy reading and 86% cite reading as necessary for a good future, according to Scholastic.  Reading for fun can be different than reading in the classroom, depending on your curriculum guides and district/building plans.  But, I believe that if can cultivate student enjoyment of reading, outside of curriculum reading if necessary, then the curriculum reading engagement can increase.

One goal as a librarian I have is to get all students to enjoy reading, but I also want to specifically focus on those 30% who see reading as part of success and yet aren’t on the reading is fun bandwagon yet.

That’s why I was so happy to find #ProjectLitBookClub over the summer and the work that Jared Amato started with students.  Hat tip to Kristin Sierra for pointing me in their direction.  This is a book club that students help run, with an array of diverse, engaging young adult titles and a service component to spread the love of reading.

Based on that work as well as discussions at the bargaining table, I introduced two book clubs this Fall at Clover Park High School to help build enthusiasm around reading.  One is #ProjectLit that focuses on young adult books with my high school readers.  The second is Empathy Book Club that is for staff and focuses on reading fictional and non-fictional books that are situated in the world of our students to help us understand what they are experiencing.  We read The Hate U Give to launch and we will read Moxie about toxic masculinity and social justice up next.  We plan to bring in books about addiction, stress, LGBTQIA, homelessness, racial injustice, depression and more.


Project Lit Twitter Handle

For the launch of #ProjectLit, I focused on the The Hate U Give, which was a national focus, so that we could read the book and see the movie together as a book club.  I advertised in my display case, announcement, staff emails and 9th grade library orientation.  I chose to take the reins on this initial launch since the school year was new, a field trip was involved and the idea of a student book club was new for our school.

I worked with my principal to secure funding for 20-30 copies of book club sets using places like First Books and the Junior Library Guild Warehouse Sale.  Other schools have successfully used crowd-funding platforms, but my district doesn’t allow those venues.  With 30 copies of the book and 20 copies of the audiobook, I was able to feed the word of mouth and friends bringing their friends in to read the same book together.

I tried audiobooks for the first time this year as they can be costly.  I went with physical devices as I can’t always rely on my students to have Smart Devices and/or data/internet for downloading.  I must say, I was surprised by the quick circulation of the devices.

Above all, I tried something that made me nervous.  Here I was asking for money from the budget to buy book sets and book a movie theater for the film debut.  I asked students to come after school to talk about a book.  And, I needed teachers to believe in the work and okay their student being on a field trip to watch the movie and debrief the execution of the book to film.  I definitely thought I might be sitting on the library couches, alone with my tray of cookies, on a Tuesday afternoon.  But, I also believed in the book to be a title that grabbed readers and offered timely, relevant discussion about our world.

Tuesday afternoon rolled around and I found myself pleasantly surprised to be joined by our Pierce County Lakewood Library teen services librarian Elise Bodell and surrounded by 15-20 teenagers talking about The Hate U Give and what it meant to them and what they hoped to see in the movie.  We had to shuffle our couch arrangement several times to accommodate our group. And, luckily, I had no treats to drag home.

The following Tuesday, I took 17 students with me to watch the movie, Kleenex in hand.  Another nervous act.  Despite working with teenagers, I’m still always afraid that I will lose a student.

End Results of Book Club One is 20 teenagers after school talking about the book, 17 students embarking on a field trip, 55 circulations of The Hate U Give since school began, 22 circulations of the audiobook and a waitlist started.

And, as the Carpenters would say, “we’ve only just begun”.

  • Literacy
  • Student Engagement
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