About once a month, my sister-in-law goes to a local bookshop and selects a variety of books from which her book club can choose their book of the month to read and discuss. Then they buy several copies of the chosen tome, read and discuss it.
Good on them, but that’s not for me. I’m a librarian. I just don’t have time or interest to spare for discussing one book for a whole month. In the time leading up to the Children’s Book Council awards, there are a stack of books to read and share with students, plus books to review and books recommended by other book blogs and sometimes I read just because. I think I’m reading about a dozen books right now.
Instead I will talk about book clubs at my school, but not that type of book club.
Firstly, there’s Literature Circles. That’s something I did with my Year 8 students for several years, till the English faculty(not me!) decided there were more important things to do. When I was first discussing it with my class, one student asked, “Is it like book club?” Delighted, I replied,”Yes, that’s exactly what it is! It’s book club for the classroom.”
Here is how it worked at my school. We brought out small class sets of books for the students to check. For a couple of years, my class was joined with another, as we had English at the same time and it meant we could share resources instead of competing. The students were allowed to make three potential choices. Let’s face it, they knew what they could handle - mostly, anyway. Sometimes a student would choose a book that sounded interesting but was too hard, or would hope to be put in the same group as a friend who was a better reader. We did ask them to choose carefully and let them know that we, the teachers, would have the final say in what they read, though we would try to give them their first choice. After the first year, when I had a very good class, I was able to show the kids DVDs I had recorded of discussions by their older schoolmates, sometimes older siblings. We also did a practice short story with them to give them an idea of what was required. Once it was a story of mine, and the group got into an argument over the ending and called me over to settle it! As I said, a good class the first time, great fun to work with.
If I was working with another class, my colleague and I would decide which groups would work together on which books. They were based on choice, on how good their reading was and who would get along with whom. In one case, we had two older students, known for their kind hearts, together with two younger ones. We knew the older girls would help their younger group members. They all had the book of choice somewhere on their list, of course. And they did enjoy it.
The groups were on average four or five students. Each member had a task, moved around from week to week, one to direct the discussion and make sure it stayed on task, one to do a drawing of whatever he or she was reading and discuss that with the group(and a group once argued over that - it was not how another student saw it), another to say what a scene in the book reminded them of, either another book or in real life. All of this led to stimulus for discussion. I have kept DVD copies of those discussions.
Some of them were amazing, others had to be reminded to focus. One of my students, who was good at filming and had finished reading his book, was given the job of filming his classmates’ discussions. He was so very good at it that when the time came for students to do their creative responses I told him I would assess him on that. Lachlan didn’t just film. When discussions were lagging, he would ask the group questions, just like a teacher. Nobody was allowed to get away with not discussing their book in his presence. He is at university now, though not in a teaching course.
I remember a young man called Ali who was so far ahead of his group in reading the book - which they were allowed to do for about twenty minutes in class - that they asked me if he could go and read something else while they caught up. Ali didn’t mind at all; we were in the library and he was a passionate reader. I often had to ask him, reluctantly, in English class, to please put down his book while we did our lesson. Delightedly he went to the shelves for another book. He is also at university now, studying accountancy or some such thing. I do hope he changes to librarianship.
When everyone had finished and discussions were done, the students did a creative response to what they had read. Some very strong readers/writers were allowed to write fan fiction. Mostly they prepared book trailers, after we had shown them some examples of book trailers that both showed what the book was about and persuaded viewers to read it.
After the first year, I was able to show my classes examples of trailers done by previous classes. The kids enjoyed it and at the same time showed that they had understood what the book was about. I explained to them about copyright and directed them to some web sites with Creative Commons materials, including music, in case they wanted to post their work on YouTube. Nobody did, but there were some very good book trailers and one student who was good at drawing did a graphic novel scene from the book, which the author published on her web site.
Some kids got to interview the authors. I have posted those on this blog. Look it up under “Interview” if you’re interested, there are too many for me to provide links. One student was so thrilled that he carried around a printout of his interview for weeks. I did tell my students that they could forget about an interview with most overseas big-name authors, but I happen to know a few local authors personally. Others I didn’t know personally were just kind; Li Cunxin, author of Mao’s Last Dancer, who lives in Queensland, agreed to an interview despite a massive workload of preparing a ballet for tour and directing the company - and responded within twenty four hours!
So, that was book club for the classroom. A vast improvement on the book reports we used to have to do when I was a child, where the teacher thought they were being cool if they let you do it as a book dust jacket. In all fairness, book trailers were not an option when I was at school many years ago, but a literature circles discussion certainly was.
What else have I done? Until the end of last year, when I retired, I was running a lunchtime book club for kids who loved reading. For my first few years nobody was interested. Then my “nerd pack” came along, including a girl called Thando(check out her interview with Juliet Marillier on this blog). Thando was such a passionate reader that I just gave up and let her borrow as many books as she wanted. Sometimes, during the holidays, that was twenty books. Which she always finished, returned and borrowed more. Another student, Selena, helped me read the CBCA shortlisted books. She, too, did an interview, with Cath Crowley, author of the wonderful Graffiti Moon(more recently Words In Deep Blue) and Charlie Higson, author of Young James Bond and a series of YA zombie novels.
Suddenly I had a book club! Not the kind that got together to discuss a chosen book once a month. Not them! They all had favourite types of reading which they shared with each other. Together we went to writers’ festivals and author talks. They chose new books for the library. They joined Goodreads and the State Library’s Insideadog web site. They nominated and voted for the YABBA Awards. They helped me set up book launches and greeted visitors, including the delightful Will Kostakis, who dropped in on his way to see his publishers and kindly spoke to our Year 8 and 9 students. One year they recorded a set of virtual readouts for Banned Books Week. Last year we finally did the Premier’s Reading Challenge. Some of them were writers and I did alternating book club and writer club meetings for them.
And sometimes we just talked about books. Whatever we were reading or wanted to read. How I miss them!
That’s my kind of book club. What’s yours?