Starting a High School Book Club

17 09 2010

Here it is…the Published Post:

This letter is in response to a media specialist on my list serve who was looking for help in starting a high school book club. Since I am going on my third year with ours in Bloomfield, I offered her some of my tennants and philosophies. Here is the letter.  I am honored that it was recognized by a university professor and a magazine editor who both want to publish the piece. The magazine will be donating $100 to the book club for the article!

Dear Fellow Media Specialist,
It is exciting to hear of a colleague venturing into a HS Book Club arena. I am an advisor to a large book club that is going on our third year in a semi-urban school. Our membership fluctuates, but I am proud that we are registering 65 plus students on our email group roster!  This year we have students of all ability levels and gender and now are signing up ESL students that are native Spanish and French speaking. Sign up activity is steady for the upcoming school year. Our model is non-traditional, which I believe has lent to our success.
I’m happy to share some of our philosophies.
Firstly, we are all inclusive.

That means that everyone is welcome to join our club, students, teachers, lower level readers, ESL, students, administration and even security. This is how we generate excitement.  We welcome teachers from other schools in our district (elementary and middle). Although we are largely student based, it is very exciting to have teachers join us, especially on a topic that they are interested in. Last year, one of our new teachers read our selection, Persepolis with us and gave us a presentation that included a video on the origin of the oil conflict in the Mid East. It was riveting. Not only is no one excluded, but student members are so kind that they extend welcoming arms to those that are unsure of themselves and even have learning difficulties.
We always have food.

I know its a bribe, but when you are selling books, you need a little help. We try to keep it healthy, although there are plenty of cookies and brownies. Most times we try to include carrots, grapes, along with the ‘treats’. When we started, one of our dearest teachers donated several pizzas and soda. Once everyone was full, we had amazing conversations.
We are connected through online social media tools.

(read blog post Reading 2.0: From Solitary to Social)

Our book club continues discussions way past our meeting times and we’re always open online. We use Facebook (private group) or GoodReads. We generate all meeting notices via emails and texts, and our activity is posted regularly on our media center website. I just wrote an article on this for School Librarian Workshop, if you are interested let me know and I’ll send the text.
We connect to community. 

Our first book was Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson. This opened up firestorms of conversations, adventure, climbing, schools, culture, and philanthropy to name but a few. As a culminating activity, we did a fundraiser for the charity and raised hundreds of dollars. Charity and connection to the greater world around us has become an important aspect of our book club. We choose books on these topics, for example, bullying, the childcare systems, and forms of inspirational literature. We often read books before they hit the shelf. Its a little expensive but it is very exciting to be the first ones to embrace a title!
We fundraise for ourselves and purchase our own books

I learned, painfully, that if we dont’ provide the books, they will not come. We have not gotten any money from the school (although I am constantly writing grant requests) I use our earned money to purchase 10 to 20 books from the cheapest source possible. The books are put into circulation and only available to book club members while we are reading the selection. They are never charged late-fines. Once the book is finished, it goes back into the collection and often there are enough books for an entire class! We have found these book club books to have the highest readership in our library. It is a great service for our school and our students.
We elect Officers.

 Students need leadership opportunities, and what better way than to offer this through book club. This year we had so many qualified, driven students that we have two presidents (Co’s), a VP,Treasurer and an Activities Coordinator. These students are competent and I hand them much responsibility. They often lead the group discussions.
We have field Trips.

The past two years included a trip to a restaurant to celebrate the culture of a book (Turkish food) and a visit to a fantastic local public library. This year we hope to set up a library tour in NYC and visit inspirational libraries.
Open Mic/ Poetry Reading.

 One of our most successful fundraisers, or at least the most fun was a book fair at Barnes and Noble that included an Open Mic and Poetry Reading.  Our students loved this so much, that we are going to be holding an Open Mic for the first time in our media center. Students chose favorite books to read excerpts from (Little Women and Robert Frost big favorites) , poetry readings and many read their own poetry. We had flute players, guitarists and solo vocalists. Everyone was cheered and we developed an amazing crowd. Two students acted as Mic’s and we cheered for each performer.
This is tricky. Students offer selections and we vote, although I have begun to strongly steer the choices. In general, it is important to appeal to both genders, choose a shorter and easily accessed book that is not too difficult. There is such a wide range of reading levels and it must appeal to all. We have had an occasion where we chose two books and split the group. This worked well because the two selections were on the same topic (circus) but on different levels of maturity and difficulty.
Alumni are always welcome.

 In other words, you are a friend of book club for life. Members that have graduated return during college breaks and we have been known to skype with members during a meeting. It is wonderful to see returning members at occasional meetings.
Well, I hope this helps. Please feel free to contact me directly if you have any further questions. Our book club is receptive to talking to others at any time and always welcome the opportunity to read a book with a club from another school. Perhaps we can partner on a selection in the future!
Best wishes,
Debra D’Andrea
School Library Media Specialist
Bloomfield High School
Bloomfield, NJ 07003





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