Join the club!

When I was a kid, summers were my chance to ride my bike to the public library, load my basket with books, and spend my days immersed in faraway settings, all from the comfort of my own couch or lawn chair. It was a nearly perfect existence. The only thing that would have enhanced it—besides an unlimited supply of ice-cold lemonade and freshly baked chocolate chip cookies—would have been the chance to discuss the books afterward with other kids who’d enjoyed them, too.

 I was clearly born too early, before the invention of youth book clubs. If I were a kid today, I’d plan those library visits around my participation in a summer book club like those offered through the Hennepin County Library, a 41-library system that serves 1.1 million Minnesotans.

Youth in Hennepin County can choose from a variety of offerings tailored to the needs of different kinds of readers. There are clubs just for boys, clubs just for girls, mother-daughter and father-son clubs, clubs for Spanish-speaking youth, and clubs focused on a particular literary genre, like graphic novels or fantasy.

Joni Kreuser, youth services librarian at the St. Louis Park Library, says the main reason to organize a summer book club is because it’s fun for kids.

“That’s got to be number one,” she says. “All the rest of the reasons are for the parents. What’s in it for the kids?”

In support of book clubs

Of course, there are plenty of reasons for parents to support a kid’s participation in a book club. It’s a way of keeping kids excited about reading during the summer, when academic achievement often backslides; it develops their discussion skills and promotes respect for other people’s opinions; it gives them an opportunity to establish a relationship with a caring adult who’s not their parent or guardian; it gives them a chance to meet people and make new friends; it provides a group experience for kids who aren’t involved in organized sports; and it exposes them to books they might not otherwise read.

Kreuser says book clubs already were going strong when she started working at the St. Louis Park library in 1996, but their popularity exploded in 2003 when the library system began using Guys Read, a national program started by author Jon Scieskza. Facilitators are trained to lead the groups—they must be males, according to the rules—and they focus on books that appeal specifically to boys, often incorporating hands-on activities into the discussion.

Same-gender book clubs are popular with tweens because it’s much easier to select books, Kreuser says.

“Guys do not want to read stories with girls as the main character,” she says. “If they’re equal, it’s okay, but they really are not interested in a girl as a main character, whereas girls will read a book with a boy as the main character.”

Kreuser says it’s rewarding to read the evaluations at the end of a book club session because the kids say things like, “I’ve never read anything like this, and I’m glad I did,” or “Thanks for introducing me to these different stories.”