If you’ve ever wondered how to start a tween book club (or one for kids of any age), consider this your ultimate guide.
How to Start a Book Club for Tweens
Table of Contents
While I’ve hosted a summer reading club for kids of different ages, I’ve never labeled it a “book club” because it’s a bit different from meeting regularly as book clubs do. So, for this post, I’ve added my insights and also spoken to experts — teachers, librarians, authors, and fellow book bloggers, as well as other book lovers who have run successful tween book clubs.
What to Know If You Want to Start a Tween Book Club
We’ll start by answering some common questions about starting a tween book club.
How often should we meet?
It depends. If you plan to discuss the book in sections, meeting once a week may be ideal. This would mean assigning pages or chapters — essentially splitting the book into sections to discuss each week. Middle school librarian Kellee Moye likes to leave the frequency up to the students. She says, “I have found students like to have a week goal of reading and will want to meet as a club at least once a week.”
However, if you’re going to discuss the entire book at each meeting, it may be best to meet once a month. Lauren, founder of the Happily Ever Elephants site (who has started her own tween book club) recommends meeting once a month.
Lauren says, “This allows all of the tweens, whether they read fast or slow, to finish the book of the month, reread if they want, and prepare for the discussion.” She tried running a book club that met once a week, and found that it did not work. According to Lauren, “The kids were always at different places in the book, and there were spoilers galore, no matter how hard they tried not to give away the good parts!”
How many kids should we have?
I’m a fan of smaller book clubs because there tends to be freer participation. Middle grade author and book club host Rebecca Carpara agrees. “Smaller groups allow everyone a chance to speak, and help create a nice familiar vibe,” she says. Both Rebecca and Lauren say 10 kids is their recommended max for in-person clubs.
If you’re hosting a virtual book club, it may be easier to have more participants without too much of a ruckus. Lauren recommends 15-20 kids for online discussions. “It’s easy to moderate this number with one host (kids are so used to the rules of Zoom these days and know how to mute, raise their hand, etc!), and I think it works well for discussion purposes and breakout rooms,” she says.
Where should we meet?
Both online and in real life (IRL) book clubs have their charm. If you love in-person interactions and would like to keep things small and cozy, try an IRL book club. Some suggested locations for an in-person tween book club are:
- Your home
- A public library
- Your middle school library
- An outdoor space with low noise levels
- An indie bookstore (Rebecca’s book club meets at The Silver Unicorn Bookstore in Acton, MA)
But if you don’t mind more Zoom calls, a virtual book club can be perfect. You’ll enjoy:
- More voices and participants
- People from a variety of locations
- Book clubbing from the comfort of your home
How do we pick a book?
This can be tough to figure out! But here are five approaches you can follow
1. Choose books for different kinds of readers
This is as easy as switching genres every time you choose a new book. Try a graphic novel one month, then non-fiction the next month, then fantasy the month after, and so on. This encourages some readers to go outside their comfort zone. Reading widely also means encouraging diverse reading. For Lauren, “Book clubs are a great way to encourage children to read things they wouldn’t normally pick up and to learn about the lived experiences of other children that may be wholly different from their own.”
2. Decide on themes based on your book club’s goal
For middle school librarian, Kellee, it’s important to set a goal of the club. “For example,” she says “my lunch book club for many years’ goal was to read books of authors who would do virtual visits with us. This meant that we chose books based off of this. We would come up with a list of authors to contact and then go from there. Other goals of clubs could be to read inclusive titles, state award titles, and genre studies.”
3. Let the kids choose
It’s so important to let kids choose what they read in general, and this applies to book clubs too. Here’s how Rebecca decides with the kids: “Each month I select a shortlist of 3-4 books, often centered around a theme, format, or genre (for example: graphic novel, fantasy, mystery, novel-in-verse, etc.). I’ll read them the flap copy, show them the cover art, and let them flip through the first few pages of each option. Then we hold a vote and the winning book becomes next month’s pick. We always try to choose something that no one has read before, which can be tricky in a group of voracious readers!”
4. Check your library for what’s in stock
You want to choose books that are accessible to your audience, especially in low-income areas. Middle grade teacher and author Ellen Mulholland says to “check with the local libraries and bookstores for available sets of books to borrow or buy at discounts.” She also recommends having “kids sign up with Sora so they can access library ebooks.”
5. Don’t be afraid to try “non-buzzy” books
We all love a good buzzy title, but don’t be afraid to try books that might have flown under the radar too. I highlighted five under-the-radar middle grade books in the printable version of my 2021 summer reading guide. All five are superb choices for tween book clubs.
What if everyone doesn’t like our selected book?
If you’re worried about this, then try voting for a unanimous choice before deciding. Ultimately, though, you can’t please everyone. Most voracious readers will try to give any book a fair chance before putting it aside. They can also just skip that month’s discussion or join in and hear about the book even if they didn’t read it.
Do parents need to get involved?
It depends! If it’s a family book club, you’d definitely want parents involved. But if it’s a book club for tweens, I recommend letting the kids alone sit through the discussions with you. Like Kellee says, “Some students may need the safe space of a book club away from parents.”
If you have younger kids in your club, though, you may want to make some exceptions. Rebecca says of her book club, “Most of the kids read the books independently, but some parents (including Rebecca) read the monthly selections aloud with their kids, while others listen to audiobooks together in the car.” In such cases, Rebecca says, “Book club reading that doubles as family bonding time is a total bonus in my mind!”
9 Practical Tips for Starting a Tween Book Club
1. Name your book club
Sounds like a small thing, but naming your book club makes the kids feel like they’re part of a real, fun group (with a name!). You can brainstorm names on your own before you call out for members or let the kids have a part in naming it — although that might get a bit chaotic.
2. Set ground rules
Everyone needs ground rules and boundaries to ensure that they are respectful and organized enough to get the most out of the arrangement. So don’t be afraid to set basic ground rules. Some examples could be:
- Letting others have a turn
- Not yelling at other kids
- Not making fun of others’ opinions, etc.
The important thing is to keep the rules few and specific. That way, the kids can actually remember and follow them.
3. Know your crowd
Knowing what the kids in your book club like to read will save you a ton of stress. Ellen, quoted earlier, sometimes advises book clubs at her middle school. She recommends surveying the group once they arrive to find out their interests, tastes, and expectations.
True, they may have widely varied interests, but at least you’ll know! It also pays to know what they hope to get out of the book club and how much they read as individuals, so you know how to pace yourselves.
4. Give readers agency
Author Jo Hackl is a big fan of giving readers agency. She says, “I started a book club and found that the more agency we gave readers (in writing discussion questions, picking books, etc.), the more engagement we had. Lesley Roessing’s excellent book Talking Texts provided a wealth of advice and how-to’s.”
5. Have a communication channel
A successful book club thrives on having a communication channel. Decide the best way to communicate with your club members and stick to it. Whether it’s sending emails, bulk text messages, or making phone calls to parents, it’s vital to have contact information for your book club members.
6. Bring snacks
If you meet in person, this is a MUST! When possible, experiment with themed snacks to get everyone in the spirit. At the same time, try to keep things as simple as possible. For example, you don’t have to make the snacks yourself; no shame in store-bought goodies.
7. Tips for keeping conversation going
The worst feeling is when you have *crickets* instead of lively conversation. Ways to prevent that? Here are some tips from experts:
- Bring questions: Rebecca says, “I typically come armed with some prepared questions or conversation starters, but we have a chatty group, so we rarely get stuck!”
- Use discussion guides: Rebecca also says, “Lots of authors and publishers produce reading & discussion guides for middle grade books, which are fantastic resources for book clubs and classrooms alike.” One of her top choices is the discussion guide for Sisters of the Neversea by Cynthia Leitich Smith.
- Make room for chattiness: Public library director, Laura of the Literacious blog says, “I think one of the best tips for a successful tween book club is to make sure you allow space and time for answers. We have a book discussion at our library every summer (grades 5-8) and the kids always have a lot to say, sometimes you just have to let the question breathe!”
8. Complimentary activities
Sometimes, kids want to do stuff, not just talk. So, plan activities that compliment your book club picks. Reading a mystery? Plan a clue hunt. Reading a book about crafting or cooking? Plan a DIY or cooking session.
Many kids who love to read are also writers. Try including writing sessions. Rebecca says, “I also incorporate creative writing exercises into most of our meetings, inspired by whatever book we’ve read that month. If the discussion portion of our meeting wraps up quicker than I anticipated, I’ll just jump into our writing prompt to keep the momentum going.”
9. Share freebies, if possible
Bookmarks, author chats, new books — everyone loves a good freebie. If it’s within your budget, try to giveaway a free book or other gift during every book club meeting. This is one reason why writer Cassie Sliva remembers her tween book club fondly, “When I was 11 or 12 I was in a book club at the library – my fave part was a book draw at each meeting to win new books – I never missed a meeting!”
Suggested Tween Book Club Books
My recommendations: Hope Springs by Jaime Berry (has several crafting and treat recipes), Saint Ivy: Kind At All Costs by Laurie Morrison (discussion and activity guide here), One Kid’s Trash by Jamie Sumner, and A Soft Place to Land by Janae Marks.
Rebecca’s recommendations: Graphic novels always attract our biggest crowds, and spur fascinating conversations about both textual and visual storytelling. A few of our group’s favorite graphic novels have been New Kid by Jerry Craft, When Stars Are Scattered by Omar Mohamed and Victoria Jamieson, and Pawcasso by Remy Lai. (Remy even visited us virtually and introduced the kids to the real dog who inspired her title character!) We also had great discussions about Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston, and Lifeboat 12 by Susan Hood.
Kelle’s Recommendations: Anything by Eliot Schrefer, Todd Mitchell, Laurel Snyder, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, Michele Weber Hurwitz, Dan Gemeinhart, John David Anderson, Mitali Perkins, Augusta Scattergood, and Kristen Kittscher!
Lauren’s recommendations: Amari and the Night Brothers and Starfish!
Ready to Start a Tween Book Club?
It’s intimidating to moderate a group of tweens and keep everyone as engaged as possible, but it’s definitely doable! I hope these tips will help you start and nurture your first tween book club!
Got any more tips on how to start a tween book club? Let me know!
Great suggestions, Afoma! And thanks for including my thoughts!
That’s a super article! May I share it with my Instagram followers?
Afoma Umesi says
Yes, please! Thank you so much, Heather! 🙂
I just put it up and it’s already getting a good response. Super resource for bookstagram community. Thanks!