Thursday, January 28, 2010

Book Club Exchange -- Caroline of Caroline by Line

Today, I'd like to welcome Caroline of Caroline by Line to Book Club Exchange, a new (and hopefully) regular feature on Booking Mama which highlights anything and everything book club-related! Caroline's essay about her after-school book clubs is exactly the type of information I was hoping to share when I started Book Club Exchange -- an insider's look at all different types of book clubs. And, it's especially timely for me this week since I just started my own after-school book club for 4th and 5th grade girls yesterday.

After-School Book Clubs: Grades 3-7

I am a former social studies and English teacher now writing full-time. The hardest part about my decision to leave the classroom was giving up my relationships with my students. The second hardest was giving up talking with those students about things I love. Fortunately, my amazing principal has allowed me to design three after-school book clubs that allow me to continue doing both.

All students grades 3-7 received lists of books I selected for the 2009-2010 school year. Attendance is optional, though I have encouraged teachers to offer extra credit, if they like. All titles are part of the Accelerated Reader program. With a generous donation from our school board, I was able to purchase some of the titles in sets of twelve. All other books must be bought, borrowed, or checked out from the library. Each book club meets once a month in the school library for one hour. The only requirements to attend are that you’ve read the book and you come with something to say.

Third Grade:
Third graders are beginning to conquer chapter books and moving toward middle-grade novels. It is essential that teachers and parents continue to encourage reading at this age when school work is more difficult and reading can become more burden than pleasure. I decided to focus the third grade list on classics, encouraging parents to discuss and read along with their children. Here is a list of the titles my third graders will read this year:

1. Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
2. The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleishman
3. The Boxcar Children by Gertrude C. Wagner
4. From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
5. Henry and Ribsy by Beverly Cleary
6. The Midnight Fox by Betsy Byars
7. Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary

First meeting: 12 out of 27 students (6 boys and 6 girls)

My son, a third-grader, is reading along with me, making this experience extra special. He told me last night several girls keep asking when our next meeting will be.

Fourth and Fifth Grade:
Because I taught 4-7 grade social studies, I have focused both the fourth and fifth-grade book club (and the sixth and seventh) on historical fiction. These are the books we’ll read this year:

1. Pedro’s Journal by Pam Conrad
2. A Stolen Life by Jane Louise Curry
3. The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare
4. Freedom Crossing by Margaret Goff Clark
5. By the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder
6. Riding Freedom by Pam Munoz Ryan
7. The Ballad of Lucy Whipple by Karen Cushman
8. The All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor

First meeting: 15 out of 40 students (3 boys and 12 girls)

Several of the fifth-graders have been heard mumbling that book clubs are for girls. These are my readers, too! I won’t deny it is harder to get boys involved in this sort of thing. I continue to invite these boys and recommend titles when I see them, hoping I can continue to encourage them as readers, officially or not.

Sixth and Seventh-Grade Book Club:
I actually started my first after-school book club last year with these two grades. Every term while teaching, I required my students to read at least one book connected with social studies (historical fiction, biography, or contemporary novels set outside the US all worked for this assignment). My students were really connecting with what they read, and I felt the next logical step would be to create an optional book club where we could discuss what they’d read.

I picked two titles and purchased twelve copies: Peak by Roland Smith and Rebel Hart by Edie Hemingway. The response was amazing. So many signed up, kids had to share copies. Many signed up for both discussions but had a definite favorite and would spontaneously break out into classroom discussion about which was better. What really impressed me was the number of boys who happily read about Nancy Hart, Confederate spy, with no problem at all.

This year’s sixth and seventh-grade list:

1. The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare
2. Crispin: Cross of Led by Avi
3. Pocahontas by Joseph Bruchac
4. The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
5. Freedom Train by Dorothy Sterling
6. The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder
7. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodges Burnett
8. The Yearling by Marjorie Rawlings

First meeting: 15 out of 35 students (2 boys, 13 girls, with 1 boy and 1 girl planning on attending in the future)

I’ve had parents thank me for continuing this program. I’ve seen students at the public library checking out book club books. This isn’t extra work for me. It’s what reading, teaching, parenting, and living are all about.

Here's an example of the letter she hands out to the participants:

Welcome to Book Club!

Here are some things you should know:

* In order to attend a meeting, you need to read the book. That’s it!

* Sometimes we’ll read a book about a boy. Sometimes it will be about a girl. If you are a boy, you CAN read about a girl and survive. I promise. Girls, same for you.

* To make Book Club as interesting as possible, it is good, though not required, to jot down things as you read. Here are some ideas:
1. How does this book compare to others you’ve read?
2. Three words to describe this book would be…
3. If I were the main character, I would have…
4. I was surprised/annoyed/happy etc. when _________ happened.
5. I like this book because…
6. I didn’t like this book because…
7. A great moment in this story was…
8. My favorite character is ______ because…
9. An important sentence in this story was… . It’s important because…
10. If I could change a part of the story, it would be __________ because…
11. Any of your own ideas!

You can get yourself a notebook to write notes in. You can write ideas on a scrap of paper. Where you write doesn’t matter.

* Come to the meeting with something to say! The more you say, the more fun the discussion. If you have a copy of the book, you can bring it along, too.

* Come as often as you like.

* Invite your friends!

* Challenge yourself to read a type of book you might not pick up on your own.

* Have fun!

I’m looking forward to our year together.

Mrs. Rose

Caroline Starr Rose is a mother, reader, and former teacher. In an attempt to make history personal, she developed an on-going assignment called Where in the World Are We Reading, where her social studies students read historical novels and filled in a Travel Log about their "journey."

An after-school book club developed naturally out of Where in the World Are We Reading, and students, with Travel Logs in hand, came to pick apart endings, swoon over characters, and compare the book club title to books previously read. While no longer in the classroom, she continues reading after school with her former students, reading historical fiction with grades four through seven and mid-grade classics with third grade.

Caroline now writes for children full-time and is represented by the fabulous Michelle Humphrey of the Martha Kaplan Agency. A portion of her current historical novel-in-verse, MAY B., is featured in the spring/summer 2009 edition of Louisiana Literature magazine.

I am so grateful to Caroline for sharing so much wonderful information about her after-school book clubs. If you are interested in participating in a future Book Club Exchange, please contact me at bookingmama(at)gmail(dot)com.


Caroline Starr Rose said...

Julie, Thank you so much for the opportunity to share.

It's interesting to re-read this and think of my fifth-grade boys who've never come. Just this week, I saw one carrying around a copy of THE MAZE RUNNER. When I run into him in the carpool line, he'll hold up his newest read. To me, that's success.

Unfortunately, the idea of reading for pleasure is often forgotten in the school setting. It has been such a delight to see these children fall in love with reading.

I've had to alter my third-grade program (the "squirrel factor," as I call it, had come into play). Now parents attend along with their children.

Some of my initial numbers have dropped off, and that's okay. As long as reading continues, the program has worked.

Beth F said...

What an awesome reading list for the clubs and what a great idea. My favorite teachers were the ones who encouraged reading for pleasure.

bermudaonion said...

The book club sounds like so much fun! I know Vance would have loved something like this when he was in elementary school!

Jo-Jo said...

I think this is wonderful, and I may have enjoyed reading earlier if something like this was available. I was just looking through a box of kids books the other night and found one of The Boxcar Children and it made me smile.

Serena said...

this is a fantastic idea! Wonderful guest post by a great teacher getting the kids to read and come to book club meetings. Love it.

Michelle said...


Great post! I'm going to show it to the other librarian I work with in co-leading our tween girls' book club at the library. We had our first meeting of 2010 last week and about 15 girls came. We read Granny Torrelli Makes Soup, by Sharon Creech, and we ate soup and bread as we discussed the book. In our group we also like to have an activity to help the girls better understand some aspect of the book.

Our boys group is separate, and led by male volunteers, so the kids feel more comfortable speaking freely, although we do sometimes get the two groups together.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I'm going to send this info to my teacher friends at my kids' school. Wonderful post, Caroline! :-)

Jemi Fraser said...

Great idea! And you've got a great response. That's a high percentage of kids attending :) Congrats!

MotherReader said...

Thank you for this post. I've been doing a Mother/Daughter book club, but not really knowing what I'm doing. Your questions for the readers to ask themselves and for us to discuss are very helpful.

Ali said...

This is so inspiring, and I love the reading lists. I'm running a monthly book group for our homeschool co-op and your questions are really helpful. It's interesting to see how things have evolved to meet the needs of the kids, too.

Caroline Starr Rose said...

Ali, please keep me posted on your reading group.

Ali said...

I hadn't thought about posting about it, Caroline. I think I will!

J.T. Oldfield said...

Does T.Y. know that the Witch of Blackbird Pond is featured? Because she might actually come and highjack that session, she's so obsessed with that book.