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What’s it take to run a book club with teens? Author Teri Brown shares her experience

When I set out to run a book club for teens at a community center in a low income apartment complex, I thought it would be a piece of cake.

 

I know, I know. Naïve much?



At the time, I was working fifteen hours a week for the children’s program at Community Partners of Affordable Housing, an organization that fights poverty on many levels. As a teen author, I gravitated toward the middle grade and teen members of the community and starting a book club seemed like a natural fit.

My goal in starting the book club was simple…I wanted the kids to love reading as much as I did. Literacy has always been important to me and this was a way I could share what I loved with others. So I spoke to the powers that be, got the go ahead and started in. A few things became immediately apparent:

First off, free books wouldn’t be enough to fill up the signup sheet. I needed something more. So I decided food would be the draw. Teens love food!

Secondly, coming up with eight to ten of the same books wasn’t easy. Authors often don’t get that many books and most of what we get is earmarked for contests and such. It was during this time that I found out just how awesome the teen lit community is and actually had authors buy other authors books for the club. Amazing.

And third, I would lean on my local fellow teen authors for free visits.

It worked like a charm. Suddenly my spots filled up and I had ten happy, hungry teens. I couldn’t have any more than that as I wasn’t sure I would be able to come up with nine months of free books every year for ten teens, let alone more.

The book club ran for almost four years. I watched several of my teens go from freshmen to proud graduates, overcoming obstacles that most of us couldn’t even imagine. Running a book club for teens at a community center was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done … even if I did feel like a fish out of water more than once.

 A few of the things I learned:

*No matter how much you’re enjoying yourself, someone has to remain firmly in charge. It amazed me just how quickly something fun, such as a spitwad blown through a straw, could disintegrate into a food fight. I know this seems elementary, but it still took me by surprise.

*I tried to offer new food experiences… once we had an English tea and another time we had both cheese and chocolate fondue. Once a year we would do a potluck and they would share their favorite foods…I think it helped them take ownership of our club.

* Two to three times a year I would choose a book from a local author and we would have them come to visit. The visitor would come a bit later so that I could make sure the kids had prepped. They LOVED meeting authors.

* Too my surprise, they loved reading out loud and always asked to do it. I never made someone read but after passing a couple of times, everyone would overcome their shyness, even the kids to whom English was a second language.

One of the things I had to come to grips with is the transitory nature of friendships with teens. They grow up. They move on. Out of the ten kids that started book club with me, three of them are confirmed readers. Two have gone on to higher education, making them the first in their families to do so and I feel confident the third will as soon as she graduates. I’ve lost touch with the others, but hope that they remember our time together with fondness and are still reading books for the love of reading.

Born of Illusion by Teri Brown
June 11, 2013 by Balzer & Bray
Teri Brown is proud of her two children but coming in a close second is the fact that she parachuted out of a plane and beat the original Legend of Zelda video game. She is the author of the Summerset Abbey Series, a New Adult Edwardian trilogy she writes under TJ Brown and the author of Born of Illusion, a Young Adult novel coming out in June 2013 from Balzer +Bray. You can find her at www.tjbrownbooks.com or www.Teribrownbooks.com.