Book clubs aren't just for adults anymore. From the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore to elementary and middle schools in Howard County, pupils are meeting after school, during lunch and evenings to swap opinions, critique authors and celebrate their love of current titles.
But putting together a successful book club for children takes careful choice of members, the right literature and a light touch from the adults behind the scene, say librarians and educators who coordinate children's book clubs throughout the area.
"The adult has to create an atmosphere that says it's OK to have your own opinion," said Monalisa De Gross, an assistant programmer for children and youths at Pratt who coordinates an after-school book club for children in fifth through eighth grades.
Children's book group coordinators start by deciding which children the club is intended to serve. For example, a club might target a specific age group or might be organized around a particular theme -- fostering multicultural communication, for example, or girls' self-esteem.
In Howard County, the Middle School Book Club meets once a month with sixth- through eighth- graders from at least eight county middle schools. The club, in its second year, draws mostly from the schools' gifted-and-talented programs, said Lorraine Quinn, gifted-and-talented resource teacher at Mount View Middle School in Marriotsville.
"Most of the students involved are already very well-read, avid readers who want to share great literature with kids their own age," she said. The club's objective is to have high-level discussions about quality literature.
While it participates in the countywide book club, Harper's Choice Middle School in Columbia also runs a club that looks for nontraditional participants, including pupils who may be learning-disabled or speak English as a second language. The group is "designed to bring together groups of people who wouldn't normally get together," said Edna Turner, the school's gifted-and-talented teacher.
Organizers say a group should be large enough to generate discussion from a variety of viewpoints, but not so large that it feels impersonal. A good range is 10 to 20 participants, with 14 or 15 being optimal.
The next step is choosing the book. With older children, it works best to have the kids choose, organizers say. That way they feel a close tie to the work from the beginning.
For younger readers, who are less aware of available literature, teachers or librarians should make the selections.
"Kids will read up. It's hard to get older kids to read down," DeGross said. She also tries to pick books that are not difficult to read -- something a child can finish in one or two sittings.
Fran Clay, a reading specialist at Triadelphia Ridge Elementary in Ellicott City, looked for variety in choosing books for that school's lunchtime book club. A synopsis was printed on the registration sheet, so the children could decide if the books appealed to them.
Organizers also stress that the children should lead the discussion as much as possible. With younger children, an adult may start the discussion and let the kids take it from there.
At the Pratt book club, DeGross starts with a set of questions, but lets the kids' interests dictate the flow of conversation. The discussion may start out slowly, but as the kids get to know one another, they become more comfortable speaking out.