Once a month, during lunch, students grab their food and head to the library for a book club meeting. Each grade level has their own time to meet, eat, and share what they’re reading. The central focus is on the middle grade selections from our state book award list. I stock 3-4 copies of each title on our list, and let the students have at it. It’s a read at your own pace, and really, read what you want kind of book club.
We kick things off at the end of August with a preview of the books. I share book trailers of our state book award nominees, I reveal our visiting author(s) for the school year and book talk those books. As students look around the library at the other 50 or so kids from their grade level who also showed up for book club, inevitably, someone will ask- How are we all going to read the same book? And the answer to that is- we don’t. And, the reason why is- there’s too many of us. That’s a good problem, right?
Lunch Bunch provides a way for students who love to read, and even those who feel half-hearted about it but like the idea, a place to come together, hang out, talk a lot, and then share what they’re reading. We also explore media connected to books. We play book trivia Kahoots, regularly check out Nathan Hale’s You Tube channel, and recently, we watched part of Marc Tyler Nobleman’s documentary Batman + Bill. Rather than all being on the same page, at the same time, it’s very casual, which creates the vibe of community. It’s a place for readers to gather, and all are welcome, anytime.
Are kids expected to even read? Of course. The minimum I expect students to read is 3 books from our state awards list, so that they are eligible to vote in our state book awards election. They can choose to read from either the middle grade or high school list, depending upon their reading tastes. They typically have until mid-April to complete this because we vote in the state election in late April. Each meeting, I remind students of their goal, and students report back on their progress. Each April, I’m also proud to submit around 150 votes from my school.
When a student finishes a book on our list, I simply ask they review it in our library’s catalog, as a way to help other students in our school get book recommendations. I keep a resource list of our state award books in our Destiny Library Catalog, so I can easily click through each book and keep track of who is reviewing. When students read from our list, they also usually find a way to tie this read into their ELA classroom reading requirements. Our informal book club never leaves students without great book ideas, and their reading helps fulfill classroom objectives. Double score! Here’s a sample of the flier students get for our book club.
I’ve also had students post review to our Google Site. I scrapped that because it wasn’t being accessed by the school community. Posting the catalog has helped my book club have a greater impact. This year, we may add a Book Club Padlet. This would be easy for me to share with the entire to school to view. I am always trying new ways for my students to share and make recommendations to others.
Lunch Bunch serves as the core group of students I see on a regular basis, so they are my people, and I treat them accordingly. They are always the first to know about any event going on in the library. They will always know firsthand who our author visitors will be. They get first dibs on the new books that arrive, and they get to preview the book fair the day before it’s open, and as a result, they help spread the amazing things happening in our library via word of mouth.
Lunch Bunch has a few special traditions. First, they get their own author visit each year. It’s like backstage access, if you will. I reserve the whole library just for this time for them and the author. Because they are among their peers, who share similar interests and passions, as opposed to being in the mix of the entire grade level or student body, the questions that get asked of the author are some of the most knock-your-socks-off questions you’ve ever heard, which allows the author to go a little deeper than they normally would because the audience can handle it. I love bringing in authors to speak to the whole student body, but I especially love it when it’s a book club only visit.
We indulge a little from time to time, too. It’s lunch bunch, after all, so eating is one of our core principles. In December, we decorate cookies. I am not sure how this holiday tradition made it into our club, but they all love it. A local grocer gives me a deal on fresh baked sugar cookies, and the students bring icing and sprinkles. We have donuts as our allergy friendly treat. I work with students who can’t have either, and I bring in whatever it is they can have. For our final meeting, we make ice cream sundaes. I set up a station with ice cream, chocolate syrup, whipped cream, sprinkles, and cherries. This aspect gets trickier to navigate each year with new district policies, and it’s an aspect that can go, if need be. We’ll be sad to see our 2 treats per year go, but we’re a creative bunch, so we’ll figure it out.
Amidst all the fun, the thing I’m most proud of is I have kids who also desire to share the
love of reading. Therefore, we host a book drive at our school in order to benefit a charity of our choice. Nashville is fortunate to have Book ‘Em, which is a non-profit committed to getting books in the hands of children in our area. Book ‘Em has been our pick for many years. The school-wide book drive is held each year during our annual book fair. Students are encouraged to bring gently used books from home, or they can purchase a book from the fair to donate. The Lunch Bunch helps come up with the rewards students get for donating books, which can be anything from a certain amount of school cash, to what the top grade level wins, to what silly, but hilarious, stunt faculty will do if we meet our goal.
We always meet our goal and then some. If I had to guess, my students have given approximately 10,000 books over the past decade.
My top 10 tips for a lunch bunch book club:
- Take attendance. I keep a spreadsheet of book club attendance. I print it out each meeting, and students check off their name. I update the spreadsheet after each meeting.
- Have extras supplies on hand. I have a basket of eating utensils, napkins, which cuts down on the back and forth to the cafeteria to pick up said forgotten items. Lunch is short. We don’t have time to waste.
- Table washers. Always enlist a few students to hang back and help wipe tables. Give them a late pass to class.
- Garbage management. Get a large garbage can from the cafeteria. Don’t let them toss their lunch in your library trash cans. Trust me on this one.
- Reward them for participating. We have school cash, aka tickets, and I give a ticket for attending, and I give 5 for each review they post.
- Talk time is important. I let them chat about whatever and eat for the first 10 minutes. Then, we meet for the remaining 20.
- Empower them. Let a couple of eager students plan a meeting. We’ve had some great book trivia Kahoots and games of Balderdash planned by students.
- Involve them. They are my go-to students when it comes time for the author visit. I enlist them to meet the author at the front office and escort him/her to the library. They are always called upon during author presentation q&a time.
- Fangirl with them. The book club members were huge Hamilton fans last year. We planned a Hamilton celebration after school one day. We had a sing-a-long, performances, and trivia. Related to our middle grade state book awards list? Well, no. But, this was important to them.
- Recognize them. During our end of the year student honors program, I give each participant a certificate, and I brag on them in front of their families and the student body for their accomplishments for growing as readers and for their service in giving and sharing their love of reading.
I am proud of this reading community. We have a pretty cool thing going on. If you find a way to create a casual community of readers in your school, I would encourage you to give it a shot. The readers will come to you, and this will not only help you get to know a core group of the coolest students in your building, but this will help you have your fingers on the pulse of the interests and preferences of readers.