Book Monsters Unite by Carrie Gelson

I am a primary teacher. My job involves many things but my number one goal and my biggest passion is growing readers. I make sure our classroom is full of books. I book talk new books daily. There is time to choose books and time to read what we have selected. We have buddy reading with the kindergarten class, with each other and have many volunteers who visit each week just to listen to us read. Every day there is time devoted to reading instruction, developing comprehension strategies and improving oral reading fluency. And daily, there is time set aside (much time often) for me to read aloud to my students. There is no question that loving books is just what we do in our class.

But then, each June, I have to send my students off to a long summer and a September with a new teacher. It feels like moving away from a thriving garden you have carefully tended. Really, you just want to sit and enjoy the vibrant colours, the incredible smells and the peaceful feeling of watching bees and birds flitter between the blossoms. So . . . obviously, I can’t (to keep the garden analogy going) cut all of these flowers, stick them in a vase and keep them to myself for forever and ever. They have growing and stretching to do. I need to let them go. But, I never want to and I always worry. Will the next teachers nourish their reading souls? Will book love be celebrated each and every day? I really do have serious angst about letting my little readers go. So I have found a solution. A way to cheat. A way to let them go but still keep their reading lives tied up with mine. My brilliant answer? I started a student book club for students in Grade 4 to 7. Along with our lovely Teacher Librarian, Ms. S, we meet weekly with these children and I remain, happily, part of their reading lives.

This is year four of our book club and it has evolved and changed over time. Right now what we do is this:

  • We provide (thank you to some wonderful private donors) a paperback copy of our current book for each student in the club to sign out and read.

  • We have weekly meetings (this year it is at recess on Wednesdays) to read selections aloud, discuss confusing parts and set a rough reading goal for the following week. Often, best laid plans do not come to fruition and what really happens is that we all talk over each other, gush about the books, laugh about specific reactions and clutch the books to our chests professing a love of reading in general, all in a noisy, beautifully chaotic 20 minute period!

  • There is opportunity to share ideas and discuss the book on my blog – each book gets its own page devoted to discussion. With some books, students comment frequently, with others, almost not at all. Some favourite titles our club has enjoyed? Alabama Moon by Watt Key, Out of my Mind by Sharon Draper, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate and When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.

  • When we are done with the books, they move into the library collection and are used in classrooms for literacy circles, book studies, etc.

Some of the unexpected joys:

  • We have families that read along with us. One member and her dad read every book together. He even comments on the blog! We have big sisters who read the novels. Moms. Cousins. It is certainly a family affair!

  • I can’t walk past my book club members in the hallway without being accosted with passionate book details or questions. I love it!

  • Some readers literally establish roots and then bloom out of control (I am really overusing this garden analogy in this post – forgive me please!). One year a girl in Grade 4 joined our book club. I don’t think she ever finished a novel. Not once. But she read bits of them. She attended every meeting and she even participated a little bit in the discussions. That was okay. We knew she was benefitting from the experience. The next year, this girl was our keenest reader. First to finish every book.  Watching her transform into such a confident and engaged reader was amazing.

  • The book passion is contagious. Many children who are not in our book club also stop me in the hall. They tell me what they are reading. They engage in book conversations. I sometimes think I am “that book woman.” Nothing makes me happier!

And because, always, the children say it best, here are some of the responses when I asked the question: Why do you like being part of our book club?

“Because we can read books that we don’t know.”

 

“Usually, when I choose my books I stick to the same series and what I know. I don’t get opened up to other things.”

 

“The ones [books] you and Ms. S choose are interesting always. And we can discuss the book if we don’t understand something.”

 

“I like books. That’s the reason. I just love books.” (This simple response inspired others to begin cheering:  “You’re a books monster. You devour books! We all do!”)

 

“Sometimes when we read, we want to share. If you are at home by yourself, you can’t. But this [meeting weekly] gives us the chance to share. We share the books together.”

 

“Book club gets me more open minded. Not so narrow minded about genre and stuff.”

Even though this student feedback should really get the last word, I am going to end with a request – if you run a student book club, please share how it works! What do you love? What have you learned? There are so many ways to do this and this is certainly the community that can be counted on to learn and share together.

Carrie Gelson teaches Grades 2 and 3 in Vancouver B.C. She is always looking for ways to share the love of reading with her students and shares highlights of her reading and teaching journey at There’s a book for that Find her on twitter at @CarrieGelson.