Review Club by Donalyn Miller

The first time I talked with Sam about reading, I knew that she was going to be a challenge. She announced to me that she had read The Hunger Games series over the summer and was now rereading Harry Potter. During the first week of school, Sam read all of George O’Connor’s Olympians graphic novels and decided to reread The Origami Yoda series while waiting for Joshua to finish our new copy of The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppet. In two weeks, I saw that the Olympian graphic novels had spread to five other readers in the class because of Sam. By week three, she professed to me that she was having trouble finding books that she hadn’t already read.

Rereading my conference notes, I knew that Sam wasn’t the only one struggling to find new books to read. I could name at least four other students in the class who exceeded any goals I might set for a fifth grade reader. Finding books that stretched my avid readers without pushing them into content that was beyond their emotional age was going to be difficult. Upper elementary school students reading way beyond grade level deserve to grow as readers, but it is hard to offer reading experiences that provide sufficient challenge without pushing them into books they are too young to read.

One day, Sam and Vivian discovered the boxes of new books in our storage closet, “Hey, Mrs. Miller. What are these books back here? Can we read them?”

Glancing at the books in their arms, I told the girls, “Those are new books that I bought over the summer. I am reading them to decide whether we are adding them to our class library.”

Vivian smiled, “We could help you out, Mrs. Miller. Can we read them? We can tell you if they’re good.”

And Review Club was born.

Gathering Sam, Vivian, and three other wild readers into our storage space, the students and I set guidelines for reviewing new books. I would have been fine with my usual, “Go forth and read, write, and talk about the books” expectations, but the kids in our newly formed Review Club wanted more structure. As Austin reminded us, “A good club needs rules.” Sharing my experiences on several book review committees, the children and I created our own review policy:

  • Every book must be reviewed by at least two readers.
  • Readers must read at least 50 pages of a book considered for review.
  • If you enjoy the book, you can finish it. Otherwise, you may abandon it after 50 pages.
  • You must write a brief review for the book and make recommendations to Mrs. Miller about the book’s value as a classroom library addition.
  • If you think a book is inappropriate for the class because it is too “edgy” or too easy, let Mrs. Miller know.

 

For my part, I confer with Review Club members at least once a week to check on their progress and assess their reviews and notes.  I keep two book bags by my desk for Review Club books and the children just dig in them when they want a new book to review. Chloe and Vivian squealed when they ran across an ARC of Anne Ursu’s The Real Boy, “Can we read this now? This book doesn’t come out until September 24th. Do we have to wait until then to read it?” By the time our pre-ordered copy of The Real Boy arrived, the entire Review Club had read it and scores of other students were lining up to read it next.

Review Club is a big success. My highest readers found a way to challenge themselves and they enjoy reading new books and providing me with their expert advice. After all, the children are the intended audience for these books. When I am unsure about the kid appeal of a specific title, Review Club kids chime in. Instead of books sitting in our storage closet until I can read them, Review Club keeps a continuous stream of new books and recommendations flowing into our classroom.

The children are building reading relationships with each other, too—chatting about what they are reading, and seeking out each other’s opinions about what to read next. I see the influence of Review Club members spreading to other students, who express curiosity and interest about what they are reading. If anyone else in the class wants to review new books, I let them. After all, reading shouldn’t be exclusive. Wouldn’t it be great if all of our students sought membership in a club dedicated to reading?

 

Donalyn Miller is a fifth grade teacher at Peterson Elementary in Fort Worth, TX. She is the author of The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild. Donalyn co-hosts the monthly Twitter chat, #titletalk (with Nerdy co-founder, Colby Sharp), and facilitates the Twitter reading initiative, #bookaday. You can find her on Twitter at @donalynbooks or under a pile of books somewhere, happily reading.