In June, our library’s long-standing monthly Tween Book Group passed down to me. I was super nervous when I led my first program, because I had never led a book group for young people before. Not only is it now my favorite program, but I have since started a few other programs for tweens—they’re the best!
Tween Book Group is structured with about half the time devoted to discussion and half the time devoted to an extension activity. The program lasts and hour and, honestly, it never feels like there’s enough time!
Here are (most of) the books we read this year and the accompanying extension activities.
When You Reach Me by Erin Stead
When You Reach Me is one of those books that basically gives you an extension activity on a silver platter: the $100,000 Pyramid game. My coworker, Rob, led this program with me as his Vanna White. We stacked a bunch of boxes in the shape of a pyramid and taped categories hidden inside folders onto the boxes. We showed a short clip of the game and skipped to the Winner’s Circle round with the kids competing in teams. One team member would list a bunch of things in a category in an attempt to get the rest of the team to guess the category. The categories were inspired by the book’s chapter titles as well as a few other categories Rob and I threw in. It was so much fun—though the tweens did get a bit discouraged because they weren’t very good at guessing.
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein
This one was another collaboration between Rob and me—his last before moving onto new adventures on the library’s outreach team. We did a gigantic library scavenger hunt, with clues written as poems that directed participants to specific books in the library’s collection. The books held the next clue inside. Our scavenger hunt spanned the children’s, teen, and even adult collections. The tweens competed in teams, working together to solve the clues while also learning about the way the library is organized. Pro tip if you ever do this: make sure your library has multiple copies of books to put the clues in just in case someone checks one out! As an example, here is our list of clues.
Nick & Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab: A Mystery by Bob Pflugfelder & Steve Hockensmith
Our library received a grant from Mozilla to purchase some snazzy new tech and we wanted to focus on making and gaming in our book clubs. I purchased Nintendo Labo kits to use with our Nintendo Switch. Labo kits use cardboard pieces to build playable tech. I built two cardboard robot suits that we used to have video game robot battles. Since only two could play at a time, I also copied one of the inventions from the book for the tweens to build while they waited for a turn. The invention activity didn’t work very well, but the robot battles were a huge hit and I even got some of the caregivers to play with their kids after.
A Tale Dark & Grimm by Adam Gidwitz
A lot of the kids really found this book to be over-the-top creepy. I loved it. And I thought it would be fun to have them invent their own fairy tales and then create a zine out of them. But, since fairy tales were passed down in the oral tradition through multiple tellers before being chronicled in print, I also wanted to pay homage to history. So, I used the exquisite corpse writing activity to let one tween start the story before passing it onto the next person. The person who took over writing someone else’s story would only get to see the last few lines. In the end, each story had three authors. The resulting collection of fairy tales is absolutely ridiculous and you can view it online (provided you forgive my terrible design choices).
The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell
I love this book so much. It’s another one that basically begs for an extension activity: building stuff out of cardboard boxes! I never tell the tweens what our activity is because I like to keep it a surprise. This time, I disappeared into the back and brought out a cart full of cardboard. At first, the kids seemed disappointed. But when I said “You mean you don’t want to build a bunch of amazing stuff out of all this cardboard?” they rushed me to get their boxes. Most worked in teams to build characters from the book, or weapons, or forts. One kid even showed up already in cardboard costume. It was amazing! I joked to my coworkers that I was ready to retire after this program.
The Dragonet Prophecy by Tui Sutherland
If Cardboard Kingdom’s book group was my crowing achievement, this one took it to the next level. I had a whopping 20 kids sign up for this program and pretty much all of them showed up. I should have known that choosing such a popular book would boost sign-ups (our kids get to keep the book whether they come or not). But I didn’t expect so many! We played Scholastic’s Wings Over Pyrrhia board game, with a few small adaptations. I printed out and laminated maps of Pyrrhia to be the game boards. My coworker Angela had the brilliant idea to transform the game tokens into mini buttons. She helped make those, and I gave the buttons away at the end of the program. To top it all off, I also presented each of the participants with a custom 3D printed Wings of Fire logo.
The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste
For some of our book group kids, this book was way too scary. Others loved it and suggested we read the sequel at the next book group (yes!). I wasn’t sure what I was going to do for an activity, so I did what I always do when I’m stumped: I turn to the internet. My search brought me the author’s downloadable content, which included an amazing field guide to all the Jumbies in the book. That guide inspired me to have the tweens create their own compendium of creatures. I copied the fun format that Baptiste uses in her field guide and gave the kids blank templates to fill in with their own creative ideas. Then I turned the creatures they invented into a zine, which you can view it online.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World by Shannon & Dean Hale
Because the book was about a superhero, my mind immediately went to gaming. So, we used Bloxels to make our own video games. I will post more about the wonders of Bloxels later, but basically you use a game board and a tablet to create an 8-bit video game. I designed a Squirrel Girl character and asked the tweens to design a level that represented a scene from the story. It worked well, but most kids just wanted to design the characters and not an entire level. At the end of the program, I invited kids to come up and take the “Squirrel Scout Pledge” before leaving to get their own Squirrel Scout Badge (buttons I designed in Canva and created with our button maker). That Pledge has since become our book group motto.
The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket
I pretty much expected attendance for this one to be pretty low because of Winter Break, so I opted for an easy program and advertised it as a pizza and a movie deal. Since I didn’t have an extension activity to direct my energy into, I got way too invested in the ambience of the program. I wrote warning signs outside the program room, signed “L.S.” I also wrote a letter from Lemony Snicket inspired by a birthday party I saw on Pinterest. For the actual program, we had a short discussion and then watched the first two episodes of the fabulous Netflix series starring Neil Patrick Harris. As the kids left, I handed out some of the activity sheets from the publisher and some mysterious VFD eye logo buttons that I made.
Are you thinking of starting a Tween Book Group? Jbrary has some resources I found helpful when getting started:
If you’re running a Tween Book Group, I’d love to know what titles and activities have been successful!