I’ve been leading Tween Book Group for over two years now and it remains my favorite program of all time. Why? Because there’s nothing more fun than helping kids build relationships with literature—and, of course, each other.
Our hour-long Tween Book Group is structured with about half the time devoted to discussion and half the time devoted to an extension activity. I really try to make it feel like a club, so I’ll often make and give away custom swag (typically buttons). But my signature move is drawing a whiteboard schedule based on the book. And one of my tweens’ signature moves is erasing bits of my whiteboard masterpiece at the end of the program.
Anyway, here is a complete list of our books and activities for 2019. It’s been sitting in my drafts forever and, though I don’t use this blog much anymore, I’m finding some small comfort in revisiting past programs now that COVID has changed everything.
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanha Lai
Our local university does this thing called the Common Reading Program. I met with a professor from the College of Education and we dreamed up a partnership where the university students and my book group kids get together to talk about the themes of the Common Reading Program’s title via a more age-appropriate anchor text. So, while the college kids were reading The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui, I chose this book for the tweens. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out with the students. But the professor did come and lead participants through a really cool writing exercise, which I then turned into a zine.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
Last February, our library celebrated Harry Potter Book Night for the first time. It was such a hit that I wanted to capitalize on its popularity and funnel some new tweens into book group. Also, reading Harry Potter books together was the #1 suggestion from existing book group kids. I finally gave them what they want. Naturally, it was one of the best attended programs. For our activity, I created a Sorcerer’s Stone-themed Unlock the Box (using a BreakoutEDU kit). Teams solved puzzles based off those the professors designed in the book. It was really fun–though in my haste to get everything set up in time I apparently didn’t set up my giant Wizard’s Chess set up correctly.
Flying Lessons and Other Stories, edited by Ellen Oh
I really love this collection of short stories because I feel like there’s something for almost every reader. Rather than talk about each individual story, I had the tweens vote on which ones were there favorites. We discussed those in more depth. The two most popular stories were “Sometimes a Dream Needs a Push” by Walter Dean Myers and “Choctaw Bigfoot, Midnight in the Mountains” by Tim Tingle. The tweens fully expected me to make them write short stories. But I didn’t. Instead, I had them design a book cover for one of the stories. Though most participants didn’t see themselves as artists, we still had some awesome discussions about what makes a good book cover. And, for those who totally weren’t into drawing, I invited them to have a paper airplane race instead.
The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez
Let me get this out of the way first: I LOVE THIS BOOK SO MUCH. I think this particular book group was my favorite one yet. And it’s not just because I temp-dyed my hair blue because I promised the book group. It’s because I really felt like we got to talk a lot about individuality, and I got to know these kids on a totally different level than usual. All I did was play Pérez’s exquisitely-curated playlist while we made mini-zines. Each zine was so different. Most participants took theirs home but one kid in particular–one who usually doesn’t talk that much in book group–presented me with, like, five zines that he had made at home because he was so inspired! My only missed opportunity is that I didn’t wear a Blondie shirt.
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
Quite a few kids didn’t show for this one because of the length. I’ll admit that I myself didn’t finish it–I just couldn’t get into it. But quite a few kids really wanted us to read this one, so I picked it. The activity was pretty fun. I gave each participant a fake test and then sorted them into groups based on their “scores” (really I just wrote in invisible ink which group they were in and “graded” them with a black light). The teams then had to solve a bunch of riddles and puzzles taken from Mr. Benedict’s Book of Perplexing Puzzles, Elusive Enigmas, and Curious Condundrums. The prize for solving everything was a custom-designed pin and being inducted in the (unofficial) Mysterious Benedict Society.
Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel José Older AND Big Bad Ironclad by Nathan Hale.
Special for Summer Reading, I did book pairings of a prose novel and a graphic novel. These first two were set in a similar time period (the Civil War). I like these two books together because, even though one is fantasy and the other is historical fiction, I think they present a slightly more balanced view of history. It’s an imperfect pairing, but it did bring up some interesting discussions about prejudice. Our activity was to experience dinosaurs through virtual reality experiences. Since we only had four headsets, the remaining participants pieced together these collaborative sticker murals. Most kids got bored of the murals after a while, but the virtual reality was a hit. Another thing I wanted to do was let the kids play the Rescue Run online game but we didn’t have enough computers for everyone.
Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi AND The Doughnut Kingdom by Gigi D.G.
Unfortunately, some health stuff made me miss this book group. It was hard for me because I was really excited to dive into these two books with the kids. The Cucumber Quest series in particular is something I constantly try to booktalk to kids and teens. It’s just so funny. So cute and clever. In our (now defunct) Comics Squad program I showed the truly amazing fandubbed versions of the book while we drew. But for this program the plan was to make polymer clay charms. Word from my colleagues is that the kids still had a blast and that I was missed.
Space Case by Stuart Gibbs AND Sanity & Tallulah by Molly Brooks
Our last double feature of the summer mostly resulted in sharing horror stories about how Alexa and other technologies invade our privacy… The tweens enjoyed the books but their end-of-summer brains made any additional conversation difficult. We quickly moved to the activity: a mini obstacle course for Cozmo robots and some coding exercises (led by my amazing former coworker, JJ). Participants got slightly frustrated with sharing because they had to wait their turn but, all in all, it was great. I even got chased by a Cozmo robot by a group that took “free play” to mean crash into everything…
The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris
I love NPH but I was a bit skeptical about this book. But it was pretty great! The amazing jacket art and design (by Lissy Marlin and Karina Granda, respectively) inspired one of my best whiteboard schedule drawings yet. Our activity was doing magic, of course! I bought a deck of cards for each participant and taught them the overhand shuffle technique and how to find a spectator’s card. I also set out a bunch of magic books and the tweens started teaching themselves and each other more tricks. It was awesome. Side note: I hope to someday be brave enough to try a grilled cheese and raddish sandwich.
Front Desk by Kelly Yang
Remember the partnership with our local university I mentioned earlier? Well, it turned out that October was a better fit than January so we brought the university students back to lead this one. This time, the Common Reading Program pick was Under the Feet of Jesus by Helena María Viramontes. We chose Front Desk to tie into the theme of immigration, even though Mia’s experience as a Chinese American is different. It’s been long enough now that I don’t even remember what the activity was but I think the tweens and university students liked the book as much as I did! It was nice to learn a thing or two about facilitation as well.
Knights vs. Dinosaurs by Matt Phelan
I happened upon this book by accident one day when I was browsing the new books area. I think I liked it more than the participants. But they still had a great time when we played one of may favorite fast-paced board games: 5 Minute Dungeon. We had three games going on simultaneously (which was absolute chaos). Each round, the players have five minutes to beat all the enemies by playing specific cards in their respective decks. Each round gets progressively more difficult, and you really have to work together to win. Weeks later, I saw some of my tweens playing this in the library so it was as much of a hit as I thought it’d be. I cannot recommend this game enough, especially for the tweens who aren’t quite ready for D&D.
Greenglass House by Kate Milford
One of my longtime participants picked this one. He has now aged out of the program (and that hit me pretty hard, I must say). But I’m glad I got to pick his favorite book before he left. It’s such an interesting read and I didn’t expect the twist… No spoilers, if you haven’t read it! I could probably have done 5 Minute Dungeon again for this one as well (they play D&D in the book). Instead, I went back to an activity I’d done a while back: the exquisite corpse! It made for some goofy storytelling and gave me an excuse to make another zine! I should note that we definitely also had hot cocoa (which got spilled ALL OVER the floor).