To say 2020 was strange doesn’t even begin to cover it. But it was definitely an odd year for tween (ages 9-12) book group. First, book group stopped like everything else. We weren’t allowed to hold any programs, not even virtual. Then we brought it back via Zoom, but only with books with eBook or eAudiobook versions in Library2Go or Hoopla. In August, we found our groove (and grant funding) to provide book group boxes that we mailed to participants in advance of the Zoom discussion. As of this writing, we’ve done these book group boxes now for a whole year. (I’ll talk more about the process behind creating those in a separate post.)
I miss a lot of things about my job pre-pandemic and I know I’m not alone. But I’m really proud of how our team has adapted to meet the needs of our patrons. Still, it’s the small things like drawing the schedule on the whiteboard, or seeing the tweens lining up at the door, or having conversations about other books after the program that I miss most.
Read on for the list of books and activities from last year, with the caveat that some of it is a blur. I’m also aware that this is probably my worst year in terms of selecting diverse books. I won’t make excuses but expect a much better list for 2021. This one’s almost 50/50 but I’m striving toward a diverse book majority.
Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate
There are a lot of unhoused individuals in our community (and in the library) so I really wanted to pick a book that allowed us to have a conversation about what the tweens are seeing and experiencing. This book was not the right choice for that, as most of the tweens found it too simple and a bit reductive. For our activity, we used strips of felt to create a bunch of scarves and then left them in the children’s center in a box with a signed note from all the book group participants. These scarves disappeared within the week.
Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins
This book came highly recommended by one of our regulars and I never read it before this book group. Now I will never forget it, especially because I listened to it on audio and the various denizens of the Underland have such memorable speech patterns. We talked a lot about going underground and what it would be like down there. For the activity, each participant made their own terrarium in a jar and added a few plastic creepy crawlies.
The Harlem Charade by Natasha Tarpley
This is the book group that almost wasn’t, as I had just given out the books before we, like everywhere else, closed our physical spaces in March. I was so grateful when 7 of my usual crowd of 15-20 gathered on Zoom. We talked about our neighborhoods and the things we love about our city. Prior to the meeting I asked participants to draw a map of their neighborhood. No one did. But we ended the meeting with a pet parade, which has since become a staple of all our Zoom programs.
The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood
Our second Zoom book group was pretty well attended. This book was another recommendation from a regular participant. I distinctly remember listening to it on audio while sewing masks for city staff, one of my “other duties as assigned” that I really cherished when it felt like our purpose as libraries felt so unclear. For our activity, I asked the participants to write poems. Naturally, we also howled.
Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly
This was another Zoom book group. I remember that they loved this book—as do I. I love everything Erin Entrada Kelly writes. That same participant who recommended The Mysterious Howling (which was his favorite book of all time) said this was now his second favorite book of all time. Participants learned to sign something in American Sign Language ahead of time. We taught the signs to each other.
Oddmire: The Changeling by William Ritter AND Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
We read these in June and July, but let me tell you that by this point our attendance had flopped. I actually missed both of these book groups anyway, but I’m including them for the sake of posterity.
Sweep by Jonathan Auxier
By August, we knew we needed to pivot again and started mailing boxes with a book, activity, etc. Honestly, this may have been my favorite book group of all time. Partly, this was because it is the closest approximation to the in-person book group. It felt “right” in the way regular Zoom book group didn’t. But I also just loved the book and it brought up some great discussions. For this activity, I sent the kids Model Magic clay and asked them to create and share their own golem.
The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi
This book is just great. Since reading it for book group, I now constantly recommend it. The characters get trapped inside a board game—like Jumanji but inverted. The activity was obvious: board games! I sent supplies to make their own board games, including blank cards, giant poster board, markers, blank dice, and little characters. Many of the games the tweens created were inspired by Candy Land and they were all so great!
The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag
This book and its sequels are some of my favorite graphic novels ever. But I was stumped for an activity. I didn’t want to send anything too “witchy.” But the only thing that made me think of shapeshifting (the other kind of magic in the book) was clay and I didn’t want to repeat an activity. Then I thought of origami—the ultimate shapeshifting! I sent origami paper and instructions for some simple boxes and animals. I also sent little notebooks like Aster’s for writing origami instructions or maybe even spells.
Black Panther: The Young Prince by Ronald L. Smith
I was surprised how many of the tweens had never really heard of Black Panther, but then I remembered that it’s PG-13 and all the book group participants are 12 and under. Inspired by Instructables, I sent black, wooden beads and paint pens to make their own bracelets like young T’Challa’s. What I didn’t really think about was how the beads I bought were too big for tiny hands. The cord I sent also wasn’t the strongest, sending me even clearer feedback that I need to work on my jewelry-making skills.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
I love this book so much! This program was one my coworker led, but the activity was sewing a coin purse. We also included coins in each box as well as some paper lanterns we had leftover from a previous event.