Literary Agents

This past summer I took over the 3rd-5th grade book club at our library.  I was very excited to take over this group since I hadn’t worked with them for almost two years and the last time it was in a craft-centered storytime.  Since then, the poor 3rd-5th grader storytimes had gone through so many rebrandings that I hesitated to change it again.  However, I wasn’t a fan of the current name: Award-Winning Book Club.  What did that mean? Did it mean that the books that were going to be read had won an award?  Or did it mean that the book club itself had won awards? (It was the former).  Also, I thought the name might appeal to parents, but I think kids would feel that it was a boring academic club.  The other major change I wanted to make was to actually discuss the books that were read versus the “reading club” that it was.

For the summer we simply called it the 3rd-5th Grade Book Club, and during that time I brainstormed and looked at other libraries’ programming for inspiration.  And inspiration struck when I saw Lawrence Public Library’s Secret Book Club. I’ve tried several times to link to their web page, but every time I do, WordPress kicks me out of my post, so here’s what their website says: “SBC is for ages 8 to 12, and meets on third Sundays, 1:30-2:30 pm, at the Library. We read and discuss a new book each month, have snacks, and the rest is a secret…” I read that and my mind went “Whoa – now that would intrigue me as a kid.” And my brainstorming focused on creating our own Secret Book Club. If you’ve never looked at Lawrence Public Library’s programming and social media outreach, then you really should check them out – they’ve become a major inspiration to me. (Quick update: looks like Lawrence is doing some rebranding for their club as well – glad it hadn’t changed before they sparked my idea!)

After much thought, I decided to call our club Top Secret Book Club to imply more of a secret agent-type vibe. I would present the kids with their secret assignment (i.e. the book we would read) in the first meeting with the books being wrapped in plain brown paper (which I didn’t have at the time, so I went with newspaper).  I filled the marketing for it with tons of jokes and silliness (such as the fact that the book would not self-destruct after reading).  I made a letter for their “parents’ eyes only” that told them what the book was, and the whole premise since I didn’t want parents to feel like we were trying to do anything questionable.

On the first meeting we discussed proper book club etiquette (“spoilers” was a new concept to most of the kids), then they went over to a table where I had a bunch of costume-pieces (hats, sunglasses, fake mustaches, etc) that the kids got to pick out, and then had their photo taken.  And while they chose their “disguise” I asked them to come up with their code names.  We all had a blast and laughed at all of the silliness.

Anywho, before the second club meeting, I worked some Photoshop magic and created secret agent IDs.  I also laminated them to make them look even more official. Yes, it’s silly in that most secret agents wouldn’t carry around IDs giving out all their info, but for kids? I would’ve gone nuts for it back in my day (and my code name totally would have been Nancy Drew).

When I gave them out this past week and had the kids sign the back of them, I could tell that they were a total hit.  I also hope that they show off their IDs to friends and help grow the club.  At the very least, I hope that these IDs will be a memento for these kids for a very long time.

I had one parent come up to me during the week and tell me what a brilliant idea it was to wrap the books up so that it felt more special and mysterious. Her son and his friend couldn’t wait to get home to unwrap the books, and they furtively opened them up in the car.  Even better? They weren’t even bothered by the fact that the book had a rather “girly” cover (and those particular boys I was concerned would be the first to bemoan the fact that the protagonist was female). Huzzah!

I have a small Perry the Platypus doll to use as a “talking stick” in case the discussions start to lose too much focus, or if the kids start talking over one another.  So far we haven’t needed to use Perry (and I hope that we never do).

The only other thing of note is that at the beginning of each meeting I ask the kids to give me at least one adjective about what they’ve read the previous week (we did this during the summer and it was one of their favorite things to do). This gets the ball rolling and helps open up the shyer kids.  They then vote on if they agree to each adjective.  After we finish the book, I turn their adjectives into a word cloud, and tape it into the front cover of the library book’s cover so that there’s a “mysterious review” in each book that the book club has done.

I’ll be sure to update anything else that I discover through this fun process. And as always, let me know if you have any questions or would like a “blank” copy of one of my License to Read IDs for you to use.