Most of the five million Americans whom the New York Times recently estimated as belonging to at least one book club are adults wishing to mix reading with socializing. While book clubs are not as prevalent among children and teens, who have to contend during the school year with classes, homework, and after-school activities, and then summer’s outdoor distractions, a number of bookstores around the country have launched book clubs for young customers – with varying degrees of success.
Some readers, according to Lisa Baudoin at Books & Company in Oconomowoc, Wis., need “a social aspect” to their reading, which book clubs provide. “It’s especially important for kids,” she added. The store hosts an in-store group for middle grade students and teens, in which the members read the galleys of their choice provided by the store and then discuss them. The store also partners with a school librarian who distributes six copies of a galley at the end of the school year to rising fourth-graders and sets dates during the summer to meet to discuss it. There are eight children as well as teachers and librarians in the group, called the Meadow View Book Club.
“It’s heavy on the boys,” Baudoin noted about the club members, ascribing that to the personality and efforts of the librarian who moderates the group. But, she wonders, “Why do we have them when they’re younger and lose them when they’re older?”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Clarissa Murphy, a bookseller at Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, Mass., who spoke to PW about a book club of boys moderated for several years by one of her bookselling colleagues that is now in hiatus: its members ranged in age from eight to 12 years old. “Then they turned 13,” she said, “And they were interested in other things.”
In contrast, Holly Myers, a buyer at Elliott Bay Bookstore in Seattle, says that the club she moderates for customers in grades six up to 12 has been doing well for the past two years with no signs of a loss of interest in its membership. Its dozen or so members are primarily female, though; they meet monthly to discuss the book of their choice. Many of them also have their own blogs, upon which they post reviews of the books they read.
“They do buy books, but we also give them galleys,” Myers said, explaining that the members are asked to write reviews of books they read and then post them on Instagram. Every time they write a review, their name is placed in a hat, and during meetings, as each name is pulled, that person is allowed to select a galley out of the pile. “So there’s incentive to write reviews,” she said, “Afterwards, everyone else is allowed to descend upon what’s left, and I do mean descend. The club refers to the ritual as ‘The Bloodbath.’ ”
The book club at Page & Palette in Fairhope, Ala., is also thriving. The club, which attracts eighth grade girls, is moderated by a retired English teacher, and has been meeting at the store for the past three years. The 15 members read the classics and discuss them once a month; they receive a 15% discount at the store.
“For kids, it’s nice to have someone who is knowledgeable bring out the issues in the stories,” bookseller Stephanie Crowe said, ascribing the success of the club to its moderator, who was “an excellent teacher” and has “a great reputation.” Prospective members can sign up in the store and often hear about the club through word-of mouth.
“We never tried to do a boys’ book club,” Crowe said, speculating that girls are more interested in participating in discussions about books, while boys are more interested in playing sports. But, she says, what ultimately matters is that they are getting “more kids reading, period, in the age of the iPhone.”
Brenda Weaver, owner for the past two years of Hearthside Books & Toys, in Juneau, Alas., reports that its “Galley Rally” book club for teens is gaining in popularity. The approximately one dozen teenage members can pick up to three galleys of their choice once a month. After meeting to discuss their reads, the Galley Rally members are required to write a review or recommendation, which the store then uses to promote those titles.
Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, N.C. has hosted a YA book club for the past year. While there are only 10–12 members who participate in monthly discussions, 80 others have signed up for a store newsletter geared to YA readers.
“Our book discussions might be small and cozy,” said its moderator, bookseller Johanna Albrecht said, “but it’s engaged. I enjoy the community it’s created.” YA authors on tour promoting their own books are participating in the group’s discussions and then speaking to members afterwards about their own work. For instance, Alison Umminger, the author of American Girls (Flatiron Books) recently sat in on the group’s discussion of Becky Albertalli’s debut novel, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens (Balzer + Bray) before discussing her own debut novel with them.
“The most interested and engaged readers are teens. They’re looking for an outlet to discuss what they read,” Albrecht said, noting that she gets teens as young as 15 in an in-store group open to all ages that focuses on science fiction and fantasy.
At Greenlight Books in Brooklyn, bookseller and book club moderator Grace Ecton notes that the store’s club for readers ages 9––12 has been going strong for three years, with monthly meeting attendance ranging from five people to 18, both male and female, depending upon “who bring their friends.” The club goes on hiatus in July, August, and December. Ecton selects the reads and members receive a 15% discount on books plus free pizza during meetings.
“That’s how you get the kids,” Ecton said with a laugh. “You feed them. But you don’t want to give them sugar.”
Free pizza seems to be the secret to Arizona’s Changing Hands’ success as well, which launched its Club Read for middle grade readers in 2008 and a few years later added a second children’s book club – this one for teens, called Turning Pages. Both groups meet once a month, with the 20 Club Read members meeting at either the Phoenix or the Tempe location, while six to eight Turning Pages members meet at the Tempe location. While Club Read is mixed, Turning Pages happens at this time to be all female, though it has had male members previously.
Turning Page members receive 20% discounts on hardcover reads and 10% on paper, and Club Read members receive points for book purchases and for attending author and other store events, which they can redeem for free books and store gift cards. Pies donated by a local pizzeria sustain attendees at their meetings.
“We try to make it as fun as possible for them,” bookseller Brandi Stewart said, noting other perks: club members receive front-row seating at appropriate author events, and also get to meet the author beforehand to have their books signed. Stewart recalled also that Club Read once received several galley copies of Story Thieves by James Riley, and Skyped with him months before the middle-grade novel was released in January 2015.
The book clubs also participate in Changing Hands’ “Before It’s Trendy” program, in which they join staff members in writing pre-pub reviews of books. “They get to read books before their peers and write shelf talkers,” Stewart said, adding that the reviews are posted online as well.
Vroman’s Books in Pasadena, Calif., also hosts two book clubs: one for middle grade readers that has more than a dozen members, both male and female, who’ve met for the past two years; and a club for YA readers with “six girls, one mom, and the moderator” that has met for the past year, according to children’s book buyer Ashlee Null. Book club members receive 20% off books they buy at Vroman’s, but however they obtain copies “is fine by us,” Null said.
Books & Company’s Baudoin probably summed up best the reasoning behind these general interest booksellers putting so much energy, resources, and pizza into running in-store book clubs, saying, “It’s been a wonderful way to keep kids reading, to get feedback on upcoming books, to bring families into the store, and to keep a strong connection with the school and the community.”