A Newbery Book Club

ec1a99cb1c585f89b96ab22e31dcd767In June 1921, Frederic G. Melcher, editor of Publisher’s Weekly and a longtime advocate of children’s literacy, petitioned the Children’s Librarians’ Section of the ALA (American Library Association) to create an annual children’s book award. The librarians loved the idea, and together with Melcher, they founded the Newbery Medal*, the first children’s book award in the world.

How do I know this? Not from an encyclopedia or website. My children and I learned this, and more, about the Newbery Medal at a book club meeting last week.

This spring, we decided to start a book club for children ages 8-12 in our community, to ostensibly share our love of books, and talking, and eating. My additional, somewhat masked, agenda was to challenge and improve my kids’ critical thinking and literary analysis skills through guided peer discussion. Not a particular expert in children’s literature, I decided to narrow our book options by exclusively choosing Newbery Medal and Honor books for the club.

I invited interested families, reserved a room at the library, and brought cookies and drinks to our first meeting. Did you know that’s really all it takes to start a book club? A librarian at our library, Maria Gentle, served on the Newbery Committee in 2009, and agreed to speak to our club. She was fabulous. She brought a cart of Newbery books along and spoke to us about the selection process, which involves narrowing the options down from hundreds, taking extensive notes, reading and re-reading dozens of finalists, voting and re-voting, and, as with any group endeavor, compromise. She told us about the books that won in 2010, and what she liked about each one. A few facts you we did not previously know:

The committee consists of public and school librarians.
The award is for “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” It must be original work written in English by an American author, published by an American publisher.
Winners and honorees may be fiction or nonfiction. Poetry books have also been awarded.

The award is fascinating, and I think provides good parameters for our book club. We chose our book for June, played some get-to-know-you games, ate cookies, and set our next meeting. For June, we’re going to read The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (1979 Newbery Medal), one of my favorite books from childhood. I also handed out a list of optional projects to go with the book, and we will have time at the next meeting to present or share any creations the members complete. (My girls can’t wait to get through the book so they can do the projects – always a good sign.)

There are innumerable ways to structure a book club. Choices could be based on era, genre, series, book lists, topic, award, theme, etc. Members could meet in person or online, in private homes or public settings. Members could be all boys/all girls, cousins in different states, school friends apart for the summer, summer friends apart during the school year, neighborhood friends, or complete strangers. Each meeting could have involved activities and thematic snacks, or just keep it to a simple discussion. Last summer, our friend hosted a children’s lit sundae party, at which each child created an ice cream sundae that represented a book s/he had read, presented and explained the creation to the group, then gobbled them up.

Do your children like to discuss the books they read? Are they (or you) looking for summer reading recommendations? Consider starting a book club, even if it’s just your family, even if it only meets once. Just see how fun sharing reading can be.

100 Must-Reads for Kids 9-14 – From NPR’s “100 Best Books” Series
Middle Grade Book Club Ideas – Plus 20 great middle grade titles to put on your “to-read” list
Books4Boys – A site full of book recommendations for boys of all ages, plus tips on starting a book club
How to Create a Great Kids’ Book Club ( – Awesome blog post about kids’ book clubs; I especially love the “Activities that Can Be Done for Any Book” at the end
Common Sense Media – Find appropriate books for your children by checking their ratings in areas such as educational value, violence, language, and positive role models; I also like their Books for Reluctant Readers page

*Named for John Newbery, an 18th-century bookseller and author who was considered the father, or “inventor” of children’s literature.