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Book Club for Kids is a podcast where middle school readers discuss the books they love with host Kitty Felde. The author answers questions. A celebrity reads from the book.

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Tips for Creating Lifelong Readers

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Tip #59: Adventure Ahead: Or, You're Never Too Old for Dinosaurs

Kitty Felde

Kitty takes show prep seriously

Kitty takes show prep seriously

On a recent Bonus Episode, we asked kids from Virginia to tell us their favorite book. Their answers broke down into two categories: books with characters they could relate to and books full of adventure.

Patrick Eibel says those two qualities are especially important when looking for books for reluctant readers. Patrick is the library and media specialist at Kramer Middle School in Washington, D.C. He says the perfect book is one that is "interesting, not intimidating, and has action." 

Not intimidating means graphic novels, but Patrick says "you don't want to get just any old graphic novel, you have to find things that are interesting." 

For fans of "The Diary of a Wimpy Kid" series, Patrick recommends something similar, but very different: "The Last Kids on Earth." He describes the series by Max Brallier as "a post-apocalyptic story, with lots of picture support, and an easy read. So it's exciting."

Another of Patrick's "go to" books appeals to readers who want both a character they can relate to AND adventure. The book is "Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur" by Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder. The main character is a 12-year-old African-American girl who is "super smart" and bonds with a time traveling giant red dinosaur. "How's that not going to be cool?" 

If you're looking for the perfect book that will inspire a lifetime love of reading, don't forget our Books We Love section on the website. We ask everyone on the show - kids, writers, celebrity readers - to tell us their favorite book. The list is most eclectic. Check it out!

Tip #56: Survey Says

Kitty Felde

Changing Hands Bookstore Readers

We always ask students who appear on the Book Club for Kids podcast to fill out a "customer satisfaction" survey. It's our way to get real feedback from real kids about how we can improve the show. Of course, we're not the only ones who use surveys to get customer comments. I dare you to order anything online these days without getting the followup email requesting your input.

But surveys can be a terrific tool for teachers, parents, and librarians trying to find the right book for the right kid. 

Vernastene Black is an ELA teacher at Stuart Hobson Middle School in Washington, D.C. She says it takes "a lot of poking and prodding" to get some kids to pick up a book. To help cut to the chase, she gives them a survey.

Vernastene is a big fan of Donalyn Miller, author of "The Book Whisperer," and her free quiz The Reading Interest-A-Lyzer. This two-page survey asks kids about their reading habits - do they read for pleasure? Which three books would they take on a month-long trip? Do they like to read more than one book at a time? Vernastene posts the Interest-A-Lyzer in a Google Doc and kids fill it out online.

The survey covers more than just reading-related activities. "You find out what they like to do in their spare time." Then, it's up to Vernastene to put in "the elbow grease to find the book that fits the bill." She continues the feedback loop, asking students to write her a letter about what they have read. "It's going to take a while," she warns. "But once you have their trust, and they know you're not making them do some kind of reading for a test, they'll be more willing to open up."

The biggest threat, she says, is killing the love for reading - when kids think the only reason to pick up a book is to prepare for a test. The key is getting them to think of reading as something enjoyable "that can take you to a new world." 

Tip #28: I Believe in You

Kitty Felde

You'd never imagine that writer Lynda Mullaly Hunt was one of "those" kids. Hunt is the author of the kid-favorite middle grade novel "Fish in a Tree," among others. But when she was in grammar school, reading was impossible. Teachers gave up asking her to turn in assignments. Hunt says she knew that meant that they'd written her off as a failure. 

And then she met her 6th grade teacher, Constantine Christy. "That guy saved me," she says. "Saved me."

Mr. Christy made eye contact with Hunt, took the time to have a conversation with her and learn who she was beyond a name. As a result, Hunt says, "I fell over myself, trying to please him."

Then Mr. Christy handed her a book. It was Judy Blume's "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing." He told her he wanted her to go home and read it. "Why should I?" she asked. He leaned forward and said, "Because I think you can. And I want you to try." 

Hunt says Mr. Christy's confidence in her gave her the courage to take up the challenge. She read the book. And learned that she could read a lot better than anybody thought she could. She then picked up another Judy Blume. And another. And keep on reading. She says she learned that she loved fiction, the books that let you "see movies in your head." Mr. Christy's vote of confidence made her stand three inches taller. She jumped from the lowest reading group to the highest. She left sixth grade with a "laser focus" on becoming a teacher herself. Which she did. And went on to become a writer of the kinds of books she loved to read.

Hunt says she became a reader, "not because I'd seen the light and fallen in love with books. It was because I'd fallen in love with the connection of being able to share that love with somebody else."

You can hear more from Lynda Mullaly Hunt on this episode of her book FISH IN A TREE.

Tip #27: Walk the Talk

Kitty Felde

We turn again to fifth grade teacher Jose Rodriguez for another reading tip. Jose teaches fifth grade at the Ambassador School of Global Education in Los Angeles.

For more reluctant readers, Jose says he has a "quick chat" with his students about what they are reading.

Jose also carves out time inside the classroom for students - and Jose himself - to pick up a book. "It's very important to walk the talk." he says.

Jose constantly refers to the books he is reading...and provides visual evidence that he actually  has his nose in a book. His tip: let the kids see you reading.

Tip #26: Stop the Worksheet Madness

Kitty Felde

Jose Rodriguez just says "no" to homework worksheets.

Jose teaches fifth grade at the Ambassador School of Global Education in Los Angeles. Instead of stuffing backpacks with endless pieces of paper, basically spot reviews of topics covered in the classroom, Jose asks his students to keep a reading log. Once a week, students write a journal entry that includes a summary of what they've been reading.

It's the journey, not the finish line that matters to Jose. "I don't make a big deal about having to finish every book," he says. For more reluctant readers, Jose tries to "have a quick chat" about what they are reading.

Jose carves out time inside the classroom for students - and Jose himself - to pick up a book. "It's very important to walk the talk." he says. Jose constantly refers to the books he is reading...and provides evidence that he's actually doing it. In other words, let the kids see you reading.

Tip #14: Create a Craving for Story

Kitty Felde

Summer is always a challenge: how do you keep kids' brains engaged? Every local library seems to have a Summer Reading program. Here in Washington DC, the library offers prizes like tickets to the Washington Nationals and coupons for Chipotle to those who complete 8 hours of reading. 

The Bud Werner Memorial Library in Steamboat Springs, Colorado kicked off its summer reading program by inviting kids to record their favorite book recommendations. Those voice memos will show up on a future bonus Book Club podcast. (Your kids can be on the show, too: just email for easy instructions.)

We asked Sarah Kostin, the youth services librarian in Steamboat Springs, for her best tip for engaging reluctant readers. Her answer: get your child to fall in love with "story." Sarah suggests starting by reading aloud or telling the stories that you love to your child. Next, get the kids to tell their own stories, using their own words. Have them describe the things they've seen today or the adventures they've experienced. Sarah says the telling and listening gets kids "to love and engage in story so much that they HAVE to read more books in order to get more story in their life."

Sarah's story mantra reminded me of a blog in Scientific American about the very human need for story. The article says the human mind is a story processor, not a logic processor. We figure out life through the medium of story. So getting your kids hooked on stories not only improves their reading, it helps them figure out life!

Got a tip of your own? Email us!

Tip #13: Reading Tips from Washington - the Secretary of Education

Kitty Felde

U.S. Education Secretary John King

U.S. Education Secretary John King

Our newest celebrity reader is a man who knows something about getting kids to pick up a book. The new Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. has been a history teacher, a school principal, and even served as Commissioner of Education for the state of New York.

We asked him to read from Kristin Levine's "The Lions of Little Rock" for our back to school episode. He says he and his 12 year old daughter read it together, which prompted a discussion of both the historic fight for school desegregation, as well as the issues of diversity and race and class in America today. 

Secretary King's tip for reaching out to reluctant readers: read together. "The key is to find the thing that hooks a kid," he says. "What's the thing they're most interested in?"

He says after picking the book, start reading it together. Then take turns. He says reading together allows a child to spend "a little more time hearing and thinking about the story or the historical period or the idea that the book is about rather than maybe having to work so hard reading it themselves." The shared experience, he says, allows a kid to take ownership of the story.

Got a tip of your own? Email us! More great tips at the website!

Tip #12: Word of Mouth

Kitty Felde

These Thomson Elementary readers loved the Origami Yoda series so much, they formed their own club to write letters to author Tom Angleberger, begging him to write more in the series!

These Thomson Elementary readers loved the Origami Yoda series so much, they formed their own club to write letters to author Tom Angleberger, begging him to write more in the series!

Our tip comes from Jaminnia States, the librarian at Thomson Elementary School in Washington, DC. Jaminnia plans to use the podcast in the library's listening center with her students. "I think it will really help them to hear other students talking about books and how much they love them."

She cites the power of personal recommendation - peer approval. It affects more than just which sneakers are the bomb this year. It also works with books. She says when a friend tells you, "hey, look at page seventeen, let me tell you about this character!" kids respond.

"The kids who don't stop talking about the book," she says, "are the kids who get other kids to read." She says kids trust each other "way, way, way more" than they trust librarians.

Hack this technique to jumpstart your kids' reading! Play a podcast episode on the way to the library and put a copy of the book being discussed in the hands of your child. Use the power of peer approval to get them to open a book.


Got a tip of your own? Email us! 

Tip #11: Create a Culture of Reading

Kitty Felde

The readers at Lafayette Elementary School in Washington, DC

The readers at Lafayette Elementary School in Washington, DC

We’re hearing from educators that literature and poetry are getting squeezed out by social studies during reading hours in the classroom these days. So how do you inspire that life-long love of reading for pleasure?

Kathy Echave, a reading specialist at Lafayette Elementary School in Washington, DC describes a carrot and stick approach. “Make reading fun for kids,” she says, by putting “really good books in their hands.” The school publishes a summer reading guide with what Kathy describes as the “best books  – classics that never go out of style as well as things that are brand new." The list is shared with students and parents and is also available in local libraries and bookstores.

Lafayette has created a culture of reading by requiring every student to read for 20 minutes every single night. “If you’re only reading while you’re in school,” says Kathy, “you’re never going to become a lifelong reader or someone who’s really a good reader.”

There are no reading logs to be signed and teachers don’t actively check up on students, but Kathy says the reading homework has become part of the culture of the school. Kids just read.


Got a tip of your own? Email us!

Tip #10: Book Club in a Bag

Kitty Felde

Broomfield, Colorado offers a Book Club in a Bag

Broomfield, Colorado offers a Book Club in a Bag

Book Clubs can be powerful motivators to get folks of all ages to read regularly. But how do you start one? How do you get enough books for everyone in the group? How do you kick off the discussion? 

The Mamie Doud Eisenhower Public Library in Broomfield, Colorado has come up with a brilliant idea: they've put together Junior Book Club Kits.

Children's Librarian Susan Person says the library has lots of programming for little kids and teens, but needed to find something just for tweens. Their on-site Junior Book Club for 4th and 5th graders was a hit "almost from the beginning," she says. (And you'll hear those kids on an upcoming podcast discussing Lisa Graff's "Absolutely Almost.)

But what about other kids? And what do you do with 13 copies of one particular middle grade novel?

Person started putting together book club kits - a complete book club in a box - or rather, in a lime green canvas satchel.  Inside, each kit contains a dozen copies of the book for readers, plus one more for the group leader. Families or neighborhood group can use the book club in a box to host their own Junior Book Club. Kits are checked out with a library card, just like a single book or DVD. 

What about your classroom or library? Why not start your own Book Club in a Box?

Got a tip of your own? Email us! More great tips at the website!

Tip #8: Writing Makes Better Readers

Kitty Felde

Writer Meg Medina with a pair of her readers.

Writer Meg Medina with a pair of her readers.

Our young readers often ask our writers how they can become authors. The answer is always the same: read, read, read.

It works the other way as well. To become a better reader, write, write, write!

Looking for a quick writing assignment for your kids?
Have them write us a review on iTunes.

We have a lot of adult reviews - like this one from "botheredandbewildered" who said she appreciates how the show "expertly directs the literary conversation among these young women to probe into how the novel relates to their lives."

But we'd LOVE to get feedback from more kids. Challenge them to tell us how to make a better show! Just go to Book Club for Kids iTunes, click on "review" and have them write a few lines. Oh, and give us some stars!

Tip #7: Wisdom from a Substitute Teacher

Kitty Felde

Students from St. Lucy's Elementary School in Long Beach, California tape an episode with host Kitty Felde.

Students from St. Lucy's Elementary School in Long Beach, California tape an episode with host Kitty Felde.

Wisdom From a Substitute Teacher

They are the bravest people I know: substitute teachers. They're more fearless than Indiana Jones as they march into unknown territory. My mother abandoned the profession, deciding she'd rather care for drug-addicted quadriplegic veterans than face a classroom full of new faces every day.

John Leslie braves classrooms all over the Los Angeles Unified School District. He doesn't wear a fedora or carry a bullwhip. But he does have a secret weapon: a book he turns to whenever chaos threatens to take over. It has never failed.

The book is "The Houdini Box" by Brian Selznick.

Mr. Leslie says one time he walked into a room full of 5th grade boys. "None of them were seated when I came in," he says. He tried to teach the lesson plan, which became "a complete failure." So he reached for his secret weapon and started reading aloud from "The Houdini Box." One by one, every one of those kids sat down. They were still seated when their teacher returned to the classroom. She was astonished.
Mr. Leslie says the kids are fascinated equally by the magic and how Houdini died.

Do you have a "go to" book that mesmerizes your students? 
Got a tip of your own? Email us at