Transitions and turnover – Young adult book discussion group

Note: The iYouth blog will be posting blog entries from MLIS students on topics of their interest.

This article is about a specific organization and minors within it. For privacy reasons I am leaving out names, locations and specifics in order to protect the anonymity of those involved.

Two years ago, through the library grapevine I learned that the role of facilitator for a book discussion in a group home for teens came available. As a library employee and prospective MLIS student I jumped at the chance to do something that the ‘real librarians’ get to do. How hard could it be? I like books, I like teens. This will be a breeze!

I took to the task well, until the day I came in and everyone I had been working to get to know had been replaced. Invasion of the body snatchers? No. Turnover. Every teen book club has it, and mine more than most. When Middle school kids move on to high school, they typically change groups. When graduation day comes some teens aren’t even teens anymore! Each time this happens new faces appear. We as facilitators need to make them feel welcome and comfortable, even when we ourselves are feeling a keen sense of stranger danger.

Read on to find out what strategies have helped me engage this group and what I learned to adjust to high turnover.

New kids! I heard there was turnover but there is not a familiar face here. If everyone is new, no one has read the book. What am I supposed to do for the next hour?

For two years I have hosted a book discussion in a group home for teens. The only thing that never changes is the turnover. Kids leave the home. They are released and go on to live their lives. Or withdraw early leaving a place for someone else. This means I can never predict when I am going to see an individual again. While these departures are often a cause for celebration, it presents a unique challenge.

Coming in to a new group means I don’t know any names.  This makes Introductions imperative. I play a game where each person goes around the table, introduces themselves and tells me a new fact over and over until I can go around the room and name each person. They think it is funny and they all learn something about one another.

Next we discuss the book. I come equipped with secondary questions in case they haven’t read the book. I put these on 3×5 cards and I have repurposed a twister spinner where I write down each name during the introductions. Taking turns with the spinner, when it lands on a name they get to draw a card, read the question and go around the room until each person gets a chance to answer. For October we discussed Neil Schusterman’s “Unwind”.


The goal is to have at least ten cards ready to go, and they can discuss their own observations and thoughts as we go along. Once we have addressed all of the questions, there is the task of assigning the next book. I offer three books and ask them to tell me which one they want to read, based on just the cover. Then we read three possible summaries and ask which of those they like best. Finally they are tasked pairing the correct cover with the synopsis. Once that is done they choose. Majority rules.  Maybe I will get to see them all again to discuss the book they chose. If not, I know I tried to make it fun, the hour was not wasted and they have been exposed to new reading material.

This book club strategy was born of frustration. It would be hard for anyone to be in a new place with some weird library lady and no knowledge of the topic. After a few months of blank stares I asked our Young Adult services librarian for help. She dropped a bomb on me by saying, “Have you asked them what they want out of this?” I realized that I had not! When the next month rolled around, I asked what they wanted.

I should note, the book group is mandatory. They can’t opt out, but there is no set expectation of how it should go. That month’s teens came up with three loose target points. Games, Junk food and something to goof off with.

Challenge Accepted!

I made it into a game with the spinner and the cards. I asked the staffers about snacks and I learned I could bring whatever I want as long as it comes from a store. The kids love this aspect because the home is otherwise extremely nutrition conscious. This month the snack will be gummy bears. Why gummy bears you ask?



When you unwind (disassemble) a gummy bear, it can be put back together in a variety of ways! Gross? Yes. Fun? Yes. Icebreaker? Yes! Breaking away from negative associations with assigned reading? A thousand times YES!! My group still has its share of challenges, but there are always ways to take the edge off. Allowing the kids to take ownership is not as scary as it seems and it  makes a huge difference in the interaction, not just in the form of enthusiasm for the book club, but in their quality of life while they are going through a transitional time.

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