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I’ve been asked to set up a reading group for 12-year-olds and above in my school/library/youth group. How do I keep members interested when there’s so much else going on?

I’ve gathered some great tips through talking to the school librarians on the honour list for the 2013 School Librarian of the Year award.

Lyn Hopson of Don Valley Academy in West Yorkshire has found that the tried-and-trusted model for adult reading groups, in which everyone reads the same book and gathers to discuss it, will not work with a group of young readers with a range of interests, genre preferences and reading stamina. She suggests asking the group members to commit to reading one new book a fortnight and sharing their choice with the group. This means everyone gets the chance to talk about their enthusiasms and pick up word-of-mouth recommendations from their peers and there is no risk of being saddled with others’ unenticing choices, fear of which makes so many adult reading groups die the death.

A mixed age range means younger readers will be drawn in by older role models. The Don Valley reading group covers Years 7-9 (in Year 10 and above students are usually too busy with academic work, although currently some Year 10s are still meeting to share their reading because of the friendships they have formed).

Find out if there is a pupil-led teenage book award in your area (Don Valley is involved in the Doncaster Book Award) and use the announcement of the longlist and shortlist to create excitement and generate ideas for reading and displays. Otherwise share out the shortlisted titles for a national book award such as the Costa Children’s Book of the Year or the Carnegie Medal (you don’t have to be an official shadowing group to read the books and decide on your winner).

Another honour list librarian, Sally Cameron, works with 3 to 11-year-olds in Marymount International School, Rome, but her idea for monthly “Rise and Read” drop-in reading breakfasts for parents and children would translate easily to an early bird reading group if this suits your timetable. She also advises being ready with an appropriate recommendation as each reader finishes a book: “The best reward for reading a book should be reading another book.”

John Iona of Oasis Academy Enfield likes to encourage adults to share the young readers’ discoveries. Last term he sent 20 colleagues home for the summer with a mystery package of teenage fiction. In September, the adult readers passed the books they had enjoyed on to pupils selected for the titles.

Hilary Cantwell of St Paul’s Community College in Waterford, Republic of Ireland, fits reading activities around darts and chess matches and pours energy into targeting individuals’ interests by acquiring books on woodwork, One Direction—and darts. Find out the skills the young people have (poster design, spreadsheets, party organising) and put them to work. “Say, ‘I hear you’re brilliant at this, can you help me?’ No one can resist that.”

Read about the award and the honour list librarians’ profiles at www.sla.org.uk

Find more ideas from Lyn Hopson and John Iona at www.readingzone.com and  www.literacytrust.org.uk

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