April 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

In “Book Club For Kids” Podcasts, Tween Talk Is Front and Center

Felde_Maryland kids

Maryland tweens contemplate Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Kitty Felde has been talking about books with kids since at least 2000. She did it on the radio during her days as host of Southern California Pubic Radio’s “Talk of the City,” from 2000–2006; on stage at the Los Angeles Times Festival of the Book, and even on TV during cable station LA36’s Book Club of the Air for Young Adults Showwhich aired for a several years from 2009. Now she does it via podcast. The  Book Club for Kids debuted in July and released its 10th episode in November. Apple recently included the podcast in its “New and Noteworthy” section.

Felde_LA kids

A group from L.A.with James and the Giant Peach.

The titles discussed are largely selected by kids, and they span a wide spectrum: from classics like Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach to the fast-paced action of Anthony Horowitz’s Stormbreaker (Philomel, 2001) to emotionally driven titles, such as Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park (St. Martin’s, 2013). The podcasts run around 20 minutes per episode. Each features a celebrity reading, a little background about the author or book, and a different group of young readers discussing their perspectives. In a recent episode, four girls from Maryland discussed Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains (S& S., 2008). Artist and activist Simona James read from the book, and the podcast also includes an interview with the author.

I spoke with Felde about the podcast and what she’s gleaned from the experience.

In the podcast, you talk mainly with middle grade and junior high readers. Why this age?

Felde_Crossover kids DC

Washington, D.C. students with Kwame Alexander’s “The Crossover.”

I remember being their age and thinking “if only an adult wouldn’t treat me like an idiot.” [Young readers] bring a life experience and a point of view that I don’t have, and I want to listen to that. Kids aren’t as cautious or scared as adults are to talk about what they like, and that excites me.

For the show itself, I need kids who can carry on a conversation about the book for around 20 minutes. I’ve found that with kids younger than fifth grade, it’s usually all plot.

Your moderated book discussions with kids has had many formats over the years. Why the move to podcasting?

Felde_Virginia Hooray for Books kids

Virgina readers consider Flying the Dragon by Natalie Dias Lorenzi.

Podcasts are not limited geographically. The potential audience is much larger. And technology has changed so much, it can be done on the cheap now. It used to require a whole team, but it’s really just me now. I’ve done whole podcasts on my iPhone. There’s a much more intimate possibility for conversation with the phone. It’s something the kids are comfortable with.

I see my audience as kids stuck in the car listening to the radio during their mom’s carpool, usually NPR. That group is part of the same crowd that will seek out podcasts.

I’m definitely in that demographic, sometimes struggling to find something to listen to between picking kids up at the babysitter’s and heading to our next activity.

On radio, it was a bit of an unloved child, but as a podcast, it’s been the opposite. It’s really reassuring to see that other people think this idea is good, that there’s a need for it.  People have been very kind, and school librarians in particular.

Tell me more about the school library connection.

Felde_Fall for the Book kids

A group reads Passenger on the Pearl by Winifred Conkling.

One librarian told me she was putting QR codes on the back of books that link to the episodes that [discuss them]. Another told me she plops the reluctant readers down at a computer with a pair of headsets and lets them listen to a 20-minute podcast, making sure she has a copy of the book to hand them at the end. I’m always soliciting suggestions from teachers and librarians for their creative ideas about how Book Club for Kids podcasts can help them.

Aside from showing up to talk about the book, are the kids involved in book selection?

In the old days, I would buy pounds of books and bring my favorites to the book club. Now I’m asking the kids or their “handlers”—their parents or librarians—to pick the books. I try to let the kids drive it. That’s why James and the Giant Peach was selected.

Chains was suggested by the participants’ librarian. It wasn’t a book [the students] might have picked. Even if they hate [a] book, that’s part of the conversation. Kids are very articulate about what they do and do not like. They have really defined literary tastes very early and I find that fascinating.

I noticed that everything from the books under discussion to the kids and guest readers all reflect an eye to diversity.

Felde_Omaha kids

A discussion crew from Omaha, NE.

I don’t consciously choose stuff for the podcast to be diverse, it’s just who we are as Americans. I just feel that it’s part of what I write as a kids’ book writer, and as a playwright, and it’s just part of my life experience. I travel the world, and I am interested in the world, and I want to hear from those diverse voices. And the kids want to hear from those voices, too.

What’s been the most rewarding or surprising aspect of working on this podcast?

There’s a certain kind of joy you get from listening to these kids. To talk about the thing we love with kids who are as passionate as we are… it’s a gift.

You can’t listen to these kids and not walk away optimistic about the future. These are the people who are going to be adults and on whom the future rests. And I feel really good about that.

Heather Booth is the Teen and Tween services coordinator at the Thomas Ford Memorial Library in Western Springs, Illinois. She blogs for  “Teen Librarian Toolbox and was honored as Illinois’ 2015 Young Adult Librarian of the Year.

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  1. This is such a wonderful podcast. A big thank you to Kitty Felde and all the kids, authors, and celebrity readers who make it happen!