Wholesome Hour aka Read-a-loud Time or Cocoa Club

Picture this: A room full of school aged kids, quietly sipping hot chocolate, nibbling on popcorn, and listening to the librarian read-a-loud from a novel. Some are sitting on pillows, completely rapt. Some are at nearby tables, doodling. Others are lying down with their eyes closed and a smile on their face.

This is not what I was expecting when I took over my library’s Cocoa Club program, but somehow it’s what I got. Kids aged 6 – 12 come to the program room once a week after school. They bring their own mugs and line up to get a big scoop of extra chocolatey hot chocolate. Then they find a spot and settle in. For the next 45 minutes I read from a novel, while intermittently hosting discussions. When I tell them there’s only 5 minutes left they gasp and groan saying that it’s gone by too quickly.

And that’s why I’ve started lovingly calling it Wholesome Hour. Internally only of course.


How to make a Wholesome Hour of your own:

  • Snacks. Fire up the popcorn machine and the crock pot, because snacks are vital to the success of Wholesome Hour. If you have room in the budget, you could opt for something even more “wholesome” than popcorn: like apples, carrots, bananas, clementines etc. Running the event in the summer? Lemonade, orange juice, or Italian sodas (club soda with 2 pumps of flavored syrups) would work!
  • Choose a short, high-interest novel. It’s hard to choose a title that will appeal to a 6-year-old as much as it will appeal to a 12-year-old. In fact, it’s impossible. I recommend having a few novels for kids to vote on at the first meeting. Do a 30 second book talk for each and let kids vote as many times as they’d like for which ones sound interesting. Pick the one with the most votes! I’ve done this twice now, but the most recent time I left book ideas to be open-ended. Kids could suggest any book they wanted. We ended up with The Series of Unfortunate Events. Although the author is problematic, the series is appealing to all the kids in the group, and portrays a girl main character as an engineer and a boy as a quiet reader, which I really like. The series is also a love letter to libraries. That being said, I recommend the book talk route. It will give you a chance to highlight new and/or diverse gems in your collection. Some middle grade titles to consider:
    • Front Desk by Kelly Yang
    • Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi
    • City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab (although it might be too intense for 6 and 7 year olds)
    • Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel José Older
    • Last Day on Mars by Kevin Emerson
    • The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend
    • Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder
    • Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan
    • The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez
    • Wishtree by Katherine Applegate
  • Provide flexible seating options. I set up the room with chairs and tables, chairs away from tables, and lots of cushions on the carpet. Kids quietly switch between seating  whenever they want.
  • Give them something to do. I have quiet activities based on the story we’re reading at the tables, as well as squares of bright paper and markers. Kids can work on a cryptogram activity, do a maze, draw, colour, or doodle.
  • Know when to ask questions and when to keep reading. Feel the room. Maybe take a minute at the end of every chapter to summarize what happened and ask questions. Get listeners to predict what will happen next, or question the motives of characters. If there’s about the be a passage with a vivid description of a character or setting, encourage everyone to close their eyes and imagine it.
  • DO THE VOICES. Librarians don’t really need to be told this, but just in case you need a reminder: DO THE VOICES. Make it engaging and funny.

What do you think of this long-time staple of library programming? What book would you like to read during Wholesome Hour?

7 thoughts on “Wholesome Hour aka Read-a-loud Time or Cocoa Club

  1. I love this idea. I’d certainly try this if my library branch was in the right sort of neighbourhood. Do you find the children come by themselves after-school? Do parents/caregivers come in the room or linger near by? My library’s neighbourhood is quite affluent so after school program’s are tricky when they have hockey, dance, piano, skating etc. on the family agenda.

    1. At my current library, all of the kids are brought to the library with a caregiver. At my former library, many kids came straight after school by themselves. Most parents leave and come back. Some browse for books or go on their phones and wait.

      It definitely is trickier to attract attendees in affluent neighbourhoods where more kids are signed up for more things. My strategy for that would be to advertise more. Get promotional material into every school. Ideally, visit every school and show them how exciting the library can be. Not EVERY kid is signed up for extra-circulars, and your after school programs could be super valuable to them. They just need to know about it!

      1. Yes, for sure. Advertising would be key! What time do you run the program from? Is it weekly or monthly?

  2. Hello there! I’m a big fan of your blog and especially loved this idea. That said, I just tried it out at my library and wish it had gone as smoothly as your offering so I wonder if I might bounce things off you and openly muse about where I might have erred (or just figure out if I simply had a more restless group of kids). And apologies in advance – I’ve written a lot…

    I made my program a drop-in, no sign-ups necessary type of program which brought in more kids than I think a registration-required program would have but also resulted in a pretty wide range of ages and attention spans despite my promoting it as a 6 years old and up program. Then by prepping individual popcorn bags and cups of hot chocolate that needed to cool down a bit before offering them, I might have broken attentions up too much by encouraging kids to take one of each in a short break after we had started reading a chapter or two. But then comfy pillows and cushions on the floor proved points of contention. A separate table for coloring drew some of the kids but also seemed to be more of a distraction. And after about half an hour, I lost the majority of attendees who just up and decided to leave so that by forty minutes after I had started I only had two kindergarten-aged girls and a preschool-aged sister still sitting with me.

    Needless to say, I’m pretty bummed. Maybe I should have been firmer about everyone staying put and just listening? Maybe I shouldn’t have made it so free-flowing? Maybe an hour was too long? Maybe I didn’t promote the program right?

    I realize I was a little nervous and perhaps rushing and misreading a bit thru the initial chapters and then maybe wasn’t reading the room as well as I could have. That said, I was pausing at the ends of each chapter to make sure we all wanted to keep going and understood what was going on in the narrative. Our chosen book does also have a tough-going beginning (we chose James and the Giant Peach). I still hope to have three more sessions once a week before the end of the month but am definitely a little worried now that not many folks will come back as this didn’t feel like it went quite right for them or me. But any input on how this could be better executed on any front would be greatly appreciated. And thank you so much for all you do otherwise and sharing it with us fellow youth services librarians!

  3. Hi Kate,

    I’m so glad you tried this program! It seems simple and straightforward – but you’re right – a lot of subtle things can go “wrong.” I would be bummed too, but it’s not at all a lost cause. Keep going with your sessions and if it fizzles out, start it up again with a couple key changes. Here’s what I’d recommend:

    – Give kids the hot chocolate and snacks as they arrive. It will signal to the kids that the first few minutes are for moving around and settling in, but the rest of the program is for listening. Make sure everyone is comfy and settled before you start reading.

    – Be firm, but not strict, about listening. I started the first session with a short informal talk about how we were going to respect each other. If they needed to say something to their sibling while I was reading, they should whisper. If they wanted to switch from the table to the pillow, they could, but they should be quiet while doing so. I find that using specific examples while reminding kids about respectful listening is the most effective way to prevent loosing control of the group.

    – With the colouring table, have the images relate to the book. This will help with focus. I included activities from Lemony Snicket’s website. I know Roald Dahl’s website has some good ones too.

    – Get them excited about the book. I think this was the best thing I did to ensure a smooth program. Every kid hung on my every word, because they really wanted to know what happened next. If you’re doing James and the Giant Peach, show them a clip from the movie, or the movie trailer. Do a book talk, highlighting some of the most imaginative parts of the book.

    If you do the program again as a fresh start, maybe try a more limited age range, or registration. Some of the kids in my group really enjoyed the “club” aspect of the event. They belonged to a group. You could add to this by making themed name tags or buttons.

    Hope that helps! Thanks for your thoughtful question.


    1. Thank YOU for such a thoughtful response! I really appreciate your insights. And while last week flopped (no one came in), I had a couple kids return alongside a big family of new-to-the-program faces this afternoon. We switched up the book (picked up the My Weird School series with Miss Daisy is Crazy – I have learned, even with my storytime groups, the funnier, the much better), ditched the comfy cushions and coloring table, and had a designated time at tables and chairs for hot cocoa and popcorn. I think I still need to be firm about initial ground rules but phew! This was definitely close to fizzling out entirely but today was a small success and each time I talk with a patron about it, I realize more and better approaches. Many thanks again!

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