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.

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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?

4 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?

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