Boys Book Club

Changing the lives of young men in Philadelphia

Mentoring as a book club leader is a powerful, evidenced-based practice that can help youth achieve independence and success. While traditional mentoring -- a structured relationship between a single mentee and a caring adult –- is an approach that is commonly used, a nontraditional approach involving group mentoring can also yield positive results, often with great efficiency and additional benefits. Book clubs can be an excellent structure for providing group mentoring services to adolescents. 

A book club is a group of people who meet regularly to discuss a book the members are reading. Under the guidance of a skilled mentor, a book club can serve many useful purposes.

  • First, it can establish a caring relationship between the participants and a responsible adult
  • Second, it can help improve the reading level of young persons who may or may not struggle with the written word.
  • Third, it can open up new worlds for exploration and provide participants with experiences that serve as a foundation for identifying career options, making academic decisions, and seeing a promising future outside the boundaries of their past life experiences.
  • Fourth, it establishes a peer support group whose members share a common set of experiences under the guidance of their adult mentor. And while the relationship with their mentor may be timelimited, the friendships developed by a book club’s participants can last a lifetime.

Choose a Mentor - As with any mentorship program, it’s important to use a screening process that identifies suitable adults who can serve as role models and can keep the commitment required of them. It’s also important to ensure that the program operates according to a set of principles which guide the mentors and provide a firm foundation for the activities undertaken.

Develop the Program - The following is a brief description of some essential principles. None are written in stone. Rather, they offer a guide for developing a program that can be adapted based on local circumstances and the specific youth development needs of the participants.

Group Size and Composition - The group size needs to be large enough to be a catalyst for peer-to-peer interaction but small enough for the mentor to manage the activities and be responsive to any individual needs that may surface. It is recommended that the group be no larger than 12 participants. Because young males and females may have different reading interests and developmental needs, it is also recommended that groups be either all male or all female. This makes it easier to identify reading assignments that would be of interest to the entire group and facilitates the mentor-led discussions. Consideration also needs to be given to the reading level of each participant. These levels should be matched as closely as possible to allow the group to proceed at a consistent pace.

Develop a Covenant - While the principles outlined on this page provide a framework for the program’s structure, it’s always a good idea to involve the participants in the program’s design and management. In particular, it’s advisable to have the participants create a covenant that specifies their obligations to the program and each other, the program’s behavioral expectations, and any other commitments that are needed to ensure that the book club serves their developmental needs. Agreement should be reached on how often and when the group will meet. Ideally, there should be a meeting each month to maintain the program’s momentum. 

​Create a Nurturing Environment - To promote a love of reading, it’s very helpful to make each book club event interesting, fun and interactive. A communal snack and beverages are essential and can be donated or provided at a discount by merchants who can be approached in support of the project. Guest speakers can serve to bring the reading experience to life, especially when they have some association with the books being discussed. Field visits to local sites associated with the readings can also stimulate interest in the assignments and add value to the club’s events. Finally, recognition of the accomplishments of program participants -– both public and private -– is a critical ingredient for promoting their personal growth.

Provide Structured Learning Opportunities - To provide consistency and continuity, a book club should follow a format that provides a structure for the regular meetings. Books should be chosen in consultation with participants and be of interest to them and have relevance to their lives. Assignments should be made in advance of the meetings with the expectation that each participant will report out and share his/her reading experience. Oral readings should also be part of each session. These not only reinforce the content of the books read, but also give participants an opportunity to practice public speaking skills in a supportive environment. Journaling is another effective method for reinforcing the lessons learned in book clubs. For participants who are not comfortable with writing, the journal can start as a scrapbook with photos or illustrations that capture their experiences. Mentors who are comfortable with social media can set up a Facebook page or a blog where these experiences can be shared on the Internet. 

“The group size needs to be large enough to be a catalyst for peer-to peer interaction, but small enough for the mentor to manage the activities and be responsive to any individual needs that may surface.”

“To provide consistency and continuity, a book club should follow a format that provides a structure for the regular meetings.” ​

If you are seeking further guidance on mentoring through book clubs, please be sure to visit the National Mentoring Partnership - 

For more information on starting a Book Club, contact Lenora Thompson (

What you can do to make a difference through reading