How to start an inclusive book club

How to start a book club

Looking for an inclusive book club? Start one yourself! An Inclusive Book Club for Young Adults with Complex Communication Profiles and Inclusive Education Friends: Procedures and Outcomes for Participants, Support Providers, and Leaders


Reading and writing stories are integral to language and cultures. Stories embody ideas and practices that go beyond typical routines, but often incorporate activities familiar and unfamiliar to new communicators and communication partners. Stories are shared with communication partners. They are told and retold, read and reread when usually provided with literacy instruction.

We were reminded that Yoder (2000) wrote and demonstrated that “No student is too anything to be able to read and write.” That maxim made all of the participants sits up and take notice. Sometimes the problem was not enough alternatives; other times simply run out of time to teach literacy and writing (Koppenhaver & Yoder, 1992).

Participants have fun reading is both as an individual and sharing stories as part of a group. They discover each person has different, distinctive insights that are unique. Both the insights of individuals and as a group can be formed into an inclusive book clubs. All levels of reading are acceptable. Some participants had benefitted by reading instruction, others had had limited exposure to literacy materials or found inclination or time to read. Each participant choose a book that matched an interest with text and illustrations they liked.

What purposes of communication do the participants express through augmentative communication and assistive communication?  Each participant is expected to greet other members as welcome and to say goodbye, to share information, express wants and needs, social closeness, use social etiquette, and express his/her unique identity.

How would the club work? Procedures

We began asking participants about their favorite topics — sports, people, and holidays. We thought talking about people with disabilities and abilities who would be in the ibookclub. However, a movie had grabbed the attention of a wide audience and featured a mute girl and a sea creature. That became an introductory trailer. When those topics ran out, we went to the Dewey decimal system for each month so each member could find a book about psychology, philosophy, architecture, music, biography to name a few.   The discussion drew upon not only shared words but experiences and illustrations.

Participants were asked to share the usual suspects: title, author, illustrator, plot line, favorite scene, an important quotation, perhaps even how this topic related to using augmentative and assistive communication. One participant worked with a caregiver each month to present a written summary on his ipad with voice output. (Actually his mother brought a speaker to help project his summary so all other participants could hear.) Another read the book and formed questions that the participant could answer with the group. Another put the key sentences with illustrations captured on camera from the book on her speech-generating device. She found she not only could practice before the ibookclub meeting, but could read and reread the story at home while she was with her mother in the kitchen or living room.

Book clubs may be in homes, in schools, in libraries, in churches/synagogues, in meeting halls. I grew up hearing my mother give book reviews for audiences who may or may not have read a certain book though they loved hearing a well-told tale. Stories provided entertainment and can promote thought provoking discussions.

Organization: Agenda sequence

Welcome: Sign in sheet (name, email, phone, birthday), name tags, say hello to others, introduce self to group as social closeness

Rules of interaction: Listen, Communicate, Participate in social interaction

Introduce topic with video or trailer of movie, share information why came to club, i.e. music, art, geography, biography, animals, plants

Report on topic with speech-generating device or speech

Evaluate what was contributed and how that related to each other

Announce Topic for next month—look at resources to check out

Social time with celebrating birthdays and refreshments wants and needs; social interaction; social etiquette


Participants can be drawn from anyone in the larger community. Persons were referred by other speech language specialists and by previous school friends of persons who used a speech-generating device. Leadership came from parents, educators, and the library staff. 

Usually three or four of the inclusive education participants were accompanied by a remarkable English Arts educator who understood communication breakdowns because of an aunt whom she knew whose intelligibility of her speech made communication very demanding for communication partners. This educator selected several students and met with them and the group organizer to let them know of the club, discuss best practices, and give them time to decide if they had or wanted to participate. She also provided monthly transportation from the campus to the ibookclub meeting. Getting participants from her high school required transportation since public transportation took far longer and was still inconvenient. The teacher became the chauffeur but also the ever-alert teacher who used the time of the drive to talk how reading and writing had meant much to her and for them to exchange of ideas about the topic of the ibookclub.


Book clubs benefit from having a leader who recognized the importance of each person, valued listening to each other, was open to sharing his/her thoughts and feelings, and took into account other persons’ perspectives. Each of these skills took some description, practice, and getting used to, yet each skill supports a good feeling about reading and participating in a book club where each perspective is honored and shared. When appropriate, all participants ask questions for more information and make comments that reflect their experience and knowledge.  

Submitting a proposal

We began our book club by talking it over with the Access and Disability Commission of our city. The Commissioners were supportive of having a place for persons with disabilities to read and meet to discuss but had plenty of procedural questions about location, transportation, and leadership. Only by calling it a Pilot Project did we get the okay to try it out and learn as we went. I was a member of the Accessibility and Disability Commission. Another Commissioner of the Commission volunteered to write the summaries of the participants on an overhead projector as he recorded and elaborated on their contributions.  This gave everyone a visual presentation of the names of the participants and the expression they shared. 

The Access Coordinator for the city insisted that including other participants with or without disabilities would make the discussion more relevant and would enhance all participants’ contributions. She was right.  They enriched the conversation with their consistent participation.  

The city library administrators were eager to have this as one of their publicly funded services. This time, however, the group was to include persons with complex communication profiles and use speech-generating devices.

We went to the Special Education department to ask for the educational support since they had access to other students, both in general and special education who may or may not already be in a book club. The administrators were supportive and offered ideas and the books that each grade level might be reading.

Interestingly participants who did not initially bring books because they did not read or have access to the library soon started volunteering in the discussion. We were surprised that one left the room to get a library card and find her favorite book. Perhaps she too was feeling more adequate about demonstrating her skills in reading and writing. Of course, initially i.e. each could look up the topic on the Internet and/or bring a video, listen to a condensed version, or just follow up on another members’ idea for a next time.

We originally planned as a group but finally became part of a study of a speech language pathologist to see what was being communicated and how participants contributed. We wrote a Constitution that outlined the Planning Board of leaders and participants’ responsibilities. We worked toward recruitment of participants, field trips, transportation issues, and evaluation procedures. We hoped that becoming more formally organized enhanced our ibookclub and did not take away from the literacy oriented social gatherings. We will keep you posted.

Provide a brief abstract

Approximately 15 young participants with complex communication profiles meet once a month at a library in ___(Name of library) for a book club meeting called ibookclub of _____(name of city). The book club is led by____(name of leader) and supported as a Pilot project by the ___(name of city) and of  _______(name of Commission) Accessibility and Disability Commission and the ___(city name) Public Libraries. The book club serves an important role in offering a free civic service to young adults with complex communication profiles, physical disabilities, and social skills. Participants communicate and participate with peers, engage in literacy, and attend field trip experiences that connect them to each other, current events, and community partners. By studying this book club others will learn about the communication and participation benefits to the participants, support providers, and leaders as well as the procedures to establish other book clubs.