Episode 68: Q&A – How to create a book exchange with friends?

Episode 68


On this episode of Bilingual Avenue, I walk through my recommendations on how to establish a book exchange with friends.  I suggest a set of norms that should be established, how to manage the actual exchange of the books and how to create celebrations to get the participating kids excited about the activity.

Episode #68- Transcript

Hey there and welcome to another Question and Answer edition of the Bilingual Avenue podcast.  Thanks for tuning in.  If you haven’t joined the Bilingual Avenue newsletter I’d love to have you join.  I send out just monthly emails with updates of the latest happenings at Bilingual Avenue.  It’s super easy to join, just head over to bilingualavenue.com/newsletter to sign up.  You will also get a free report with 7 ideas for you to use at home to increase exposure in the target language. If you are out of ideas and are looking for a few more, you may find these interesting!

Alright, we have the first follow up today from a listener who had a question about a previous episode.  This was particularly exciting because it lets me know that these episodes are helping you. Here’s the email I got from Azra.

Hi Marianna,

Thank you for your episodes I look forward to checking them out when my kids are napping! I always have a hard time finding books for my kids so I loved the episode you did on some ideas for finding books in your language.  One of the things you talked about was doing a book exchange with your friends and I actually think this is perfect.  I have a large group of friends who speak Arabic near me and I shared the idea with some other moms and they seemed to be interested. Can you give me some more tips on how to do it? We are so excited we want to really get this going really soon!

Thank you and greetings from New Jersey!

Well thank you Azra and for allowing me to share your question with the Bilingual Avenue community.  I am thrilled that you are thinking of doing a book exchange, I think it’s such a great opportunity to share books with others who are also working on your target language! Let me share with you my ideas on how to get one started.

Your first step is of course to identify an interested group of parents and it sounds like you have already done that.  Next, I would suggest that you find a communication platform so that you can easily stay in touch about any news related to the exchange.  You can use Facebook, Yahoo Groups even meetup.com although meetup.com does charge you a fee.  I am sure there are other fancy platforms out there that you can use but these could just get you started.

Now the next thing you want to do, and this is probably the most important thing you do when you are setting everything up, is to get the group together and set up some norms.  You could do this either in person or via email.  My personal recommendation would be to do it in person.  When you are trying to discuss things like rules and norms over email, it can be tricky because you can never really assume anyone’s tone and you do want to makes sure that all parents are on  board when discussing the rules of the group.

So let’s say that you have gotten a group together at your house and you are brainstorming some rules and norms for the group.  You can either design a few rules of your own before you have the meeting or you can just start from scratch and as a group develop them together.  That is going to be up to you.  You will know the dynamics of the group best so you can use your hunch to determine how to proceed.

Here are some of the rules and norms I would suggest that you incorporate when you are getting started:

I would be very specific about the conditions of the books that will take part of the exchange.  I would, for example, eliminate books that are missing pages, have pages with tears, have writing on them, etc.  On the other hand, I would stress and make it clear through the norms that parents should expect some wear and tear for the books they contribute to the exchange.  After all it is going to be exchanging through many little hands.  If you have a family book that has a special sentimental value you probably want to keep that one out!

Then I would draft some rules around how and when the exchanges will happen.  I would be very specific about the order for example.  This is what I would suggest. Let’s say there are six members in the group, I would make a list 1 through 6 and keep the same order every time. Number one gives a book to number two, number two gives a book to number three, number three gives a book to number four, etc.  This way you always know who you are supposed to give a book to and who you are supposed to get a book from.

I would also be very specific about where the books will be exchanged. Will you set up a play date and exchange books in person? Will you mail the books? If you choose that path, keep in mind that you will have to pay every time you mail a book and you risk the book being damaged.  Will you have a central location instead? For example, you could have everyone drop off the books at your house and then pick up their new book.  That suggestion does take a lot of logistics but maybe that just gives you an idea of what different scenarios you can consider.

I would also set a time period by which the books have to be exchanged and the time period is going to really vary on the age of your child and the other children in the group.  Also, you want to take into consideration things like length of the books that are taking part in the exchange. Now the longer you have each book stay with each child, the easier the exchange will be to manage because you have to worry less about how it is being passed on from one family to the other.

You may want to have a rule about what to do if a book is misplaced or very badly damaged.  These are the types of things you want everyone to understand upfront and not after it has happened and emotions are running high.

That gives you a pretty good start as far as rules and norms go.  When you sit down with your peers I am sure you will come up with some more.  You can be really formal and have every member sign the norms or just get a nod and move on.  You can that play that by ear.

Now let’s talk about how you can make this process really fun for the kids.

I suggest you have some sort of kick-off event and maybe pick one story to read aloud to the kids.  You and the other parents could also pitch in to buy simple bags that would be used specifically for the exchange.  When I was in the classroom, I used canvas bags that students could use to take a book from the classroom to their home every Friday.  It definitely built up the excitement and it is certainly something you can do outside of the classroom.  I will have a link on the show notes page for a set that I found on Amazon, just like the ones I used in my classroom.  You can find them at bilingualavenue.com/episode68.  There are 12 bags in a pack and they come in all kinds of colors.  It’s less than $10 for the bag.   During the kick-off you can have the children decorate the bags.  They could put their name on it, or you can depending on the age, and let them personalize it however they wish.  Just make sure to only use the bag to carry the books for the exchange that again will build up the excitement for your kids.

Another way that you can make it fun is by keeping track in the book of which kids have read each of the texts participating in the exchange. I do not mean write your name on a page in the book, I would never recommend that.  Instead think of it more like a library book.  Usually on the inside of the back cover there is an envelope with a card inside of who has checked out the book.  Well you can do the same.  Also on Amazon, I found a set of 30 multicolored library card envelopes for $4.99 that you can adhere to the inside back cover of each book.  You could then place an index card inside the envelope and every time the book reaches a new home, the child or the parent can jot down the name.  Children usually love these types of activities and in the end these are the little things that are going to get them to fall in love with reading and appreciate books. I have the link of the library card envelopes, in case you want to include them, on the show notes page as well.

Ok and one last idea to keep it fun for the kids is that you could break up the book exchanges by seasons.  Let’s say again that there are six participating families in your book exchange and each family donates two books.  Once you get through the twelve books you could call it the end of the season and have a big celebration.  You can make certificates for each child acknowledging their participation and documenting which books they read.  When we chatted with Rita Rosenback she stressed the importance of celebrating the little wins throughout the language journey and this one is could certainly be one of them.

Once you get your group going and create more excitement with the families you will see that their ideas will start coming in.  If you are working for middle school children for example, each parent could take turns designing an activity around each book that can also be incorporated into the exchange.  There is just so much you could do with this.  I personally think the hardest part is just getting started.

Now if you listened to this episode and like the idea but you simply don’t know of any other families supporting your target language in your community, try doing a little bit more research.  Maybe they are not exactly in your area but they are willing to set up a network where you could mail the books to each other.  Or if you have a play date maybe once a month, parents from communities nearby maybe willing to drive to do the exchange. Try to get creative and see if this activity opens the door to connect with other multilingual families.  Trust me when I tell you that this is going to be something really fun for parents and for the kids.

Alright Azra these are all the ideas and details that came to mind when it comes to creating a book exchange.  I am excited that the question resonated with you and that you are thinking about trying it out.  Please let me know how it goes, I would love to hear all about it.

For everyone else, what do you think? Does it seem like something you could pull off with other community friends? I hope so!

Well that’s it for today’s episode!

May you have fun travels on your language journey. Hope to see you again on the Avenue!


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