How Do You Get Teens Interested in Classic Literature? Blind Date With a Book!

Lucas Maxwell


Lucas Maxwell has been working with youth in libraries for over fifteen years. Originally from Nova Scotia, Canada, he's been a high school librarian in London, UK for over a decade. In 2017 he won the UK's School Librarian of the Year award and in 2022 he was named the UK Literacy Association's Reading For Pleasure Teacher Champion. He loves Dungeons & Dragons and is the author of Let's Roll: A Guide for Setting up Tabletop Roleplaying Games in Your School or Public Library. You can follow him on Twitter and on his blog.

Getting some teens hooked on reading can be a challenge. Getting said teens to fall in love with the classic literature from the 19th century? Nigh impossible!

Alas, I’ve discovered a way to introduce classic literature to teens in a way that is (hopefully) not coma-inducing.

It’s called Blind Date With a Book, 19th Century Edition!

Blind Date With a Book has been around a while, there are some great examples out there of public and school librarians running these kinds of programs. It can sometimes help people try a new genre or author or just get them into the library in general.

This is how I ran mine, please feel free to steal and twist this idea to fit your library patrons’ needs.

Working with an English teacher, we came up with a list of 35 19th century classics.

My long-suffering Library Assistant and I took these books and wrapped them in butcher paper.

Blind Date With a Book

I also made bookmarks for this event using Canva. If you haven’t used Canva before go there now and make a poster, it’s real easy. I’ll wait.

Okay, welcome back. I also wrote a few words on each wrapped-up book providing hints as to the theme or genre of each book.

Once the books were ready, we brought the students in. Before they were allowed to open their wrapped books, I did a presentation on each one. I only spent thirty seconds giving a brief overview of what to expect if they were to read it.

After the presentation I played James Browns’ “Try Me” and told them that by the end of the song, they had to have a book in their hands.

I was really happy with their reaction, they seemed to be reading the hints on each book, carefully trying to figure out if it was the one that piqued their interest during my presentation.

Blind Date With a Book

Once all the books were chosen, we did a countdown from 3 and everyone tore open their wrappers. I did an internal fist pump to hear some squeals of excitement, yes excitement about getting a 19th century novel!

Of course, not everyone was impressed with what they got, so I allowed a couple of swaps (I’m not a monster) from my pile of emergency 19th century literature that all librarians keep behind their desks.

To make the entire event more fun, we’re making it into a competition. We’ve decided to base it on word count and not simply how many books they’ve read. (Count of Monte Cristo, anyone?)

And yes, I am taking part. I’m only 18 pages into The Mill on the Floss but I am determined that will succeed and be crowned champion of classic literature.

Blind Date With a Book

Overall this was a successful way to get books into the hands of teens. Books that are (in my library at least) often overlooked or labelled as “boring because they’re old.”

Based on the success of this program I am planning on making this a yearly gig, possibly with teachers as well. The classics are cool again!