This fall, my third grader and I and some friends from the neighborhood started a mother/daughter book club. There are so many benefits for the kids, who are reading, analyzing books, socializing, interacting with adults outside the family, and learning to voice their opinions. It’s also been a fun social opportunity for the moms, and a chance to get to know the other girls in the group better. And we’ve read some great books! Here are a few tips for those interested in starting a kid book club.
- Forming the group
First, think about the number of group members. Too many can get quickly out of hand and can silence the quieter kids, while too few can make it difficult to get a conversation going, particularly when it’s likely there will always be someone who can’t make the meeting because of a conflict. Our group has nine parent/kid sets, and I don’t think I’d go much larger than that. Somewhere between five and ten is probably a good number.
To find group members, think about your child’s friends from school, your own friends and their kids, your neighbors, your place of worship, your kid’s summer camp or sports team, and even your family, if it’s big enough.
Next, decide where and how often to meet. You may want to have a first, organizing meeting with your group to talk this through. The families in our group take turns hosting. The host parent and child provide snacks and lead the discussion. We meet every four to six weeks during the school year, on a weekend late afternoon. Each meeting lasts an hour, with the first thirty minutes for eating, chatting, allowing for late arrivals, and maybe a craft or activity. Then we begin the discussion.
- Choosing the books
This part is hard, but also really fun. First, consider whether to focus on a particular type of book, such as nonfiction or Newbery winners or science fiction. Then, think about the age and interests of the kids in your group. Teachers and librarians can be great sources of book ideas, as can websites and blogs like this one.
The trick with choosing is to encourage the kids to select books that interest them, but not to let them get over their heads in terms of what they’ll enjoy and be able to finish. My advice would be for the parents to narrow the selections to a group that are all acceptable, then let the kids vote. It’s probably best to err on the side of easier rather than harder, particularly at the beginning when everyone is getting the hang of group discussion.
It can be good to pick a few books at once to avoid spending too much club time on the picking, so more kids can get their favorites chosen, and so people can read ahead. Don’t pick too many at a time, though. You need to allow for the kids’ changing interests and maturity, which happens so fast at this age!
- Encouraging participation
As a formerly shy girl, I know that it’s important to make it easy for the quieter kids to speak. One idea is to give the kids a notebook to use to write down their thoughts as they read. You can send questions ahead of time and let them write answers in the notebook, so that they feel prepared when the discussion starts. It’s also nice to have a question at the beginning of the meeting that each child answers. For instance, they can give the book a thumbs up or down, or rate it on a scale of 1-5. Once you start talking, it’s easier to continue. It’s also good to encourage raising hands to speak.
Recognize that it may take a while for the kids to feel comfortable talking. If most of the meeting seems to be the parents talking, remember that you’re modeling for the kids, and they’ll be able to do it themselves soon.
- Have fun!
Keep discussion on the book, but don’t forget that it should be fun, too. Try to keep the mood light. We usually have snacks that match the food or theme of the book (above are the mermaid snacks we had to go along with The Tail of Emily Windsnap). We’ve decorated bookmarks and eaten cookies shaped like books. Consider costumes. Kids can write letters to authors, and many authors have book extras on their websites, which can make for fun activities. Be creative and enjoy your new club!
If you have other ideas for kid book clubs or can recommend books that your club has particularly liked, please share them in the comments!
Katharine Manning is a writer and mom of three. She reviews middle grade books at www.kidbooklist.com. You can follow her on twitter @SuperKate.