Several years ago, my older daughter and I were walking home from the park, where she had just finished her tennis lesson. Even though she was hot and tired, we had to walk at a clip as I had to get to my neighborhood book club. Juliette perked up when I told her where I was going that night. “Mama, can we start a book club for kids?” Why yes, yes we can. And we did! Now I’m running a similar book club for my younger daughter, and both experiences have been amazing.
I learned a lot by trial and error, so I’m grateful to have a chance to share some of my hard-earned wisdom with The Art of Simple community:
1. Third and fourth grades were ideal years for this kind of a program. We tried to continue the club into fifth grade, but I found the kids were exponentially busier as they hit double digits. At least in our neck of the woods, that’s when travel sports participation really ramps up.
2. For my context, organizing this as a mother/daughter experience worked well. I made sure to communicate that girls were welcome to come without a parent, too, and several did. Consider your context; it may be that mixed genders would work better. It may be that you’re better off inviting kiddos to come without a parent, and recruiting just a handful of parents or other adult participants.
3. I am a little bit of a control freak about book selection—and this has worked really well. I rarely censor my kids’ book selections; reading is reading, and while the Rainbow Magic Fairies series wasn’t my favorite literary phase, I didn’t cast aspersions. But with book club, I steer way clear of twaddle (a word I learned from Tsh in this classic AoS post). The Newbery list is an invaluable tool. I don’t necessarily stick to winners—indeed, I often slip past the top winners and peruse the Newbery Honor books, or perhaps select a lesser-known book by an award-winning author. Classics are great options, too—after all, most of them are classics for good reason. Again, including parents in the experience means that kids aren’t reading solo; while it wasn’t a requirement, most of our participants read books together with a parent. This allows for aspirational selections.
4. Our book club is tied to our elementary school, though you could certainly organize one in your neighborhood or church community. We invited every single girl in the class so that no one was left out. We have met in the school library or open classrooms immediately after school. This is another reason it’s key to encourage kids to come sans parent—3:30 p.m. is in the middle of the workday for many people. Fridays have been best for us, as it seems that fewer extracurriculars are scheduled that day.
5. If your book club is based at school, check in to make sure you’re not doubling up on books the teachers intend to use in class. I had a major “oops” one year, when I picked The Westing Game without checking with the teachers. Lesson learned.
6. Come prepared! In addition to reading the book, I also do a little research before each meeting, assembling discussion questions and sometimes even tracking down relevant curricula online. Even if I don’t use these resources word-for-word, as a non-educator, they help me wrap my mind around the kids’ developmental stage.
7. Try not to focus on whether or not everyone liked the book. I recently led a discussion of The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson with my younger daughter’s third grade class. I knew that some of the families were startled by the novel’s rough edges. Instead of asking about what they didn’t like, I asked what parts made them uncomfortable. This opened up the conversation, paving the way for us to wonder why the characters behaved the way they did.
8. Encourage both kids and adults to participate. I often begin by nurturing responses from the younger generation, switch gears to hear insights from the moms, and then toggle back to the kids, who have so much more to say after hearing from their elders. And just as I do when facilitating groups for adults, I always ask if there’s anyone we haven’t heard from yet—it really helps to give more introverted members an open door to jump into the conversation.
9. Keep it short! You might need two hours for your neighborhood book discussion, but 30-35 minutes has been just the right length for these intergenerational conversations.
Our beloved mother-daughter book club has been a delightful way to spend quality time together, nurture a love for literature, and build their capacity for meaningful community. Tennis didn’t stick for my older daughter, and the likelihood of my younger daughter becoming a competitive gymnast is pretty low. But lifelong readers? That they shall be.