In honor of National Family Literacy Month, today I’m sharing one of my most requested resources: how to start a parent-child book club! One of my goals as a mom is to expand my girls’ worldview – through travel, yes, but also through food, through engaging in our own local community and understanding our world community, through relationships, diverse experiences and also through books!
First, a little backstory: When I was teaching high school English years ago, I had a 9th grade student who belonged to a mother/daughter book club. At the time, I was pregnant with my first daughter and the student would bring me the books that her club was reading and we would chat about the books and sometimes I would help her with activities and discussion questions for her group. We often joked that when my soon-to-arrive baby was old enough, we would join her group too!
When that baby (my oldest daughter) was in second grade, I was no longer teaching, but I often thought about my student’s book group. At the end of second grade, my daughter was reading a bit more independently and so we reached out to a few friends and started our own mother/daughter book club. Now, over four years later, we’re still meeting regularly and I have also started a group with my middle daughter. I got some suggestions from a friend here in town who participated with her daughter in a book club and then started reaching out to other teachers, librarians and even authors for book suggestions and activities. In fact, last year, after reading A Wrinkle in Time with our group, I reached out to author Madeline L’Engle’s daughter and we ended up working together on A Wrinkle In Time Book Club resource for her website which can be found here.
Starting a book club with my girls is one of the best things I have done – and I can’t wait to do it with my youngest when the time is right! The benefits are endless including an increase in their love of reading and expanding their worldview as we learn about different communities, cultures, genres and characters. The book group also provides a safe place for them to talk about tough subjects that are themes in some of the books we’ve read and discussed, it has challenged them (and me) to read new things and it has nurtured friendships and relationships with the other girls (and moms) in the group. I have shared our process of getting it started with many families over the years – of both boys and girls, moms and dads – so today I’m sharing my 5 best tips:
1.Work with your child to establish a small group
I have found the sweet spot for starting a group for us is late second/early third grade at the earliest. However, I have friends who have started groups in 1st grade and others who started in high school. You should determine if it will be same-sex or not, if you want it to be one grade (all 3rd graders for example) and then limit your group to about 5-7 families – any more I have found can be overwhelming for the host and also overwhelming for quieter, tentative kids in the group).
2.Send an email inviting families and explaining the commitment
Once you’ve decided who to invite, send an invitation to the parents explaining what you’d like the book group to look like. Here are some questions/thoughts to consider:
- Both the parent and the child should read each book.
- If kids are at different reading levels, parents can read aloud with the kids, if needed. This also pushes kids to expand the genres and book levels they are reading.
- Will/can each family host at their home or another location (A bookstore, library, coffee shop)?
- What day, time and frequency works best for the group (we typically meet on Sunday afternoons once every 2 months).
- How will you choose the books? (See more on this below).
- What are the host and the participants responsible for at each meeting? (In our book meetings, the host – mother & daughter – pick the book and send out an email with plenty of time to read and some date options, they provide and lead discussion questions for the group and they provide and lead an activity, craft or game. All other participants read the book and bring a snack or lunch item – often related to the book. This can be changed depending on what works for your group).
3.Allow the kids to work with you in choosing a book
As a former teacher and now a parent, I typically explain that we should let our children choose the book or we can select a title together, but I don’t recommend having the mom or dad alone choose – I’ve found that it’s important for the kids to know they have a voice in the process, and they’re not just reading what us parents think they should read – although they often need a little guidance from us, especially in the beginning. We’ve been pleasantly surprised by several of the books the kids choose!
4.Determine a format for your meeting
Once you’ve determined who is hosting, what will be included (a discussion, a craft/activity, food, etc.) you can create a loose schedule for your meeting. Typically, our book group meetings last around 2 hours on Sunday afternoons and roughly look like this:
- 20 – 30 minutes – arrival, playtime and snacking (everyone shares what snacks they brought and why)
- 30-40 minutes – book discussion
- 30-45 minutes – an art activity, craft or game
- 10 minutes – wrap up
5.Send lists and recommendations for choosing books
Some parents are a little nervous about choosing a book for the group with their child at first. I like to send lists of age-appropriate books for the group and also encourage parents and kids to talk to teachers, librarians, booksellers and other kids and parents about books they love. Here are some lists I like to share to get started:
- The Newberry Award & Honor Books
- Brightly Book Lists
- Library Recommendations
- Common Sense Media Book Recommendations
Here are a few favorite books we’ve read in our Mother/Daughter Book group over the years:
- Clementine, Sara Pennypacker
- Wonder, R.J. Palacio
- I Am Malala, Young Readers Edition, Malala Yousafzai
- Ramona Quimby Age 8, Beverly Cleary
- Jacky Ha Ha, James Patterson
- Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventure, Kate DiCamillo
- Echo, Pam Munoz Ryan
- Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling
These recommendations can be altered and adjusted in several ways – you could create a Family Book Club (Here’s an example of a Family Book Club for the book Pax), a Skype book club with a penpal or long distance friend, or an after school book club that could be coordinated with the librarian or teacher.
I’d love to hear if you start a group, already belong to a parent-child book group (and some books you’ve loved) or if you have any questions about what we’re doing and reading in our groups!