When I was a little girl, I longed for a book club of my own.
I had read about them in books.
My mom wasn’t a part of one, and out of all the other ladies and girls in my circle, there was only one I knew who was part of of book club.
She and I had talked about it at one of my brother’s baseball games.
She spoke of it with such pleasure, of making special food, and of vacuuming and cleaning her seldom used living room specially for the occasion.
Most importantly, she told me about how much fun it was to talk about books with her friends.
Her words went straight to my heart.
This was just what I longed for
And so I went into action and began to create my own book club.
I sent out invitations to a bunch of my girlfriends.
I suggested the book. (I only wish I could remember which one we read!)
On the big day I cleaned my room and made cookies.
And later that afternoon, my friends were dropped off by their mamas for our first book club.
We crowded into my tiny room, squished ourselves together on my bed, just a bunch of giggly 4th and 5th grade girls.
I tried so hard to lead a book discussion.
But it wasn’t at all like I dreamt it would be.
Before too long most of the girls wanted to go outside to play.
I was slightly heartbroken.
But I vowed to press on.
They just needed time to learn what to do at book club.
By the next meeting there was mutiny afoot.
One of the girls and I got into a disagreement because she said I was too bossy and was trying to make them talk about the book too much.
“But its a BOOK club!” I cried. “And its MY book club! We’re supposed to talk about the book. And you are supposed to do what I want at MY club!”
It was our last meeting.
And this time I truly was heart broken.
Clearly I needed some help in creating a book club for my friends.
Or maybe they just weren’t ready for a book club.
Maybe I was just ahead of my time.
(I was in 6th grade)
Knowing the tale of my childhood book club woes, you can understand why I couldn’t wait to start a book club for my own kids.
I planned to be a part of the process so it wouldn’t be a flop like my first book club was.
I wanted to give them the book club experience I had imagined for myself.
I wanted to introduce them to the joy of talking about books with their friends.
Because in the years between that failed book club, led by a bossy, 11 year old girl who was desperately in love with books, I had the good fortune to be a part of the kind of book discussions my 11 year old self dreamt of.
I had sat in literature classes where we talked about books for hours.
I had become part of book clubs with my friends, with coffee and good food, and genuine interested discussion.
I had moments in my English classes where more than 2 of the students cared about the book we were reading.
Where most of the kids in my class were involved in the conversation, interested, and excited about reading a book.
I had tasted the glory of book talks.
And I was ready to share it.
Thankfully I am a part of a home school group filled with moms whose hearts beat the same way mine does.
A few years ago, we decided to start a book club for our kids.
My kids and I missed the first two meetings.
But the first meeting we went to kind of blew me away.
We met on the beach in the middle of summer.
At lunch time we spread out a potluck lunch on a surf board, called the kids in from the water, and after they had loaded up plates, they settled down to talk about the book.
I was floored by the way every kid wanted to talk about the book.
They had so much to say!
Even the littlest ones did not want to be left out of the discussion.
Instead of a short, shallow, ‘pulling teeth” kind of discussion, it was rich, lively, fun, and went on for a long time.
Watching it all unfold made me happy and weepy and so excited about the years of rich literary discussions that lay ahead of us!
The Nuts and Bolts — How we organize our book club
Our book club has grown and blossomed rather organically.
But there were a few ideas we started with that have proved to very helpful in running our book club.
1. One family is the host for each book club.
That means that family chooses the book, picks the location for the discussion, plans the activities, and sends out an email asking each family to bring food to share, and other supplies for the day. We all pitch in to help, but she is the “event director”.
2. One mom facilitates the book discussion.
The same mom whose family is the book club host leads the book discussion. That means she comes prepared with discussion questions and topics and helps guide the kids through the discussion time. Kids ages 3 to 13 participate in the discussion time, so a grownup facilitator helps a lot.
The idea is that by modeling how to have a book discussion, the kids will one day be ready to hold book discussions on their own.
3. We read classic literature.
This does not mean we are subjecting our kids to Beowulf or Canterbury Tales in the original Old English. But it does mean we are not choosing whatever is on the best seller list for that year. We generally use the free reading lists from Ambleside Online. (see some here, here and here.)
4. We have food at book club.
Books and snacks just go hand in hand. And book club is a celebration. And celebrations have special treats. So this was pretty much a no brainer. All the families bring food to share so the burden is NOT all on the host family.
5. We read 4 books a year.
In an effort not to keep ourselves sane, and to allow ourselves enough time to truly enjoy each book, we decided to read books on a seasonal schedule. That means we read one book for fall, winter, spring and summer. This is not to say that some families (ahem, mine) are not rushing to finish the book at the last minute. But since you have 3 months to finish a book, you don’t have to cram it all in at the last minute.
6. Every family reads the books differently.
There is no set way to approach the reading. In some families each kids read the book on their own. In other families the book is read together as a family bed time read, or as part of school work. Other families might listen to the book on audio during drive time. There are lots of ways to approach it, and no one way is better than the other.
In our family, we read the book together, because I don’t want to miss out on any of the books with my kids!
The Fun Extras:
As time has gone on, our book club has bloomed beautifully. Here are some of the extras that make book club days even more fun.
1. We try to align food and activities to the book.
This doesn’t always work, but often it does. For example, when we read My Side of the Mountain, the kids brought tools and supplies to build a wilderness fort, just like Sam Gribley did in the book. And when we read Swiss Family Robinson, we planned a botanical scavenger hunt for the kids, where they looked for plants from the book in the botanical gardens where we held the meeting.
And when we read Alice in Wonderland, you can bet there were tea and scones.
2. We wear costumes.
Again, this is not always the case. But if anyone has a costume that fits the time period or characters in the book, then costumes are very welcome!
3. We meet at special locations.
Living in California, we have the luxury of almost year round good weather. That means we can meet at outdoor locations. If we can, we try to make those locations connect to the book in some way. We’ve met at the beach, in a botanical garden, in a secret garden, in a wilderness park, and once we took the metro to China Town. Plus lots of other fun spots. Come winter, we might be forced indoors, but knowing our group of creative mamas, I’m sure it will still be just as magical.
4. We’re all in!
Its true, book club days are a bit of extra work. If you aren’t up for planning costumes, games, and lugging tables and buckets of tools across a park, you don’t have to. Book club could easily be a circle of kids on the floor, a plate of cookies, and a handful of rich discussion questions.
This is just the way our group functions. We view these days as a special treat and go out of our way to make them that way.
Giving kids a love of literature is a gift.
Giving kids a place to talk about the books they love and the tools to do it makes the gift even better.
I hope you’ll make book clubs a part of your children’s childhood.
How happy I’d be to know Kid Book Clubs were happening all over the world!
When you are contemplating the extra work and wondering if it is worth it, be encouraged by this beautiful quote from Gladys Hunt: “Reading enlarges my vision of the world; it helps me understand someone who is different from me. It makes me bigger on the inside. We tend to see the world from our own perspective; it is good to see it from the eyes of others. Good literature helps me understand who I am in relation to what others experience. Far from being an escape from reality, good literature is a window into reality. I read to feel life.”
For the love of books,
Books We've Read and Loved in Our Book Club:
A Little Princess
My Side of the Mountain
The Secret Garden
Anne of Green Gables
Swiss Family Robinson
Alice In Wonderland