After seeing all the fun her older children were having at their book club meetings, my friend Annette Meyers realized her elementary students could also benefit from discussing books with friends. She hoped it would get them–and keep them–interested in reading. Annette and her husband have homeschooled since 1993, have graduated four students and have three more still learning at home. Here are some pointers from her years of experience leading a club for younger readers:
How do you find book club participants? We have always started book clubs through our homeschool cluster/field trip group. But you could do one simply with your kids and their friends. Kids love a reason to get together and having a book to discuss gives them something to talk about and may even draw out those shy kids. It might also give you an opportunity to get to know the parents of your kids’ friends.
How do you choose books? Usually it is one I think the kids would have fun with, one I have read before and have been moved by, and sometimes it is simply a book my kids would be reading for school that year anyway.
What books have you used and which ones have been your favorites? Any duds? I have done book clubs for elementary-middle school on The Door in The Wall by Marguerite De Angeli, Nate the Great by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, The Bravest Dog Ever: The True Story of Balto by Natalie Standiford, Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch by Eileen Spinelli, Yellow and Pink by William Steig and The Sneetches by Dr Seuss. I think they were all big hits and can’t think of a dud. The Door in the Wall and Yellow and Pink have to be my personal favorites. Both have very powerful story lines teaching the kids that we are all created special and, while capable of greatness, we are still dependent on each other as well as our Creator.
Where, when, and how long are your meetings? The meeting places varied as we would ask someone to host our meeting or meet in a church basement, etc. The meetings were generally in the late afternoon or evenings. If you have them in the evening, dads may be able to participate or free up mom to go while they stay with the younger siblings. The meetings would go between one to two hours depending on the age of the participants.
How do you prepare? What do you have students do to prepare? I prepare, of course, by reading the book myself, then I either make up discussion questions or Google for discussion guides online. We often ask someone to bring treats to have at end of the evening. For the younger kids we try to incorporate something from the books into the treats, such as yellow star cookies for The Sneetches, etc. We also try to think up a short game that goes along with the book for the younger kids. We announce the book club well enough in advance for the kids to have plenty of time to read the book before the meeting, only about two weeks for the younger kids (we want them to remember what they have read).
What is the hardest thing about pulling off a meeting? Often it is the meeting place. Once you have that there is just the plain fact of hooking the kids into liking the books enough to start AND finish them. We have always done the book clubs with the kids in our cluster/field trip group so as we would see them at other field trips leading up to the book club we would ask how they were coming along on their reading. But we have found even the kids that come to the meeting and tell you they did not finish the book still participate and get a lot out of the discussion, maybe they even go home and give the book a second chance. Our family would often read aloud from the book each night and even the kids not involved would get a lot out of it as we had our own nightly discussions.
What is the best part of your book club? Seeing the kids get excited about reading! As they learn to love to read, even the most reluctant slow reader will sharpen their reading skills, which makes them WANT to read, which sharpens their skills, which makes them want to read … you get the idea! Reading opens the world to a person! With the love of learning and reading in our hearts we can become better people and make this world a better place. World peace through reading … umm, I think we are on to something here!
Traci Matt is author of Don’t Waste Your Time Homeschooling: 72 Things I Wish I’d Known.