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Why A Book Club?

Book clubs teach valuable skills. What’s the right age for a book club? “Any age is the right age to start. Just choose the participation level that’s appropriate for the age level,” says Kris Cannon, a former elementary school teacher and currently the librarian at Mills High School in California, where she has started several lunch-time book clubs for high school students. “At any age, being in a book club teaches kids valuable skills — reading for understanding, relating reading to personal experience, how to participate in a discussion by taking turns, and respecting the opinion of others.” In addition, she notes, kids get to build friendships with other book lovers and read books they might not have chosen to read on their own because everyone in the group has to agree on what book to read.

Learning to read for enjoyment. Jennifer Thompson, a reading specialist for the Manassas City Public Schools in Virginia, adds, “Book clubs are so appealing because children can truly get lost in a book without standardized tests looming, no comprehension questions to answer, just the pure satisfaction, of reading for enjoyment. Book groups offer a venue to bring the lone act of reading, into a social circle.”

Building parent-child bonds. Thompson sees the parent-child book club as an avenue for conversation and communication. “In my own mother-daughter group” she says, “I have found that when the mothers take the time to read, listen and respond to their daughters as readers, they send a powerful message that the girls’ thoughts and experiences are important. The group becomes a safe haven for us to share experiences without judgment or ridicule. Participation also helps to build trust and a communication link between mothers and daughters, at a time when we often drift apart.”

Reading as a social activity. Jan LaBonty, a professor in the School of Education at the University of Montana, adds, “Book clubs for children serve the same purposes that book clubs for adults do — they become a vehicle for excellent conversations about books. Reading is a social activity and we love talking about what we read. Book clubs are ‘grown-up’ and encourage students to form opinions about what they read, and express and support these opinions with peers. They light that fire to read more, to find out more.”

Book clubs for reluctant readers. Regina Neu, a California mom, is an avid reader who read to her young son often. When he began to read on his own, reading didn’t come easily, and it was not the pleasure she hoped it would be. In comparing notes with other parents, she discovered several faced the same issue with their children. Since Neu belonged to an adult book group, she thought, “Why not start a book club for kids?”

Together with five other moms and second graders (a mix of boys and girls), she formed a neighborhood book group. When the children were young, they met every other week and quickly established rules: They would take turns hosting dinner and discussion at each other’s homes. Whoever was the host got to choose the book. They started by letting the children choose whatever book they wanted and always allowed them some time to play. As the group evolved, they met monthly and the parents narrowed the book choices to award-winning children’s books, such as the Newbery award winners. The parents would facilitate but not participate in the discussion, leaving that to the kids. Sometimes they would discuss books that had been made into movies, such as Tuck Everlasting. The group continued to meet all through the elementary school years.

“My son is in seventh grade now and is a huge reader,” says Neu. “The book group — reading with his peers and having choices — made a difference. Reading outside the classroom made it less stressful and more enjoyable. Choosing award-winning books helped to show the kids what ‘good’ books are.”

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