Whatever type of reader your child is, starting a book club can help foster a love of reading and provide a fun way to get families in your neighborhood together.

A book club is a great activity any time of year, but it works particularly well in the summer when schedules are more relaxed. Reinforcing reading skills during the summer also prevents learning loss. According to research from the Center for Summer Learning at Johns Hopkins University, students who participate in summer reading programs after kindergarten, first and second grade are less likely to be held back in future years, and middle school students who read four or five books during the summer experienced gains in fall reading achievement comparable to attending summer school. Forming a book club will help keep boredom at bay, build on academic skills and nurture a love of reading.

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.” LaBonty offers the following helpful tips to make your book club successful:

  • Have the kids bring some food connected to the book. This is just plain fun but also helps make the abstract process of reading more concrete.
  • Have some kind of homework – fun, hands on, research, art work — anything that will get them talking right away.
  • Address the qualities of literary merit, and have kids really judge the book — way beyond “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it.”
  • Ask questions that require the kids to open their books and turn to specific pages.
  • Be prepared with a list of other works by the same author or other books in the same genre.

LaBonty also notes that she has seen successful book clubs for kids led by college students — a good idea to keep in mind if you are reluctant to be a leader or organizer, or just want to give a college student a great opportunity to work with younger kids.

How to get started

How do you find members for your book club? Start by checking with your child’s friends or putting up a flyer at your school, library or recreation center.

Size: A good size for a book club is eight to 12 members, or four to six parents and four to six children.

How often to meet: Have an initial meeting to decide how often to meet, at what time and how to choose the books you’ll read. Most groups meet once a month, to give everyone time to read the book.

Figure out your focus: Some groups choose to read a particular kind of book, such as mysteries, or include all kinds of books.

Choosing leaders: You may want to choose one person as your group’s leader, or rotate leaders each time you meet. The leader can be responsible for guiding the discussion, as well as researching and presenting information on the author. It’s a good idea to appoint someone to be secretary, to be responsible for reminding members of each upcoming meeting.

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.”

Book clubs for bright students

For California mom Jan Robertson, forming a parent-child book club was a way of encouraging her 9-year-old daughter’s academic interests, and, she says, “It is a great bonding experience.” Together with another mother in her neighborhood they formed a club and included six kids — four girls and two boys — and their parents.

The group started in fourth grade and has continued through sixth grade. The children choose the books and then after reading them, give them a rating. On a scale of 1 to 10, a few books rise to the “gold standard of Harry Potter,” says Robertson. The group typically meets monthly and reads fiction but has recently gravitated toward more historical fiction, which, Robertson says, has provided a good jumping-off point for discussions on historical events and what lessons we can learn from history.

How do you make a parent-child book club successful? “It’s important to draw the quiet kids out,” says Robertson. “Whoever is hosting takes responsibility to make sure everyone gets a chance to be part of the discussion. The kids choose the books and do most of the talking. The adults are there to serve as traffic cops and to help the kids gain knowledge of historical context when the group reads historical fiction.”