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It's not just for Oprah: Book clubs for kids

Nurture a love of reading with a club for budding bookworms.

By GreatSchools Staff

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.

Comments from readers

"I used the idea with the book related ffood my daugher had a blast eating cupcakes based off of it's raining cupcakes! "
"I started a book club four yrs ago. My kiddo was in 2nd grade. I sent letter by Germino Stilton (same font syles he uses) and said you were chosen to be in the book club. We met at various yogart shops and book stores around town. Fast forward four years and my rising 6 grader loves to read and the other siblings can't wait for their book clubs. Highly recommend having a summer book club. "
"This sounds like a great idea. Ideas for a book club for preschoolers? "
"Great article!"
"I just started a book club and our first session was successful. I recommend Debbie Miller's book 'Reading with Meaning' to anyone who wants to go into this venture for their kids. I found her book a wealth of knowledge and it inspired me to seek out parents with enthusiastic minds like myself and kids just yearning for knowledge and I'm lucky our group seems to have that blend. We have 7 kids spanning from those going into K to those going into Grade 2. I believe children should not just read books but pause sometimes between reading to apply various concepts: Predicting, imagining using their schema's, finding connections; text-to-self, text-to-text etc, looking at illustrations in each page and fishing out the hidden messages the artist was trying to pass across - like feelings in a characters face, etc. The first book we read, simple as it is 'Pepito the Brave' by Scott Beck took us almost 2 hours analyzing, inferring, enjoying, predicting etc. You can tell I am so excit! ed and passionate about this and I urge parents to please try something like this out for their kids, the benefits are amazing."
"For more great ideas about organizing a family book club, read 'The Parent-Child Book Club: Connecting With Your Kids Through Reading,' (Melissa Stoller & Marcy Winkler, HorizonLine Publishing, February 2009)."
" I just wanted to say thank you for your great ideas. I find the information here most useful. I am forwarding it to my 4th grader and will get together with him as soon as i get home on these ideas.Thank you. Vera Elue"
"I love this idea and would like to start my own. In our community there is 7 different elementaries that meet into one middle school growning up. I would like to rotate @ each ofthese schools and get the kids that will know eachother to get to know eachother earlier. I feel that this will help them adjust better for later on. I did this with Girl Scouts and now that I am not a member of that orginization I would like to partisipate in this one. I there a way I can conect with the other parent that are alraedy doing this and have a open communication/share idea's/ect...? THNAK YOU"
"excellent work!this site quenched my thirst for bookclub information.i have been searching for ideas on book clubs and i got so much useful information that will be of great help to me and millions of people in Nigeria as am an agent of behavioural change:especially to resurrect the dying/extinct reading culture in Nigeria. I live in Lagos Nigeria, West Africa and i am looking to start book clubs in different low income localities in Lagos. The reading culture in Nigeria is nothing to write home about, but i believe so much in reading from a tender age to help develop and boost confidence in a child. Do you have any kind of support for Africans trying to establish or go into such you have directions to clubs that offer free books to aid and develope our reading culture in Africa. Kindly advice. Thanks'"
"First i would like to commend you for your website. It has so much useful information that will be of great help to me and millions of people in Nigeira and Africain in the very near future. I live in Nigeria, West Africa and i am looking to start a book club and eventually a fully functional library. The reading culture in Nigeria is nothing to write home about, but i believe so much in reading from a tender age to help develope and boost confidence in a child. I missed this opportunity while i was young and i see it happening to a lot of kids today. Do you have any kind of support for Africans trying to establish or go into such ventures. For starters i will need a good business plan idea and directions to clubs that offer free books to aid and develope our reading culture in Africa. Kindly advice. Thanks"
"I am loking to start a book club at the high school where I work this next school year...any suggestions for authors?"
"Great Article! I like the web sites I can check out with my child to find quality books. There is a WONDERFUL book club at STORYBOOK SAFARI in Litchford Village Shopping Center that does a lot with reading skills and activities related to what the kids have read. They are always making things, creating songs, plays...and all the teachers are NC certified teachers!"
"My Highschool has a reading club and it is a great accomplishment because we live in a remote area where no one reads, we want to encourage more kids to join and make it a focus group so we could get books free but how do we do that."
"Hi I have a great book to add its called The Kids' Book Club Book, it has Reading Ideas, recipes , Activities and tips for organizing kids book clubs, "
"I love this idea. It has been on my mind for some time to do one. The article has given me the jump start I need!"
"I never thought about this, but this is such a wonderful idea. My daughter has been in the summer reading programs with the local library for the past two summers. She really enjoys reading and achieved in accelerated reader as a kindergarden on a 3rd grade level. We are so proud of her. I am going to incorporate this program for her class this year. I am ironing out the details to present it properly to parents. I am really excited and can't wait to get started."
"I am a 5th grade teacher in an elementary at-risk school. I started an after-school book club for the last two years. I have seen exceptional growth in our students. They love to read, discuss (higher order thinking) and are constantly encouraging others to read. I absolutely loved your article! "
"Thank you so much for the information about the book clubs and the websites. I'm also looking forward to the Fifth Grade page. Although my granddaughter will be going to Sixth next year,it will be good to review with her."
"Excellant ideas!!!"