In the next installment of my Books Over Looks blog series, which focuses on how to encourage children, particularly girls, to look to books and reading to increase self-esteem and knowledge rather than appearances and material possessions, guest blogger Elizabeth MacKenzie Biedell (check out her bio at the end) talks about the merits of book clubs for children and provides some perspective based on her experiences trying to start a book club with her daughter.
Find the Right Formula
A while back my daughter, who was seven at the time, told me she really wanted to be in a book club. She often stared and watched as I got ready for my book club. Maybe she noticed that I wore nicer clothes than normal or I put on make-up. But mostly I think she could tell I was really excited as I got ready and she wanted a place where her friends could get together at night, get dressed up, and discuss good books too.
I talked about setting one up briefly with friends with daughters about the same age. There was interest but it never got off the ground. I think the idea of committing their child (and themselves) to one more activity, especially if it was monthly, was too much. But nonetheless the idea intrigued them and it stayed with me.
As I continued to ponder the idea of a book club for my child, I noticed our local library had book clubs for kids. The librarian chooses and orders a book for each grade to read and anyone can come together monthly to discuss it. I checked out the book for my second grader and she read it, but on the appointed day for the “club” she didn’t want to go. This puzzled me at first but then it dawned on me that to her meeting at the library after school at 4pm with kids she didn’t know may have lacked some of the key ingredients that made book club so alluring to her.
A book club can be done so many ways, but I think the secret sauce may be the same friends each month, a book of your choosing, and meeting in a fun cozy space.
A book club can be done so many ways, but I think the secret sauce may be the same friends each month, a book of your choosing, and meeting in a fun cozy space. While participating in book discussions like the one at the library is very beneficial, and I will continue to encourage my children to go, the intimacy and the regularity of meeting with the same small group of people–whom you genuinely really enjoy–to discuss your feelings and thoughts about the book you all shared is just about the best thing ever.
Learn from an Adult Book Club
For me, my book club is my one commitment each month that I do not miss. Each month we catch up for nearly an hour before we begin discussing. There are family updates, work updates, health updates, etc. We drink wine, we laugh, and then we head into the living room to start the discussion.
The book is chosen by that month’s host. As a result we are at the mercy of that person’s reading preferences. Fiction, science fiction, memoir, non-fiction; nothing is off limits. We each say how we felt about the book and then off to the races we go. Each discussion is entirely different. We laugh a lot. We go on tangents, but we always come back to the book.
I really love my book club because I love and respect the mind of each woman in my book club.
I really love my book club because I love and respect the mind of each woman in my book club. We call ourselves the ‘Nightlighters’ because of our love to read into the night when sleep beckons but is fought valiantly to conquer one more page. We also have big hearts, and I have no doubt that if one of us was in crisis we would organize ourselves to help. My doctor, who is a woman my age with three kids and who recently fought off breast cancer, told me it was her church and her book club that got her family through it. Church and book club. I believe it. Book club is a place where you bare your soul and thoughts in community with others that forges bonds that last. Yep, book club is holy.
So what better gift could I give my daughter than the discovery that her friends’ minds are one of her greatest treasures? I need to do this for her. Being a part of a group and the identity that it could forge could really help fortify her when she feels distant from some of her peers at school. At book club she would belong and be valued. For her mind.
So how should we do it?
Create a Template for Success
For my daughter to have a successful book club and feel comfortable as an 8-year-old to express herself my plan would be keep the group very small. Maybe three or four people. My daughter could choose friends that get along and we could take turns meeting at different people’s houses with the parent kicking off the discussion with some interesting questions.
Alternatively I could host and moderate each time. I would ask them things like, “Where did you read this book? Did you read at night? Upside down? In the car? At school?” If applicable I might ask, “What part was the funniest? What part made you sad? Who was the main character? Did she remind you of anyone you know? Maybe yourself?” I would ask them how they felt while reading it. And ask if anything surprised them. I also might ask factual questions like “How many days did this book’s story occur over? and “where did this take place?”
But mostly I would teach the girls to ask the questions themselves.
But mostly I would teach the girls to ask the questions themselves. Maybe after a month ask each girl to bring a question to ask. Maybe after a few months have the hosting girl moderate the whole thing?!
And lastly, no matter what, there would be treats at book club. Special food or drink is a must. It makes a ritual of the meeting (and makes it so much more fun)!
Elizabeth MacKenzie Biedell double majored in Leadership Studies and International Studies and minored in Women’s Studies. She also earned two masters degrees, one in International Peace and Conflict Resolution and the other in Comparative Theological Studies. She’s written two OpEd pieces for CNN. You can check them out at the following links: http://ow.ly/7WSJ306G2lp, http://ow.ly/JnE7306G2tM. Most importantly, she is an amazing mother of two, a calming bedrock to her friends, all-around amazing human being and an aspiring author. (Jeez, total underachiever. Am I right? :))