HOW TO START A FABULOUS BOOK CLUB FOR YOUR KIDS

By Jodi Bartle

As a woman who has been a part of a book club for eight years, I know the value of getting together with friends to talk about a piece of writing that moves you, or enrages you, or bores you to tears.

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We meet once every six weeks and shrug off the day’s work and the demands of kids, open a bottle (or six) of prosecco and scoff whatever the host has prepared, often sitting down on the floor like nimble youths. (It hurts, after a while). At some point, we talk about the book, argue a point or two, and listen to each other talk about what the writing meant for us. It is always the most wonderful, engaging, nourishing thing to do.

So, as a confirmed reader with wonderful memories of a childhood devouring books, and as mother of sons, I wanted to get my boys involved in a junior, non-boozy version of their own book club.

I wanted them to have to same reverence and joy for reading as I do, and to celebrate that with their friends. Learning to talk about writing, learning to look a little deeper, to be encouraged to sink into a story and to be pushed by others’ ideas about it can only be a good thing.

These are my tips to get your own kid’s book club firing.

Make Sure Your Kids Are Keen

If you try to push a book club onto a kid who is not quite yet ready, no one will win. You want your kids to be excited by the idea, and to be confident, experimental readers. Explain that membership of your own book club is a commitment to reading the whole book through, and that it requires regular meet ups, with some thought and perhaps research into the author or the topics raised in the book. Don’t go into it half-hearted and don’t let it ever become a chore.

Pick A Small Group

Group meet ups and roundtable discussions can be hard to manage, whatever the ages of the participants. Keep the group small, with kids who are at similar reading levels and who share an enthusiasm for the project. I would suggest keeping the group at no more than four or five kids.

Work Out The Structure

We have turns hosting in our homes which involves choosing the book (after offering two or three possibilities) and feeding everyone. For a kid’s book club, look to doing the same on a Sunday afternoon, perhaps once every three weeks. Steer the kids towards a few book choices and prepare a simple afternoon tea for them. Make it seem special - give the kids a quiet comfortable space with no interruptions from rowdy siblings or distracting screens, and limit the time, perhaps aiming for 30 to 45 minutes.

When they become more confident, let them make the next book choice. Encourage the seeking out of reviews, trips to the library and to book shops to get a flavour of new authors and the classics.  

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Have Ground Rules

Our rules are pretty simple - no one can have read the book ever before and you shouldn’t talk over anyone else, though we get excited and we invariably do. For the first few meet ups, you should probably act as a moderator to keep the conversation on track. Ask the kids questions and let them speak. Make sure everyone has their turn; if things get a little noisy, start using a Talking Wooden Spoon to be passed around so when each kid is in possession of the spoon, it becomes their turn to speak.

Remind the kids to be patient and show respect towards other members of the group. Once the group is established, let the kids have turns acting as hosts, leading the questions and the discussion, but be on hand to restore order if you need to.

Flesh It Out

If a particular book really grabs the kids’ attention, then look to fleshing out the topic in some way. Start with London itself - this city is rich in places to go and things to do that might relate to the book your club is currently reading. Look out for author’s talks (the Southbank’s Imagine Festival always has author’s talks, and many bookshops like Daunts and Foyles have signings and events, so keep your eye out for these).

Films and theatre might offer a fresh look at a topic - from Horrible Histories to Matilda, there will be something that ignites imaginations and adds something to the book. Walk Dicken’s London, go for a walk to Paddington Station, try to find J.M Barrie’s blue plaque, read The Uncommoners by Jennifer Bell, which is set beneath the streets of London. Think about reading The Great Fire Dogs by Megan Rix about two dogs who escape the Great Fire of London, or read Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse and visit the Animals In War Memorial in Hyde Park. 

Keep it light, keep it fun, and increase the complexities of the books as the kids become more confident. Challenge the kids by suggesting classics alongside more accessible options, and try short stories, poems and non-fiction and biographies, like Roald Dahl’s Going Solo or I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb.

Above all else, make sure your kids enjoy it - it will cement a lifelong joy and refuge in books.