Why start a book club for kids? And is it worth it?
From an educational perspective, kids’ book clubs are rich with skill-building as well as encouraging a love of reading. Here’s why you should start a book club for kids–and why it’s worth it.
1. It gives readers social time with friends, neighbors, family, etc.
2. It encourages kids to read more books.
3. It helps children fall in love with reading.
4. It exposes children to books they might not normally read.
But book clubs accomplish even bigger purposes for most readers…particularly as they gain experience and confidence.
5. The book club discussions promote DEEP THINKING about a book.
6. Kids get valuable practice with forming an opinion, expressing that opinion in a respectful way, listening to others’ opinions, and using the text to help support their thinking.
7. It CHANGES the way children see the world and themselves.
Parents, teachers, and librarians, read on to get step-by-step book club launch directions here — from who to invite to how to hold successful discussions, what book-related activities to do, and lots of good book recommendations.
Parent-child book clubs are rich with skill-building. Debbie Milner, a Literacy Coordinator for the Denver Public Schools, says “Besides building a love of reading, book clubs develop an abundance of literacy skills: the ability to use comprehension strategies; to compare and contrast authors, themes, concepts and ideas; the ability to understand how reading can help you learn about the world; and the ability to learn how to be a good writer from reading good writing.”
Not only for growing readers, but parent-child book clubs also show children that their parent values reading.
“The parent is modeling reading (yippee!) so the child recognizes that the parent values the printed word,” says author and parenting expert, Michele Borba, Ed.D.
My mom-daughter book club with my youngest daughter lasted from second grade until middle school. It was a wonderful experience for so many of the above reasons.
How to Start a Book Club for Kids
1. Decide Who to Invite
Here are some suggestions with examples. Download this free PDF handout to help.
- Age-based book club
example: 3rd graders.
- Age & gender-based book club.
example: 2nd-grade boys.
- Multi-age book club
- Interest-based book club
example: Kids on the soccer team.
- Family book club.
example: Family members.
- Parent-child book club (or adult-child)
I highly recommend any adult-child book club (grandmas are great, too!) for elementary-age kids because adults can help facilitate initially, then gradually release that responsibility of facilitation to the kids.
In general, I’ve found that it’s easier to get a discussion started if the kids are already friends or at least, know each other.
If the group doesn’t know each other, you’ll want to do some get-to-know-you activities at each meeting to build trust.
My youngest daughter didn’t want to join a book club. At. All.
But, I asked her to give it a chance because I wanted to give her a social reading-related experience. Fortunately, she had a blast. And, our parent-child book club lasted from second grade until middle school.
You might have to make a deal or compromise — ask the child to try it, and you’ll try something they want to do.
Or offer an incentive.
For example, children’s services librarian, Judy Ehrenstein, shared with me that their students get service-learning credit for participating in the library’s intergenerational book clubs.
Maybe if you explain that kids will get a chance to run the book club and pick the book, that could be motivating.
HOW MANY PARTICIPANTS?
Groups that do the best are generally eight people or less.
This helps everyone get a chance to participate.
More than that and kids might get left out. (And it can get too noisy for our noise-sensitive friends.)
HOWEVER, many people have done virtual book clubs successfully with more than 8 participants — because they could use the break-out room options on Zoom.
2. Schedule Your Book Club
Before you decide when to meet, you need to decide how frequently you’ll meet and when you’ll meet.
- Meet weekly
Decide how much you’ll read and meet on a weekly basis to discuss. This works best for family book clubs and book clubs at school.
- Meet monthly
Read an entire book and then meet for the book club. This works best for parent-child book clubs.
Find a schedule that works for your book club. If you’re doing a family book club and reading aloud, maybe you’ll have a short meeting every day.
For children under 8, I would suggest a very short book club discussion followed by fun book-related activities. (Which we will talk about soon.) Keep the discussion to 10 – 15 minutes. The other activities could take up 15 – 30 minutes.
I recommend short discussions so that kids find the experience playful and fun and they stay interested and engaged. As they grow in their book club experience, so will their stamina.
For children 9 and up, use your best judgment. 30 minutes can be plenty, even too much, for the discussion.
Just as with the younger kids, as kids grow in the ways they think and respond to text, you can expect the discussions to get richer and longer.
Therefore, plan for 15 – 60 minutes, depending on the activities you do or don’t do afterward.
1. Consistent day and time
For the most part, you’ll never be able to accommodate everyone’s schedules. Try as best you can to find a day of the week and time that will work for everyone. For example, the first Monday or the second Tuesday at 6 pm. Then, stick to it.
2. Flexible schedule
Ask when everyone is available and try to set up the next meeting to accommodate people’s schedules.
Finally, you’ll need to decide where you’ll have the book club meeting. At school? At a person’s home? Virtually?
Give your group enough time to read and set your first meeting date.
Once you decide the meeting location, day, and time, send out a calendar invitation to your participants.
You might also want to have a Google Drive folder with any resources or tasks related to the book club.
Download this scheduling checklist.
3. Choose a Book Club Book
Choosing a book is a VERY important task.
Remember that it’s essential for children to have a say in the book selection. This gives kids ownership and motivation.
That being said, this can get complicated so here are a few suggestions that allow for kids to choose.
- The group votes on a book from a selection of pre-approved choices.
- The group members take turns picking the book.
This works best for parent-child book clubs.
- The adult, teacher, or librarian runs multiple book clubs and children pick the book club with the book that they prefer.
Teachers and librarians will give students choice of book clubs reading different books, giving them a short preview of what each book is about.
What are the other considerations when choosing a book club book?
- What is Your Goal?
Do you want your kids to read more of any book in general?
Do you want kids to read about a particular topic or theme or genre?
Themes: Friendship, Growing up, Family
Topics: STEM, WWII, Social Justice
Will the goal be to help build community among this group of children?
- Who is the Reader?
Will the kids read independently or will an adult read aloud to them?
Will both the child and adult read the book?
Will it be a family read aloud book?
This is important to know because of the next point…
- What is Their Reading Level?
If you want the book club members to read independently, you’ll want to choose a book that all members can comprehend. When in doubt, pick a book that’s easily comprehensible for the lowest level of reader.
Or, offer the audiobook as an option for children who might struggle with comprehension. Epic (ebooks) offers (limited) chapter books with audio, too.
- Is it Interesting?
Liking the book makes the whole experience better. Is the book appealing and relatable to kids?
- Is it Too Popular?
Try to pick a book that you know participants haven’t already read. If it’s a new book, that’s often one that no one has read yet but will cost more if you’re asking readers to buy the book.
- Is it Discussion-worthy?
Whenever possible, pick a book with topics and themes that lend themselves to a thoughtful discussion. I like to read reviews on blogs like Imagination Soup, Goodreads, Facebook, or Instagram to learn about books to consider. (And pre-reading the book is a MUST!)
- Is it Available?
Will all readers have access to this book?
WHERE TO FIND BOOK
When picking a book, all the participants will need a copy of the book. Whether it’s a hard copy of the book, an ebook, or an audiobook, here are some ideas for where to find books.
- Amazon / Bookshop
- Overdrive / Sora / Hoopla (These will be ebooks or audiobooks through the library.)
- Audible or Audible Stories (currently Audible Stories are free)
- Book Fairs
BEST BOOK CLUB BOOK PICKS & RECOMMENDATIONS
4. Plan the Meeting
It’s time to plan the book club meeting. Here’s a possible meeting scenario…
- Intro / Get to Know You Activity
- Expectations (for the first several meetings)
- Book-Related Activities
Consider the agenda. (PRINTABLE HERE.)
What order will you do them in? Will you eat and discuss? Will you eat while an adult reads? Decide what you’ll do and in what order.
When you meet as a group, you’ll want to start with a chat about expectations and behavior.
You want to make this a wonderful, positive book club experience. DONT OVERDO the time spent talking. Start with short discussions, especially for younger children.
This can change as children grow in their discussion skills and become more comfortable sharing and thinking deeply about the book.
Before you can plan how the discussion will go, get clear on your ultimate GOAL for the book club discussion.
If your goal is to build community and encourage reading, you will have a different level of questions (and rigor) than if your goal is to analyze the text or ponder the author’s use of literary devices.
If your goal is for student-led discussions, you’ll also want to MODEL how a respectful book club discussion looks and sounds. Either play both the roles of the question asker and the participants or ask another parent or teacher to help you.
When you do this simulation, ask kids to look for examples of when you 1) were respectful or not respectful to others, 2) answered the question and stayed focused, and 3) followed up on someone else’s answer in a respectful way, even if you disagreed.
Afterward, reflect on what students noticed. You can refer students back to the behavior expectations and how those apply to a discussion as well.
If your book club is kids-only, modeling helps participants learn to discuss the book without adults.
After you model (probably more than once), ask kids to start their meeting.
Over time, you’ll see that kids will get the hang of how a book club discussion works and get more complex with their discussions.
After your discussion, you can continue to build relationships and have book-related fun with other activities like these.
Draw: Have everyone draw their favorite scene or make favorite character trading cards.
Arts & Crafts Activity: Look on Pinterest for a craft that relates to the book.
Bookmarks with Quotes: Make bookmarks with favorite quotes from the book.
Grab Bag: Fill a bag with objects from the story. Have everyone pull out an object and say when it was used in the book and what character used it.
Whose Line Is It?: Write down quotes from the book. Ask kids to guess who said each one.
Watch the Movie: If your book is also a movie, watch it as a group. Then talk about which was better – the book or the movie.
Take a Field Trip: Instead of your usual book club meeting location, visit a restaurant or location that relates to the book.
Skype/Zoom with the Author: Many authors do virtual visits with fans. Kids LOVE to meet the authors; it’s something they won’t forget.
Dress Up: Dress like your favorite character.
Act Out: Plan a skit to act out for each other.
Think of more ideas by considering the book’s theme, culture, and plot.
Add any book decor that you can think of is fun — even if it’s just quotes from the book written on posters. If you’re reading a story about ghosts, you might put up some ghostly decor.
PLAN FOR THEMATIC FOOD:
Plan for snacks and games that relate to the book in some way. (If possible.) When we did Percy Jackson, we served only blue foods, for example.
Get ideas from the theme, culture, and foods in the story.
Here are some other ideas:
5. Hold the Book Club Meeting
What will you do at your book club for kids? Start with a discussion, then move on to food and fun book-related activities.
DISCUSS THE BOOK:
The only rule for the book club discussion is to use good manners.
Remind the kids that it’s okay to disagree but they need to wait for their turn and not interrupt. If this becomes difficult, the host or the host’s parent can call on kids who are raising hands to speak.
For the discussion, it’s empowering if the host kid thinks up and asks the questions.
What kind of questions could kids ask at book club? Have them think of a few simple questions like what was your favorite part? or what was the funniest part?
Starting the book club meetings with easy questions makes it win-win. Then, as children get more experienced with discussing the text, their questions will reflect that.
Alternatively, children can each think of a question which they take turn asking the group.
Here are some examples of good discussion questions that kids can ask:
How would you rate the book on a scale of 1 to 10? Hold up your fingers.
What was your favorite part?
What didn’t you like about the book?
Would you change anything about the story?
Do you have any questions about the book?
What does the book make you wonder?
What character did you like best and why?
Would you recommend this book?
Did this book change the way you think?
In my youngest daughter’s book club’s first book club discussion, the girls wore a Cat in the Hat hat when sharing. It got very silly! And everyone had a great time —
“Thank you SO much again for tonight. L and I had such a great time.”
“We had fun at the book club.”
“I believe it to be a great success for many first-time book clubbers!”
6. Virtual Book Club Meetings
I’m sure you’re already way too familiar with Zoom’s video, chat, and breakout room options. This is my personal recommendation because it’s more robust with options for your meeting. It’s helpful to use the grid view on your Zoom or Meet video call so that all the participants can see each other.
Google Meet also allows participants to see each other in a video meeting but without breakout rooms.
Discord offers many communication options, including chat threads, voice calls, video calls, and text messaging. (My teenager, like many teens, prefers this platform instead of texting or other apps.)
At some point, the adults might turn off their cameras so kids will speak more freely. You can still monitor the discussion and pop back in at any time.
VIRTUAL SHARED DOCUMENT PLATFORMS
If you are looking for where to post introductions, directions, expectations, prompts, activities, discussion threads, book reviews, book trailers, etc., try one of these choices.
7. After the Book Club Meeting
Once you’ve held your first book club meeting, it’s time to
- think through problem areas
- enjoy the success
- make changes to improve the next meeting
- plan for the next meeting
Make sure you get everyone’s email address so you can communicate about each book club meeting. If you’re meeting virtually, you’ll want to designate who will facilitate the technology.
original post 2009, updated 5/2022
Parent Guide to Starting a Book Club for Kids
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