A few months ago I wrote about the book club I share with my 11-year-old daughter and the countless gifts it has given back to both of us. The club keeps my daughter connected to friends who share her passion for stories, and it keeps me connected to my child and a wonderful group of tweens.
Since the essay ran, I was thrilled to see The Huffington Post pick up the story and even more flattered to receive emails from readers looking for suggestions on starting a club of their own. I’m happy to share what we have learned! Just as with any endeavor, there are a million ways to organize it, but the following path has worked for our club.
STARTING OUT Enlist a few leaders. We have three Book Moms who are the primary organizers. We rotate houses each month and share responsibilities for reading the books, planning discussion questions and bringing snacks. We also pick the books (more to come on that). Even though we welcome any of the moms to join us at meetings, typically it’s just the three of us. I’ve heard of other book clubs that are true mother-daughter activities (with every mom and daughter attending together), but our goal from the beginning was to focus on the girls and their relationships. As a result, it’s the girls’ book club, but we three leaders happen to reap some pretty great mother-daughter rewards with our own girls. We also decided that a full mother-daughter club would change the vibe significantly. It would be easy for the meeting to turn into a social hour with so many adult friends. We also know that some of our girls specifically request that their moms do not crash book club. It's their club, thankyouverymuch.
As for the club size, we try to keep the group no larger than about 12 girls. Any more and it gets unwieldy.
Our group began when the girls were in 2nd grade. I love that we started so early because it gave them a common thread of friends throughout their years at our large elementary school. At this age, you typically have a wide variety of readers (reading levels, stamina, attention span.) To address that, we picked two books a month: one easy and one challenge book. Everyone read at least one book; some read both. By 4th grade, we cut back to reading only one (longer) book each month.
Every August we set up the schedule and then meet monthly from September to May, usually making the December and May meetings half meeting and half party.
PICKING BOOKS The first year we asked the girls to vote each month on a new book, but we quickly found it hard for families to plan on such short notice. Now the three Book Moms decide the list for the entire year so families have time to borrow/buy the books and the girls have time to finish them.
We get our books ideas from all over: We take suggestions from the girls, poll our favorite librarians and booksellers, look at the Texas Bluebonnet Award list (an annual list of recommended books for Texas grade schoolers), scroll through Amazon and see what comes up as “related books,” browse sites like Goodreads, and visit Facebook groups devoted to reading recommendations.
We are fortunate that the moms in our club are wonderful and trusting of our book decisions. It helps that we are all friends, so there is a certain ease when talking about which books are appropriate for the club. So far this hasn’t been an issue, but as our girls enter middle school we know that the books will only get more mature and complex. For now, we have kept the controversial books out of the mix. (For example, we didn’t read The Hunger Games or the Divergent series for the club, although many of the girls read them on their own. Now some girls are stretching into true YA territory with books like The Fault in Our Stars, and we need to adapt our approach accordingly.)
STRUCTURING MEETINGS Usually all the Book Moms read the book, but the host is the one who also prepares the discussion questions. The discussion questions don’t need to be highbrow, academic efforts. In general, you can’t go wrong with: What did you like/dislike, what did you learn, what did you relate to? And this site is a great place to start for questions that fit almost any novel.
I also love to ask questions that tie back to the author. Questions that help the girls think like writers. What questions do you have for the author? Why did the author write it this way? What did the writer have to research before writing this book?
As a mother, you may need to learn to bite your tongue during some of the discussions. Of course the girls get off track, sometimes have lame answers, or maybe don’t get excited about a book. Follow their lead...Some books encourage lively conversation and some are a total bust. Don’t be afraid to say, “Wow, nobody LOVED this book. Why is that? How does it compare to others you loved? What would you have done differently if you were the author?
Our goal is to keep the vibe upbeat and casual, but still focused. This translates into a 90-minute meeting on a Sunday afternoon, with 30 minutes of book discussion and an hour of snack and backyard play.
We don’t keep a log or notes during the meetings, but at the end of the year we take a poll to ask which books they liked best and why.
At the close of every meeting we leave time for the girls to recommend any other books they are reading. This has turned into a favorite part of the meeting because the girls, avid readers every one of them, share books they adore. They gush. They try to summarize without spoiling. They draw comparisons to other books and try to wow the other girls with their descriptions. Basically they have time to geek out about something they really love. Can you ask for anything better in a club?
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If your daughter is in a book club now, or you start one with her, I would love to hear from you! What works for y'all? What books have you loved? Share any and all of it here!
P.S. Since writing this post, I added a boy-specific list here. Enjoy!
BOOK SUGGESTIONS As an inspiration or jumping off point, I've included our club's reading list from the past four years. Happy reading!
2nd Grade At this age, the girls read two books a month (one easy, one challenge book). Sometimes the parents read the challenge books to the girls.
Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett Fudge-a-Mania by Judy Bloom Judy Moody (series) Megan McDonald The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate Di Camillo Happy New Year's Mallory by Laurie B. Friedman The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs by Betty G. Birney Matilda by Roald Dahl Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye Black Beauty by Anna Sewell Diary of a Wimpy Kid (series) by Jeff Kinney Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery Little House on the Prairie (series) by Laura Ingalls Wilder Charlotte's Web by E.B. White A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis Ramona (series) by Beverly Cleary The Magic Treehouse (series) by Mary Pope Osborne
3rd Grade Again, we paired shorter books with longer books. Several of these books were on their school Bluebonnet list so they wanted to read them to earn the award.
The View from Saturday by E.L. Koningsburg Christopher Mouse by William Wise 11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass Wild Times at the Bed and Biscuit by Joan Carris Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt Smarter Than Squirrels (Down Girl and Sit) by Lucy Nolan and Mike Reed The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Curtis The Book Store Mouse by Peggy Christian Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park Squirrels World by Lisa Moser Bella at Midnight by Diane Stanley Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse by Marilyn Singer Love From Your Friend, Hannah by Mindy Warshaw Skolsky The Case of Mistaken Identity by Mac Barnett
4th Grade Small Persons with Wings by Ellen Booraem Escape Under the Forever Sky by Eve Yohalem Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R.L. LaFevers The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale by Carmen Agra Deedy The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters by Lesley M.M. Blume
5th Grade The Rising Star of Rusty Nail by Lesley M.M. Blume Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass Wildwood by Colin Meloy Red Thread Sisters by Carol Peacock Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli Carly Keene, Literary Detective: Braving the Brontes by Katherine Rue The Egypt Game by Zilpha Snyder The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer
Other 4th/5th Grade suggestions from the girls (so many good books, so little time) Chains (Seeds of America) by Laurie Anderson Holes by Louis Sachar The Velvet Room by Zilpha Snyder Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Peterson Regarding the Fountain by Kate Klise Cold Cereal by Adam Rex Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan The Homework Machine by Dan Gutman Someone Named Eva by Joan M. Wolf The Changeling by Jenkins and Fabry Number the Stars by Lois Lowry Ralph S. Mouse by Beverly Cleary The Grace Mysteries by Lady Grace Cavendish Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea Penny from Heaven by Jennifer L. Holm