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Book Club – Leading the discussion

May 22, 2008

Chers Amis,

Dana posed several  great questions about starting a book club on my Nitty Gritty Book Club post that I wanted to try to answer 🙂

“Can you explain more how the book discussion goes? We don’t have anyone with a PhD in literature. 🙂 Are there any good books you’ve read about running a book club for kids? Websites?”

My short answer is that you do NOT have to have a PhD!   I CERTAINLY don’t, nor a Masters.  But I love books and I want my children to love to books as well.  How many children in school dread that summer reading list or the assigned novel!  All they see is a book report
looming, threatening to suck all adventure out of Treasure Island, the thrill of discovery from The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and the luminosity of language from Tuck Everlasting. That is the antitheses of a good book club!

Leslie of Knotty Pines, the originator of our book club :-), left an excellent comment on my last post on the Nitty Gritty Book Club
that you might want to read.  In short, the purpose of the club was not to focus on literary elements but:

*”To enjoy* the books have *friends* they could share freely their *own* interests, feelings and takes from the actual stories.This is how over the years the ‘show ‘n tell’ and discussions evolved into the format Marjorie mentioned in her post.

I really think if you start your bookclub with this mindset, then it will evolve into more over time. Just make sure you find like minded families with the same commitment level and if you chose to meet in your homes I strongly recommend limiting the size to *no more* than 10 children” Leslie

Leslie also suggests starting with a FIAR (Five in a Row) title and using some of their ideas to ‘get your feet wet.’  Thanks as always, Leslie!

Here are a few other ideas to help you get started .

  • #1 – Don’t stress out. This is a KIDS book club. If all you did was talk about your favorite,  funniest, silliest, worst, scariest, strangest  – characters, events, plot twists, words, places, etc. it would be a great meeting.  Ask the girls what they  loved, hated, disliked, did/did not understand, what made them laugh or cry. If you are a visual person, tape a big piece of paper or one of those huge sticky notes on the wall and write down their responses.  Make a Venn diagram as they call out ideas.
  • Try to read the book a month or more in advance yourself and don’t  rely on the ‘cliff notes’ version or simply study questions you find on line.  Ask what stands out for you?  What do you not want the girls to miss that might be hidden by the exciting plot?  Is there a theme or an event that you want to highlight?  Is there something about the language that is worth noting?  Remember, the teacher led segment of the meeting is actually quite short, not more than 25 min. and it is NOT a lecture, rather the leader encourages the girls to talk/think about the book, to draw them out on what they have already learned and to help them make connections.
  • Use the Internet search engines to glean ideas. I haven’t read any particular book on leading a club meeting, but I have drawn heavily from Internet searches on the book title + activity or lesson plan.  Don’t over plan, the girls will want to talk once they get comfortable. Start small and simple.
  • Assign a small project/craft that will serve as a jumping off point for the discussion. This can be very useful for a new group or at the beginning of the year.  For example, our very first book club selection was a beautifully illustrated picture book called  Dandelions by Eve Bunting.  The leader (Leslie? Priya?) asked each girl to buy an inexpensive 8×10 frame with a mat ($3 at Wlmt) and to decorate the frame based on the story.  It served as a visual reminder of the book and gave her something to ask about and for the girls to share. (The leader also took pictures of the group to go in the frames.) If the language is beautiful, ask each girl to pick a favorite passage/paragraph to read to the group. Were you struck by the characters?  How about having the girls draw a picture of their favorite character and write a short list of their attributes/qualities?  Designing a new cover or a poster for the book is also a way to draw out discussions.
  • If you want to talk about literary elements pick one to start with and bring it down to the student’s level.  They might not know the words plot, protagonist/antagonist, or setting, but they know what the book was about, what happened, who were the most important characters, which ones were good or bad and where and when the story took place.  Once you have introduced the correct word, use it so it becomes part of their normal vocabulary and not a chore.  There is a nice cheat sheet for parents on the Nitty Gritty post that you can download. (HT to Dr. P.
  • Enjoy yourself. Remember the old southern saying, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!” (Pardon my grammar.) This is true for book club too.  Have fun, be flexible and try it.

I hope this is helpful.  Please let me know if you have any questions or ideas to add.  I am no expert.  I am just a mom who loves to read and who hopes this love will be contagious.


PS – One other resource many parents have used periodically  is called the Arrow.  It is a monthly language arts subscription program for 3-6 grades offered by and is based around a pre-determined book list. Each issue offers:

“Four dictation passages selected from one novel each  month. These passages will highlight not only grammar and punctuation, but also beautiful, cogent writing. I’ll      one per week.
One literary element of the month. I’ll define and explain what the literary element such as rhyme, alliteration,metaphor, characterization, opening hooks, dialog and so on,  is and then give you four examples from literature (various resources) that can be used as copywork during the month.

One writing tip, game or exercise to try with your kids.”

PPS – HT I love reading photo from

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