It’s summertime, and most parents are worried their child will trade textbooks for texting and chapter books for channel surfing. Fortunately, with a little foresight you can help kids of any age dodge the summer doldrums and bridge the gap between school years by forming a summer book club.
Prologue: Planning the Perfect Page Turner
Before your book group can meet, you’ll need to make some preliminary decisions. Four of the more important considerations are:
When? Summertime may give you more options since you’re not competing with school anymore, but you’ll need to schedule around summer sports for big kids or afternoon naps for little ones.
Where? Whether it’s beanbag chairs, blankets and pillows, or maybe the grass at a local park, find a space that fits your group. Kids have just spent nine months cloistered behind desks, so try to find a setting that invites conversation and closeness.
How? Even before your first official meeting, consider how you want the book group to run, and to what extent parents need to or should help facilitate it. Set down some guidelines before you meet, especially for younger participants.
Why? What do you want to get out of the book club experience? What do your kids want to get out of it? Is there a way to merge the two philosophies? While Mom and Dad may be grateful for the summer reading skill brush-up or some buddy-buddy time with their kids, kids might just be grateful for a little reading time that’s unconnected to grades or standardized tests.
Chapter 1: “D” is for Daddy – ABC books for Preschoolers
The contributions that positive male role models can make in a child’s life are infinite, so don’t dismiss dads when it comes to summer reading. To that end, Texas AgriLife Extension Service’s FRED program (Fathers Reading Every Day) “aims to increase father involvement in children's literacy development” by encouraging daily reading. So often we associate the formative years with the basics—ABC’s, for example—but it’s also a critical time for father-child relationships. An alphabet-themed father-child group is the perfect blend of academic, social and emotional nurturing for pre-readers ages 2-5.
What to read: Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, A is for Angry: An Animal and Adjective Alphabet (Sandra Boynton, Workman Publishing Group), Eating the Alphabet (Lois Ehlert, Red Wagon Books), I Stink (Kate McMullan, Harper Collins), Superhero ABC (Rob McLeod, Harper Collins)
For more themed fun: The key to this age group is variety. Break up the books with ABC-themed snacks (apple juice, bananas and carrots, for example) and end every meeting with an alphabet game. Have kids sit in a circle and play “A my name is Alice” using their own names: “T, my name is Tommy, and I like tomatoes!” Kids can pat their legs and clap their hands to add some rhythm: concept reinforcement and instant fun!
Chapter 2: Hop on (Grand) Pop – Multigenerational Dr. Seuss
Any child growing up in the 1950s remembers the books of Theodore Geisel, or Dr. Seuss—and fifty years later, kids around the world are still hearing Whos with Horton, hopping on Pop, and pulling Wockets from their pockets. Seuss, noted for his riotous rhymes and simplified vocabulary, is a time-tested choice for emerging readers and his books are a great way to bring together the Silent Generation and their grandkids together for some one-on-one time. Lest you think that Dr. Seuss is mere child’s play, think again—his Butter Battle Book is a thinly-veiled Cold War commentary and Yertle the Turtle is supposed to have anti-fascist undertones!
What to read (all books are Random House Books for Young Readers): Go Dog Go, Hop on Pop, Green Eggs and Ham, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (for Christmas in July, of course!), The Butter Battle Book
For more themed fun: Serve green eggs and ham, naturally! Also try roast beast sandwiches (How the Grinch Stole Christmas), or perhaps bread—with the butter side up (Butter Battle Book).
Chapter 3: Mother-Daughter Mysteries in the Middle
The middle years can be especially awkward for tween girls—now more than ever, they crave self-confidence and positive female role models to help them make the transition into young adulthood both physically and emotionally. Part of that is why Phoenix librarian Wendy Resnik “personally think[s] that tweens are the best audience (ages 10-12)” for book groups. What better way to channel some of that positive female energy than teaming up with mom for some girl-powered mysteries? The mystery/suspense market is rife with strong female protagonists, both new and classic.
What to read: Chasing Vermeer (Blue Balliett, Scholastic), The Smuggler’s Treasure (Sarah Master Buckey, American Girl), The Secret of the Mansion (Julie Campbell, Random House Books for Young Readers), The Philadelphia Adventure (Lloyd Alexander, Puffin), Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief (Wendelin VanDraanin, Yearling).
For more themed fun: Celebrate the whodunit spirit with a murder-mystery-themed party for your book club participants, or a Clue board game night. You can also pit mother-daughter teams against each other with a good old-fashioned scavenger hunt.
Chapter 4: Teen Time Coffeehouse– Read What You Want
While the younger set may crave contact time with their parents, “teens . . . prefer a more open, read-what-you-want book club with no parents allowed,” says Phoenix librarian Patrick King. “Their lives are so structured with school, homework, sports and after school activities that presenting one more required book to read bears no interest with them. Therefore, the moderator, either a teacher, librarian or parent, discusses the individual titles- what the teens are reading and why.” He points out that teens will often have similar reading habits, so finding similarities between books shouldn’t be difficult.
What to read: While teens will choose their own books, The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold, Little, Brown), The Life of Pi (Yann Martel, Harcourt), To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee, Harper Perennial Modern Classics), The Kite Runner (Kahled Hosseini, Riverhead Books), The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd, Viking are among the top titles for teens mentioned in Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp’s The Kids’ Book Club Book.
For more themed fun: If your teens can’t meet in an actual coffee shop, make the setting as close as you can by offering coffee, iced tea, and pastries. Teens can also take their ideas to the digital age by starting a book blog and writing reviews, posting online commentary, etc.
Epilogue: Summer Book Group Benefits
“For the child that enjoys reading,” librarian Wendy Resnik says, “the book club provides reinforcement and validation (i.e., they are not total geeks just because they like to read).” To that, colleague Patrick King adds that “reading and sharing in groups can help children prepare for the next school year.” So banish the remote and break out the books this summer—building social and scholastic skills never looked so good!