Monday, July 16, 2012

A Kid Book Club

The other day, I overheard James talking to one of his friends.
"Hey, did you know I'm in a Kid Book Club?  We read a different book every month and then we talk about it.  It's pretty fun.  And we get snacks, too."
In some circles, this kind of statement would have been met with blank stares.
Like when James told his baseball teammates that his favorite movie was Treasure Island--the old one.
But this time the response was different.
His buddy wanted in.
"I bet you can be in it, too,"James told him.  "I mean, it is pretty fun to talk about books, right?"

When a friend with a daughter James' age mentioned she wanted to start a book club for her daughter and some friends, and would James be interested, I nearly squealed.
A book club for my kid to be in?
Heck yeah he'd be interested!
But I was a thoughtful mom, and actually asked him if he'd want to go before I signed him up.
He had some questions: who'd be there, who'd chose the books, and would there be snacks?
The snacks sealed the deal.

Then we started reading the book, and snacks became of secondary importance.
Our first book was The Secret Garden.
I read it several times as a kid, and before that, my mom read it aloud to my brother and I.
It was a book I loved as a kid.
I love it even more as an adult.
My kids love it, too.
All 3 of them.

I read aloud to the 3 of them--Lilly and William drew while I read, but James just sat and listened, with a huge grin on his face as he soaked in the story.
They loved the mystery of the story.
And the way Mary, the main character, is "quite contrary" when the story begins.
They love that Colin, another main character, is also quite contrary--in fact, he's even more bratty than Mary.
Their words and actions are kind of shocking--and I can tell that the kids can't believe Colin and Mary could actually act like that, and get away with it.
And they love how the two of them are changed, by Martha, Dickon and the garden.
It's really a beautiful tale of transformation.
Ultimately, it's a wonderful example of how the world becomes so much more beautiful when we take our eyes off ourself.

The story so permeated our minds, that one day as we drove down the freeway, James looked out the window at a patch of empty, rolling hills and he asked, "Mommy, are those like the moors?"
The kids each tried out their Yorkshire accent, and using Yorkshire words.
If I slipped up and didn't use the right accent for the character, or worse yet, just read in plain ol' American, they responded with hue and cry.
I'd hear them say things like, "that's what Mary would do when Colin was being selfish."
That's what good stories do, they get inside you.

And when a good story gets inside us, we want to talk about it.
We want to share with other people the way the characters in the book are touching us, changing us, and making us excited.
We want to say things like, "can you believe he did that?" and, "remember that part when she said that?"
We want to share the amazing journey that a good story takes us on.

I tried to start a book club when I was a kid.
I think I was 11.
I picked a book.
I sent invitations to my friends.
I made snacks.
We sat in my little bedroom, on my big bed with the yellow quilt my great grandma made for me, and I tried to get everyone to talk about the book.
Not everyone had read the book.
And those who had didn't know how to talk about it.
It was awkward, and boring.
And for me, the 11 year old wanna-be book club leader, very frustrating.

Fast forward 10 years, and there I am standing in front of a classroom full of high school kids reliving the exact same scenario.
Most of my students hadn't read the book--all year long.
And if they did, most of them wouldn't want to talk about it.
How embarrassing it would be to like books.
Still,I tried to share my deep and abiding love of good stories with my students, and sometimes it worked.
But to the vast majority of them, I was just their weird English teacher and they didn't get me.
They'd much rather be watching tv than reading a book.
For the 26 year old lover of books, it was very frustrating.

And here I am now.
It's a Sunday afternoon and I'm sitting at a table in my backyard with four eight year olds, one six year old, plates of strawberry scones, cups of tea, and we're talking books.
We're talking about The Secret Garden.
They're telling each other about their favorite character, or the kinds of the things the author wanted her readers to think about when they read The Secret Garden.
There was plenty of laughter and giggling, and the conversation often derailed, and headed off into directions it wasn't supposed to go.
But there was also genuine excitement about the book, about the characters and favorite moments in the story.
There was thoughtful discussion.
It was in many ways, on par with book discussions I had with my high school students--the 9th and the 12th graders.
It was a real life book club for kids.
And for this 35 year old who loves good books even more now than she ever has before, it was a little slice of literary heaven.

My kids are very lucky.
They are surrounded by people who love books.
Not just their daddy and I, but most of their friends, too.
Any time our kids are with their friends, books come into the conversation.
While climbing on the monkey bars at the park, "hey Luke, we're reading The Hobbit now.  It's so awesome!"
When they're collecting seed pods from a tree, "you guys!  Doesn't this look like the boat from Paddle to the Sea?  We could make our own boats just like in the book."
While playing Legos, "have you read Joan of Arc yet?"
While sitting and drawing with a friend, "what part are you on in A Tree in the Trail?"
These stories are such an important part of their life that they long to talk about them with one another.
In the same way you might say to a friend, "did you see The Office last night?" they're saying to each other, "didn't you get so hungry when you were reading Farmer Boy?"
I can't even begin to tell you how much I love it.

Do you want to start a Kid Book Club?
Here are my suggestions.
1.  8 is a good age to start.  6 is a bit young.  He did pretty well and contributed a fair bit to the conversation.  But he was also the first to get distracted.
2.  Keep it small.  4-6 is a good number.  Any more and there will be too many voices to listen to at the same time.
3.  Make sure the kids will read the book.  So really, make sure the kids have parents who will make sure they read the book. This will be tough because it means some people just won't be part of the group.
4.  Have some discussion questions planned for the meeting.  The questions can be pretty simple, "who was your favorite character and why?  Describe a favorite part of the book."  It helps give them a place to start the conversation.
5.  Use the conversation time to teach them the finer points of having a discussion.  Don't interrupt, listen to what people are saying so you can respond to it, and take turns.  Also, teach them the language of discussion: I agree with you because..., that's a good point, but....
6.  Have good snacks.  If you can tie the snacks in with the book, all the better. The Secret Garden cried out for fresh scones, clotted cream, jam, and tea.

Don't think of your Kid Book Club as something you can sign your kid up for and not be a part of.
Read the book with him, aloud with him, or along side him, so you can talk about it together.
Talking about the book together is the best way for him to get comfortable with talking about stories.
Be a part of the book club day-- be involved in meeting.
Be excited with him about the books you are reading and add to the experience.
We're reading Heidi next--we'll be looking at pictures of the Alps, and finding her route from Switzerland to Germany.
Your excitement about good books will transfer to your child.
Just as your indifference will.

Lastly, if you love that beautiful, cloth bound edition of The Secret Garden, you'll be delighted to know there are several more in the series.
They can be a bit tricky to find, but you can see a few here.
The Robin Hood and Anne of Green Gables are my favorites.
I plan on getting each one of them as we read them.
Oh how I love good books!
Happy summer reading, friends.
Love from,
PS. If you want that strawberry scone recipe, head over to Picnics in the Park and get all the details.


Lillian Simon Wujek said...

I love this post Greta!! You are awesome and I love what you are living. You know how much I love to read.Never a day goes by that I don't have a book in my hand...but I have never been in a book club. I am so happy that James is getting to experience at 8, what I never have.

Kathy Gustafsson said...

Oh. My. Goodness. I miss being in a book club at all, and this one sounds AMAZING!!

Rebekah said...

Love this! I was in a book club when I was 10, and I loved it! We read some of the best books, and it was so nice being in a group of book-lovers. Can you recommend some good books for to read with my 4 year old? We just finished Stuart Little, but I don't know where to go next. Thanks! :)

Jen said...

What a great experience for all those kiddos:) I love this:)

Kristine said...

Wonderful Greta. We share those sentiments. Boy, Farmer Boy made us hungry too. I couldn't read that at night. Too many hungry boys.