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How to Start a Book Club

An excellent way to improve a child's reading comprehension level during the summer is by joining or creating a book club. Book clubs make reading a joint and interactive experience through opinion sharing, question/answer sessions, and predicting exercises.

With younger children, you can hold meetings weekly and discuss a few chapters at a time. During the school year, teachers and librarians can organize and moderate sessions after school or at recess. Parents, create a parent/child club where adults and children read the same book and meet to discuss the story every few weeks. Encourage your child to trade books with their friends or host a book-swap party during your first meeting, where all attendees come with an old favorite and leave with a new one for independent reading outside the club.

The following are tips and suggestions for starting your own book club:

  1. Finding members in friends!
    The best way to find people to be in a book club is to ask friends. Think of classmates, your child's friends, your friend's children and anyone else you know who may like to read and ask them to join. If you still don't feel like you have enough people, ask each friend to bring someone else. You can usually get a good discussion going with six to eight people, but any number that is comfortable will work. Spread the word! Librarians and teachers, post information about your book club around the school. Parents, check with your local library or bookstore to see if there are groups you and your child can join.
  2. Decide on the when and where.
    Some groups meet once a month, some meet every other month. Get togethers can take place at a club member's house, a park, in a classroom, or in your school or local library. If it sounds too official to decide the “wheres” and “whens,” don't worry! All you have to do is get together once, and you can work out the rest of the details later.
  3. Decide how books will be chosen and how the discussions will be run.
    Maybe your child has a favorite author. Maybe your group is full of boys who like gross things like bugs and slime. Other club members can also introduce new genres, authors, and books into the mix. Your group might take turns picking a favorite book. Adults can certainly lead the discussion but kids often have the most insightful things to say. Just getting together to talk about the books you are reading often takes conversation down many most interesting avenues. If you group could benefit from more structure, or you get stuck, check back here for access to many discussion questions and activity suggestions. You may also find many more available discussion guides on the Penguin Young Reader's Group Teachers and Librarians website:

Suggested Titles for Book Clubs

Mockingbird Hope Was Here
Three Cups of Tea Locomotion and Peace, Locomotion

For Middle Grade Readers:

  • Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine
    Winner of the 2010 National Book Award for Young People's Literature, Mockingbird tells the story of Caitlin, an eleven-year-old girl with Aspberger's and the confusing world she faces after her brother, who has always helped her understand things, has died.

    Access the Mockingbird discussion guide in the Extra Materials section for questions and activity suggestions as well as a Q&A with author Kathryn Erskine and her Mockingbird music playlist.

  • Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer
    This Newbery Honor book follows sixteen-year-old Hope and the aunt who has raised her as they move from Brooklyn to Mulhoney, Wisconsin, to work as waitress and cook in the Welcome Stairways diner. There they become involved with the diner owner's political campaign to oust the town's corrupt mayor.
  • Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson
    This edition of the worldwide bestseller Three Cups of Tea has been specially adapted and updated by Greg Mortenson to bring his remarkable story of humanitarianism to young readers. It includes a special afterword by Greg's twelve-year-old daughter, Amira, who has traveled with her father as an advocate for the Pennies for Peace program for children.
  • Locomotion and Peace, Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson
    When Lonnie was seven years old, his parents died in a fire. Now he's eleven, and he still misses them terribly. And he misses his little sister, Lili, who was put into a different foster home. Told entirely through Lonnie's poetry National Book Award Finalist Locomotion is a poignant story of love, loss, and hope that is lyrically written and enormously accessible.

    In the companion novel Peace, Locomotion, Lonnie is now twelve and finally feeling at home in his foster home. Told through letters from Lonnie to Lili, the book portrays Lonnie's reflections on family, loss, love and peace will strike a note with readers of all ages.

Between Shades of Gray Thirteen Reasons Why
Speak Will Grayson, Will Grayson

For Young Adult Readers:

  • Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
    This elegant novel will steal your breath and capture your heart as it delves into a little-known event in history and tells the story of fifteen-year-old Lina, a Lithuanian girl who is sent to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia during World War II.
  • Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
    Paperback available July 2011!

    Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker—his classmate and crush—who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Poignant and thought-provoking this book will make for important conversation.
  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
    Laurie Halse Anderson's award-winning, highly acclaimed, and controversial novel about a teenager who chooses not to speak rather than to give voice to what really happened to her.

    The discussion guide in the Extra Materials section features a new poem compiled by Laurie from the letters and emails she's received from readers over the years.

  • Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
    One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two teens—both named Will Grayson—are about to cross paths. Their worlds begin to collide and intertwine and the Will Graysons find their lives going in new and unexpected directions in this Stonewall Children's and Young Adult Literature Award-winner.

Tips for a Sizzling Summer of Reading

While every district has its own literacy program, all schools strongly encourage reading over the summer vacation and many require that children read specific titles in the months before they begin a new grade level. The intensity of summer assignments may range from asking children to read books of their own choosing, to selecting several titles from a reading list issued by the school, to reading a group of mandatory stories and then completing a writing assignment. Students' reactions to summer reading are as broad as the assignments themselves: to some, reading is a welcome activity; to others, and for reluctant or challenged readers in particular, summer reading can seem like a chore. Take advantage of the following tips and suggestions, designed to assimilate reading naturally into your child's summer routine and help you get personally involved!

Be a Reader and Writer Yourself:

  • Children learn by example. Through simple acts like reading a book in the backyard or the newspaper at breakfast, you're showing your child that reading is both fun and important.
  • Encourage your child to apply this concept to his or her own life by reading the cereal box in the morning, a menu in a restaurant, or signs as you drive in the car. Have your child help you write your weekly grocery list and then read the items to you as you shop together.

Know Your Child's Reading Level:

  • Remember that each child has an instructional and an independent reading level. Keep in mind that a child's independent reading level is slightly lower than his or her instructional reading level.
  • Book choices for independent summer reading selections should be at a level where your child can read most of the words and easily understand the story on his or her own.
  • When selecting a read-aloud, feel free to choose books at a higher readability level, which may be more in line with your child's listening comprehension level.
  • Consider a school's reading level system when selecting appropriately leveled books. Suggestions here refer to Guided Reading Levels. If your local school uses a different system for leveling books, you can easily find a conversion chart online.

Make Use of Your School, Bookstore, or Public Library's Incentive Program (Or Create Your Own!):

  • A motivational program—whether you're counting the number of pages read, hours spent, or books completed—is an excellent way to get kids excited about reading during the summer.
  • Keep track of their progress with the Penguin Summer Reading Log

Encourage Students to Read Widely:

  • Expose your children to a variety of genres, titles and authors so that they can develop their own reading interests and expand their background knowledge in various subjects.

Summer Writing is Just as Important as Summer Reading:

  • The ability to write about what one reads is an essential skill that your child will employ in each subject taught in school.
  • In order to maintain the writing skills your child developed over the summer, he or she will need to practice writing over the summer.
  • Many of the discussion and teaching guides found on this site contain writing prompts and activities to go along with the books your child is reading.

Tie Reading into the Themes of Your Summer Activities:

  • If you're planning a vacation, read about the destination together.
  • Look for books where the main characters take part in the same activities your child does, like going to camp, taking swimming lessons, visiting family, getting a new pet, etc.
  • Ask your librarian or local bookstore for summer-themed books on your child's reading level.

Make Reading a Joint Experience:

  • As you read aloud together, take turns reading pages, or obtain two copies of the book and each read silently. In either case, tell your child what you are thinking as you read and ask your child questions about what he or she reads.
  • Reading and discussing books together will expand your child's ability to think more deeply about a story, which leads to an increased level of comprehension.
  • Sharing your ideas and enthusiasm about books will serve to nurture a love for reading. Children who engage in recreational reading increase their vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension as they enjoy books.
  • Consider starting a book club with older children. Find tips and suggestions here.