How to Start a Family Book Club

Oprah has one. So does Reese Witherspoon. You might be in one with your own neighbors or mom friends. But have you ever thought about having your own family book club?

The idea behind a family book club is that everyone in your family, despite all the age differences, reads the same book. Once the book has been read, whether aloud together or separately, you gather as a family to discuss and do activities.

Every child benefits.

According to Kathryn Donohue, library associate at Elmhurst Public Library and school librarian at Catalyst Circle Rock Charter School in Chicago, family reading time can build positive relationships between adults and children. 

“Family reads are an awesome way for parents and kids to bond and it also encourages young kids to want to read independently,” Donohue says. “Children who are read to have a desire to read. In the brains of little kids, all the words they are hearing and learning are building up their vocabulary that will eventually help in school.”

Plus, depending on the books, the conversations that result can spark new dialogues between parents and children, she says.

Where to start?

Selecting a book title for your family book club might seem daunting at first, especially considering the amount of literature available.

“Naturally, selecting a book will depend on the ages of your kids,” says Betsy Bird, collection development manager at the Evanston Public Library. “Finding the right book is no easy task, but you do have an amazing resource at your disposal with local children’s librarians.”

She says a good librarian will be delighted to share titles based on your interests, ages and preferences.

Donohue suggests parents consider starting with books that they loved as children. Whether it is was a series or author they remember, it allows parents to make connections to their own childhood as they read with their kids.

“Another great place to start is to read a book that has been made into a movie,” Donohue says. “Then you can talk about differences and similarities and compare the book and movie.”

Have a plan

Once you select a book, decide as a family how you want your book club to run.

“Select a day and time to hold the book club that works best for your family’s schedule and how long each session will be,” suggests Kathrine Bence, children’s librarian at Legler Regional Library, a Chicago Public Library. “Pick a comfortable area that is free of other distractions and electronics.”

Then spend some time thinking about activities that your family will enjoy that can be tied into the book.

“Try charades, where you take turns acting out characters from the book,” Bence says. “Research and learn about the author. Often author websites include activities to go along with reading their books. Prepare food from the book or create a meal based around a theme from the book. Get on Pinterest and find a craft related to the book.”

Another idea is listening to the audiobook version or seeking out alternate editions of a book.

“Try comparing and contrasting different versions or illustrations as you read. Sometimes a graphic novel adaptation can succeed with a classic where other methods fail,” says Bird.

“For example, instead of starting with the original Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, my daughter and I read the contemporary, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: A Graphic Novel by Rey Terciero and Bre Indigo,” says Bird. “That sparked an interest in reading the classic novel together and we hope to follow that up with the contemporary Pakistani-American update, More to the Story’ by Hena Khan.”

And don’t be afraid to pass on the book when it’s not working to try something new.

“Sometimes the kids just won’t be ready for your favorite book. You may love ‘The Hobbit,’ but wait a year if they can’t follow the storyline,” Bird says. “Likewise, this shouldn’t be a chore, so in the beginning try to select books you know they’d like and remember to have fun.”

Book suggestions

If you still don’t know where to begin with picking a book title, here are some original suggestions from local librarians to get you started:

The Birchbark House, by Louise Erdrich

“Were you a fan of the ‘Little House’ books when you were a child? Then consider the magnificent The Birchbark House which is about an Ojibwe girl and her family in the 1800s. Written by Erdrich, an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, the book has all the charm of Laura Ingalls Wilder with the extra added benefit of being historically accurate regarding Native history.”

Betsy Bird, collection development manager at the Evanston Public Library

The Season of Styx Malone and The Rock and The River, by Kekla Magoon

“For kids that are a little bit older, fourth grade and up, a newer author named Kekla Magoon has wonderfully written, The Season of Styx Malone and ‘he Rock and The River. She also reimagined Robin Hood for modern readers in her series, ‘The Shadows of Sherwood.’

Kathryn Donohue, library associate at Elmhurst Public Library and school librarian at Catalyst Circle Rock Charter School in Chicago

Wishtree, by Katherine Applegate

“Our school has done a One Book, One School read that spans different ages and is appropriate for all. Applegate is a Newbery Medal-winning author and Wishtree is about Red, an oak tree that people write their wishes on pieces of cloth and tie them to Red’s branches.  The Read to Them Organization has a suggestion page for One Book, One School titles that families might find helpful as well.”

Margaret Janavicius, school librarian at Wescott School in Northbrook

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum

“Folks often forget that Baum’s classic, in spite of being more than a century old, starts out with a bang. Dorothy lingers in Kansas in the movie, but in the novel she is whisked away by a twister practically on the third page. It’s the quintessential quest novel, replete with

familiar elements and wholly unfamiliar ones. My personal favorite is the edition illustrated by Michael Hague, which is much more family friendly and fun to page through.”

Betsy Bird

Matilda and James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl has some great read alouds for families. His books are funny and a bit naughty, but good always wins out over evil. My favorite is Matilda and James and the Giant Peach,’but there are tons of classic Dahl options to choose from.

Kathryn Donohue

Journey, Quest, and Return, by Aaron Becker

“Depending on how young your children are, maybe the best way to start out is to consider reading a picture book trilogy in a slightly easier format. Even if you’ve got older kids, Becker’s three-part series of two kids in an alternative fantasyland is stunning. Hidden details in the last book will keep older kids enthralled while younger ones will preen, knowing they’re finally old enough for a real quest narrative.”


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