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Saturday, April 11, 2015

How to Start a Kid's Book Club

Why start a book club?

One of my primary goals in raising and educating my children is to instill a love of learning and insatiable curiosity. No activity has fed these goals more than reading, particularly reading aloud.

When we read together, we bond through the adventures and trials of the characters in the novels. We hold our breath when a character we love is in peril and we cheer the dogged determination that an underdog always seems to manifest at just the right moment.

Recent studies show that reading fiction may increase our empathy. Not only do we learn about different cultures and experiences when we read a wide range of fiction, but we actually put ourselves into characters’ shoes and feel what they feel. This translates into deeper social interactions in real life.

We make connections between books and each other.

The benefit with an ongoing book club is that the participants build a common library or characters and world views. I do not think there is a meeting where a character from a previously read book does not come up to compare or clarify a point. Quite simply, our world becomes bigger, the more we read.

How should I do this?

There are as many different ways to run a book club, as there are parents. I am going to share a few of the ones I have been a part of and encourage you to create the experience that will work the best for your family.

Kid run book club

In this book club, the kids pick the book and run the meeting. They might be aided by a parent or two on how to run the meeting or maybe they just come up with their own agenda. My daughter is a part of a kid run book club. To be honest, the kids talk very little about the book and then chat about other things. I think this is fine as it still promotes reading, discussion and friendship.

A parent run kid book club

I run a book club for a handful of homeschool students. For this club, I pick the books. I spend a lot of time researching to find books that are a little different that what the kids might read on their own. My goal is to expose them to new forms of story telling and subject matter that they might not automatically be drawn to. (This is one of the things I like best about my adult book club). I work hard to make sure the books are engaging and exciting. Even if we all suffered though a book (they all got really tired of Helen Keller’s writing style) we push through together and have a share experience that we refer back to again and again.

A family book club

This kind of club might be formal or informal. We read aloud at bedtime (something mild usually) and during a reading time during the day. Sometimes we switch off reading, but usually the task falls to me as the kids eat popcorn or draw. Books on tape fall in this realm too. We love to get into a really juicy book on tape when we have long driving trips.

A themed book club

A book club might be centered on a particular theme. Manga, graphic novels, poetry, historical fiction, survival literature...anything that is an intense interest can be the basis for a book club. And it does not have to be something that goes on forever. What if you just gathered a bunch of kids and offered a 3-month comic book club? The possibilities are endless. 

Where + when should you meet?

You can hold your book club in your home, but I am a big fan on occupying public spaces when working with kids. I think there is something important about kids being seen as engaged and interesting people in the world. I am constantly talking to strangers about kids (and the fact that I am in public with them!) and it seems this is my political action. Kids are citizens!

Plus, it is pretty fun to be in new places. It awakens the mind when discussing material in a new environment. Kids seem both more engaged mentally and better behaved in unfamiliar and new spaces.

Some of my favorite places are:

Coffee shops & restaurants Every kid loves this! Let them get a hot chocolate or tea and settle in. If you want to take a larger group to a coffee shop, just call ahead and ask how that might work. We tend to go during off hours or might reserve the community room if it is available.

Library Our library has a room we can reserve sometimes, but to be honest, I prefer meeting in the children’s department. We push a few tables together and chat away. We are well behaved and keep our voices at a reasonable volume. It is interesting to see other kids come by and curiously looks at us. I feel like we are a big commercial proclaiming that reading is FUN! And hopefully, we spark the interest of other readers to build their own reading community. Additionally, it is not uncommon for me to ask the kids to find some reference books or images (or even a globe) to augment our discussion.

Parks & woodlands

Park yourself under a tree in a blanket and enjoy the outdoors. The benefit of meeting outside is that the group’s noise level should not be a problem. Kids can run around before or after to run off steam and if you have any messy extension projects, this is the place.

How often should you meet? Our group finds it works out to meet once a month. That gives kids plenty of time to find and read the novel. You will have to ask your group and try different schedules to figure out what works for you.

Additional ideas + extensions

These are the type of ideas that turn a regular book reading into a deep learning experience. But, as co-readers, don’t do these because they are “good” for you. No! Do them because they are fun and you are curious. Follow the questions and interests that arise from the text and let curiosity write the map.

Copy work from the book – as we read, I underline and circle beautiful passages that might make it into our copy work, or even just typed up and hung on the wall.

Look up the location on the map – simple and easy

Try a food from the book – we do this always! We have eaten radishes with butter, papaya, breadfruit and more.

Bring any artifact that can be tied to the narrative. Kids love to see and hold something from the culture or time period the book takes place in.

Find a person to interview (grandparent and older neighbors are perfect for this. We are often asking our olders if they remember experiencing something we have learned about).

Tie in a field trip. Is there a museum or ethnic neighborhood that ties in to your book? Visit it together or share the information with the other parents so they can visit as a family.

Watch a related movie or documentary. There is a Facebook Group called Homeschooling with Netflix, which is a great resource for finding worthwhile things to watch in connection with your book.

Check out the author’s website or read more of their books.

Pick a topic that is mentioned in the book and research it further. So many times, new interests and lines of discovery are piqued from book club.

A few favorite books for reading aloud

These are all books that we read and loved. Some are recognizable classics and some you may not have heard of. Just imagine the connections you can build by reading 100’s of books with your kids over their childhood.

1. Little House on the Prairie Series, Laura Ingalls Wilder 

2. The Wind Boy, Ethel Cook Eliot
3. The Dragon of Lonely Island, Rebecca Rupp
4. The Penderwick’s Series, Jeanne Birdsall

5. Sarah, Plain and Tall, Patricia MacLachlan 6. Nim’s Island, Wendy Orr
7. The Doll’s House, Rumer Godden
8. Thimble Summer, Elizabeth Enright

9. The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum 
10. Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie
11. The Wolfling, Sterling North
12. Hatchet, Gary Paulson

13. The Mouse of Amherst, Elizabeth Spires
14. The Call of the Wild, Jack London
15. The Doll People Trilogy, Ann Martin
16. Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, Rumor Godden 

17. The Enchanted Castle, Edith Nesbit
18. The Indian in the Cupboard, Lynne Reid Banks 
19. Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren
20. The Wishing Chair Series, Enid Blyton
21. The Magic, Far Away Tree Series, Enid Blyton 
22. Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter, Astrid Lindgren 
23. My Father’s Dragon, Ruth Stiles Gannet
24. Gone Away Lake, Elizabeth Enright

25. The House Above the Trees, Ethel Cook Eliot
26. Chronicles of Narnia Series, C. S. Lewis
27. Boxcar Children Series, Gertrude Chandler Warner
28. The World of Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne
29. Stuart Little, E.B. White
30. The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams
31. The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler, E.L. Konigsburg 

32. The Beastly Arms, Patrick Jennings
33. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain
34. The Borrowers, Mary Norton
35. A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle
36. The Magic Tree House Series, Mary Pope Osborne
37. The Family Under the Bridge, Natalie Savage Carlson
38. When the Circus Came to Town, Laurence Yep
39. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Kate DiCamillo
40. The Hundred Dresses, Eleanor Estes
41. The Fudge Series, Judy Blume
42. Heart of a Samurai, Margi Preus
43. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

44. George’s Secret Key to the Universe, Stephen Hawking, Lucy Hawking 
45. Holes, Louis Sachar
46. The Littles, John Peterson
47. Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Richard Atwater

48. The Christmas Doll, Elvira Woodruff
49. All of A Kind Family, Sydney Taylor
50. In Grandma’s Attic, Arleta Richardson
51. Behind the Attic Wall, Sylvia Cassedy
52. The One and Only Ivan, Katherine Applegate 

53. The Twenty-One Balloons, William Pene du Bois 
54. The Yearling, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
55. Navigating Early, Clare Vanderpool
56. The Egypt Game, Zilpha Keatly Snyder
57. Inside Out and Back Again, Thanhha Lai
58. The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth George Speare 

59. Wonder, R.J. Palacio
60. Esperanza Rising, Pam Munoz Ryan
61. My Side of the Mountain, Jean Craighead George
62. Black Radishes, Susan Lynn Meyer

63. The Neverending Story, Michael Ende
64. Heidi, Johanna Spyri
65. Moon Over Manifest, Clare Vanderpool
66. The Abandoned, Paul Gallico
67. The Master Puppeteer, Katherine Paterson
68. The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg, Rodman Philbrick
69. My Side of the Mountain, Jean Craighead George
70. Thimble Summer, Elizabeth Enright

Resources for finding good books

Amazon searches. Look for one book and follow the trail!

Google searches. Search genre or specific content area and you will find it.

Newberry winners. Print this list out or read it online. I have found many forgotten treasures on this list.

New York Review Kids Books. A wonderful series of reprinted, high quality children’s books. You can find them all on Amazon.

Carol Hurst maintains an excellent website with books grouped into thematic categories.

Mensa for Kids has a reading program with a long list of good books to read. 

Mighty Girl catalogs wonderful book lists for empowering girls. 

Library. Good old fashion browsing sometimes leads to new discoveries

Check out the book origins of your favorite movies.

Ask people for recommendations. In real life or on line, people love to share their favorite and memorable books. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

{wellness challenge} April is National Poetry Month

Come over and join my hopping FB group Mama Scout Laboratory for Creative Living. This month we are turning the space into a virtual poetry slam/workshop space. You need to be there too!

{guest post} :: Jennifer Fischer :: film maker

I asked Jennifer Fischer, my film making friend, to share some words about her current project and crowd funding campaign. I am a supporter and want to help her spread the word about the issues her and her husband are exploring through her socially engaging work. Please consider supporting this project if this issue speaks to you too. 

Dead Poets Society was one of our family’s favorite movies growing up. The power of those students standing on their desks and saying “O Captain, My Captain.” The mantra, Carpe Diem, ringing through my mind. My father loved that movie and its message. He had not lived his life by those words, but he deeply wanted his children to live their lives that way, even if it wasn’t always so easy for him (like when your 20 year-old baby girl decides to travel the Middle East by herself for 6 weeks), but I digress…

Carpe Diem -- Seizing the day looks much different for me now than it used to. There was a time when it meant traveling solo around the Middle East or Southeast Asia -- it meant something extreme and exciting.

Now, Carpe Diem often means seizing the opportunity to snuggle up with my boys at the end of the day, seizing a rare date night with my husband, and working like a mad woman into the wee hours of the night to make my next film project a reality.

My husband and I run a small production company. We’re committed to creating stories that sustain our humanity; stories that illuminate dark corners; stories that can create change. And let me tell you, it is not always easy. In fact, quite often it is hard. As a teenager and young adult, I did not imagine that Carpe Diem might mean:

Your children finding you hiding in the bathroom in tears because your latest campaign has launched, but there are some website glitches.

Throwing up three mornings in a row because you are overcome by the fear of failure.

Deep uncertainty about everything!

But, so it is. My latest film project, ‘The wHOLE’ is a gritty dramatic series about race, crime, prison and so much more starting with harsh reality of solitary confinement.

Deeply committed to telling this story with humanity and integrity and in collaboration with individuals who have lived it means we are also deeply committed to the project being an independent production. To fund it, this means inviting others to support our work. It is truly a film for the people, of the people and by the people -- and to make it work we need the people.

This reality is not unique to my circumstance as I seek to live an intentional, meaningful life as an artist while I raise my sons. We all need community. (This is why I value the work that Amy does). We all need to support one another if we are going to live our best lives; if we are going to seize the day.

The best thing I’ve learned in this very challenging process is that not only do we all need each other, we also want to need each other. People want to support the inspiring work of others. People want to see the dreams of others blossoms and to follow that inspiration as they seek their own dreams.

As I’ve reached out to others to support my dream and many have (though we need many more). As I’ve reached out to thank them, they’ve surprised me by thanking me.

They are grateful for the opportunity to join my dream. They are grateful that I’ve shared my work with them. They are grateful to be a part of the embrace of an intentional life, and I find that we both sit there in that beautiful space of gratitude.

Go. Seize the day. State your dream. Move your intentional life forward, and invite others to walk with you as you make your best, intentional life real.

You can learn more about and join my dream at


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