One of the greatest pleasures of a good book is the opportunity to discuss it with fellow readers. Experienced readers know the best way to do this is to create a book club.

Book clubs are generally a more social, less academic way to explore comprehension and meaning while learning from the insights of others. As a 1st grade teacher, I wondered how to create a book club experience that would be fun and challenging for all my students, addressing the capabilities of my below-grade-level, on-level, and above-grade-level readers alike.

With a demanding academic curriculum for the 2008-09 school year, how could I possibly add a book club to our already jam-packed school day? Would a book club be too much for a 6-year-old? Most important, how could I accommodate the diversity of reading levels within the class? In spite of these concerns, I decided to create a parent-child book club.

The purpose of the book club would be to help my 1st grade students at Myron J. Francis Elementary in Rumford, R.I., become better readers. I wanted them to reach a deeper level of comprehension in their reading while exploring different genres, such as fiction, nonfiction, mystery, and biography.

Getting Started

I quickly realized that parent involvement was the key. Obviously, a parent or guardian would have to read with the child, make the time commitment, transport the child, and participate in the meeting.

I decided to start with a trial book club night in November 2008. But when would be a good time? If the book club took place in the early evening, after supper but before bedtime, most parents would be available. I decided that 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. would be best. Since our school building would be closed, we would have to find a convenient location for our meeting. I contacted the children's librarian at our town's main library, and she embraced the concept. She agreed to let us use a private room at the library on the designated night. She also ordered additional copies of the selected book so parents could participate without the expense of having to buy the book.

Announcements went home to the parents of students in my class, explaining the parent-child book club concept. The flyer listed the location of the library, the time, and the book that we would be discussing and noted the availability of extra copies at the library. It also solved the issue of differing reading levels by giving parents the option of listening to their child read the book or reading the book to their child. Attendance at the book club was voluntary. There were three weeks between the distribution of the flyer and the first book club meeting.

On the bottom of the flyer was a return slip to be filled out by the parent and sent back to class within the week. This allowed me to gauge the level of interest and get an accurate count of parents and children planning to attend. Twelve students (out of 25) signed up for our initial meeting. That meant at least 24 people would be coming.

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Selecting a book that would be fun and interesting and that would engage my beginning readers was crucial to the success of our meeting. I selected the fiction book Dinosaurs Before Dark, from the Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne, to be the first book for discussion because of my students' high interest in the series.

I wrote a set of 20 questions as a reading group guide to lead the discussion. The questions started out simple: What were the names of the brother and sister in the story? Then they became more complex: What would you have done if you were Annie?

I decided to include a hands-on activity, such as a drawing of a favorite part of the book, to keep the children actively engaged during the meeting. And a little refreshment, juice and cookies for the children, would be an added benefit.

Our First Meeting

I arrived about 15 minutes early to get everything set up. Parents and students arrived with their books, grabbed a carpet square, sat on the floor, and got ready for the discussion. Our first parent-child book club had begun. After a few minutes of lively discussion, I realized it was going great. The children were enthusiastic and came up with some of their own questions to supplement mine. They were surprisingly respectful of differing opinions expressed by others.

The hour was over before we knew it, and the parents were amazed to see how animated, engaged, and insightful their children were.

By the end of the school year, we had had six lively, diverse, and fun book club meetings. We explored fiction, nonfiction, mystery, fantasy, and biography. Parents loved watching their children actively learn. As word got out, our attendance steadily increased. An unexpected bonus was that parents learned how to ask the deeper questions necessary for good reading comprehension. In addition, it was obvious that both children and parents had a blast.

Our parent-child book club turned out to be more successful than I ever imagined. My greatest joy as a 1st grade teacher is to nurture a love of reading. A parent-child book club is a wonderful way to share that joy.


Tips To Start Your Own Book Club

Start small. Get three or four interested parents and children in the same grade from your neighborhood or PTO.

Ask your child's teacher for a starter list of appropriate grade-level books. These should be good for discussion and be taken from diverse genres.

Determine a convenient location and time for parents to meet.

Emphasize that this night is a special time for a parent and child; no siblings, please!

Have a volunteer parent lead the discussion. The discussion leader provides questions and some small refreshments. Rotate leaders for each meeting.

At the end of a meeting, determine which book will be read next and who will be leading the discussion.

This concept should work for all elementary grades. More tips and sample discussion questions can be found at www.kidsbookclubbook.com, www.kidsreads.com/clubs, and www.litlovers.com.

Connie McCarthy's blog for parents of early elementary school students, "Connie's Classroom", appears on SchoolFamily.com.