We are a family of book-lovers. So it was only a matter of time before we set up our own family book club. The only surprise is that we didn’t think of doing it sooner.
Heather is a member of two local book-clubs. Once every few weeks, she heads out and returns in the wee small hours smelling suspiciously of merlot. Every so often, she will take her turn as host and a gaggle of women will arrive at our house, each clutching one book and numerous bottles and snacks.
They are, not surprisingly, often quite loud evenings.
But this post isn’t about my wife’s book clubs. It’s about our new family book club nights.
On regular book club evenings, the kids are packed off to bed early. I generally hide quietly away writing blog posts, surfacing occasionally to snaffle some crisps or offer to make rounds of tea. (Or, more likely, fetch fresh prosecco from the fridge.)
Heather was due to host one of her book clubs shortly after New Year. As ever, the kids were mildly disgruntled at the disruption to their evening routine. Why do the grown-ups get to have all the fun? Why do we have to miss out?
And that was when I came up with my brainwave. They didn’t have to miss out at all. If you can’t beat them, join them.
Our first family book club
And so a plan was hatched. While Heather and her friends cracked open the wine and prosecco, the kids and I assembled in Toby’s bedroom to convene our first family book club meeting.
The format was simple enough. A round of mocktails, to replicate the grown-up drinking experience of a book club evening (minus the resultant hangovers). A little show-and-tell followed by a Q&A with the books we were each currently reading. And then we settled in to read companionably together.
So, in turn, we each explained to the rest of the group what our book was about. We discussed what we liked/disliked about it and whether we would recommend it to other people. If someone else had read the book before (or other titles by the same author), they would share their thoughts on it. And then we asked any other questions that sprang to mind.
Despite being the youngest, Kara was bursting at the seams to go first. Our daughter isn’t lacking in confidence, and she set a great lead for the boys and then me to follow. By the time we had all had our turn and read quietly together for about 30 minutes, over an hour had passed and the kids were ready for bed. They went to sleep happy that they’d been admitted into a secret club they’d only previously glimpsed from the outside. I think it made them feel more grown-up.
Our first attempt was so successful that we’ve already done it twice more since, only now as a full family of five. Hopefully we’ll be able to continue doing it a couple of times a month. (Toby is so excited by the prospect that he has designed invitations he can give to us all in preparation for our next meeting.)
Benefits of book club
The obvious benefit of having our own little book club is, of course, that it encourages our kids to read. Not that they need much encouragement – we’re fortunate that they are all book-lovers. We had already started doing occasional ‘reading hours’ (or half-hours, or however long we have time for) last year as a means of having a little break from screens or on days when we all needed a little gentle downtime. So turning this into ‘book club’ was a natural and obvious progression.
The book club format has other important benefits beyond just reading, though. It’s a good opportunity for the children to sharpen their communication and social skills too.
Everyone does their own little presentation about their current book and puts their own personal spin on it. Kara is all showy expression and dramatic flourishes, as if she was performing on a stage. Toby likes to supplement his summary with a little research about the author. And Isaac tests out his vocabulary and other elements of his language toolkit to paint vivid pictures with words.
As they’re also discovering, there’s genuine skill involved in understanding the plot of a book and breaking it down into its major plotlines and beats to produce a 90-second verbal summary. It’s a skill that many adults lack.
It’s good for developing listening skills too. We make a point of saying that book club isn’t just about taking their turn to talk. It’s also about listening to the others and asking them relevant questions to make for an interesting discussion. And we also ask them to draw comparisons either with other books they’ve read or even their real-life experiences. Again, these comprehension and analysis skills will stand them in good stead in life in general, not just in English classes.
Most of all, though, it’s just fun. Family book club is fast becoming one of those activities we enjoy doing as a family, just as we love playing board games or watching films together. And anything that develops their softer skills while doing something we all love can only be a good thing, right?