Information on book clubs for kids is sparse, so I am sharing what I have learned from our homeschool book club. This winter, a parent in our homeschool group organized a book club that our kids loved participating in.
In addition to reading books we may not have otherwise chosen for ourselves, it gave the kids common stories to refer back to when they were playing together.
Planning Book Clubs for Kids
There are a lot of ways to go about setting up a kids’ book club. Our super-organizer, Janna, asked with the local children’s librarian if she would run the club with a little assistance from Janna.
This was a really nice way to have a homeschool book club because we were able to use a room at the library and it felt more like a “real class” with Melanie, our librarian, in the lead. It could have been done just as easily at home or in some other common space with a parent as facilitator, but since I am so involved in everything my kids do, it is nice to have them learn from someone else.
- Choose meeting times and dates. We met every other week for three or four months with a one hour meeting time. I could see meeting once a month for nine months. Pick the maximum number of kids allowed and age group. We capped our book club at 15 kids to keep it manageable. Choose the age-range for the book club. As homeschoolers we tend to go with a wide range of ages. Our book club had 5-11 year-olds.
- Have parents sign up and commit to book club.
- Choose books for the next 4-6 meetings. It’s nice to know what’s coming up for planning. To accommodate the wide age range we chose some picture books that were easy for anyone to read, and longer books, which parents could read aloud to younger children. I read all the books aloud to my kids (and they often read them to themselves as well) because I wanted to use it as an opportunity for more discussion.
- Plan discussion and activities for each book. This is where children’s librarian, Melanie, took the lead. With the shorter picture books she had the kids read aloud to the group. She had a few discussion questions planned (see below for more on this), and often an art or performing activity.
Choosing Book Club Books
We had an eclectic collection of books, all fiction (some based on real events). I was glad to see a few books I’ve been meaning to offer my boys, but hadn’t got around to, and some books I didn’t know anything about and ended up really enjoying. Some were Caldecott Medal Winners, Newberry Medal winners, and other prestigious literary award winners.
Our Homeschool Book Club List
A SYMPHONY OF WHALES BY STEVE SCHUCH
I could hardly get through this one without crying; it was really beautiful. “During the winter of 1984-1985, nearly 3,000 beluga whales were trapped in the Senyavina Strait of Siberia–and saved by the bravery and persistence of villagers and the crew of a passing icebreaker. Schuch, a musician, turns this episode into a picture book by casting a child as heroine. Glashka has always been able to hear music in her head, and the ‘old ones’ of the village tell her she hears “the voice of Narna, the whale. Long has she been a friend to ‘our people.’ Glashka uses this talent to find the trapped whales and then to discover the secret of saving them.”
FANTASTIC MR. FOX BY ROALD DAHL
By the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach (among others). “Someone’s been stealing from the three meanest farmers around, and they know the identity of the thief—it’s Fantastic Mr. Fox! Working alone they could never catch him; but now fat Boggis, squat Bunce, and skinny Bean have joined forces, and they have Mr. Fox and his family surrounded. What they don’t know is that they’re not dealing with just any fox—Mr. Fox would rather die than surrender. Only the most fantastic plan can save him now.”
In the month leading up to the Iditarod, the kids got to choose their own Iditarod and sled dog-themed books. We have a bunch of Iditarod books at home because I am a bit of a sled dog enthusiast. Here are some our favorites:
The Great Serum Race: Blazing the Iditarod Trail by Debbie S. Miller
This is the story of the real events, people, and dogs the Iditarod commemorates each year.
The Mystery on Alaska’s Iditarod Trail by Carole Marsh
A fictional mystery about four kids who travel to Alaska to watch the Iditarod but get wrapped up in mystery they have to solve.
Akiak: A Tale From the Iditarod by Robert J. Blake
A fictional account of a husky left behind because of an injury, who sets out on her own to find her team and win the race.
Togo by Richard J. Blake
The tale of a dog who pulled a sled during the Great Serum Run.
I love seeing strong women do cool things, so this is at the top of our Iditarod list. In 1985, Libby Riddles made history by becoming the first woman to win the 1,100-mile Iditarod Sled Dog Race. Yay, Libby!
My boys have kind of outgrown Magic Tree House, but since they’ve read every other MTH book, they were thrilled when these two came out right before our book club on the Iditarod.
FLORA & ULYSSES BY KATE DICAMILLO
My boys thought this was hilarious! It’s a combination of text and graphic novel about a girl and a squirrel. t begins, as the best superhero stories do, with a tragic accident that has unexpected consequences. The squirrel never saw the vacuum cleaner coming, but self-described cynic Flora Belle Buckman, who has read every issue of the comic book Terrible Things Can Happen to You!, is just the right person to step in and save him. What neither can predict is that Ulysses (the squirrel) has been born anew, with powers of strength, flight, and misspelled poetry — and that Flora will be changed too, as she discovers the possibility of hope and the promise of a capacious heart.
THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN by Katherine applegate
We missed this book club meeting, but I am still hoping we get around to reading this. “Inspired by the true story of a captive gorilla known as Ivan, this illustrated novel is told from the point of view of Ivan himself.”
ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS BY SCOTT O’DELL
This is one of those books I feel like I should have read growing up; especially since it takes place on an island off the coast of where I grew up. This fictional account of real person is brutal – lots of killing animals. But, that’s what you have to do when you live all alone on an island. It was a perfect springboard to talk about the California missions and what the missionaries did to native people.
For our final book club, the kids each chose a book by Polacco to read. This wasn’t my favorite, but that’s great because it got my kids exposed to something outside my comfort zone.
There are so many good books for kids out there, that it’s easy to find something for your book club. The best books for book clubs are whatever you want them to be.
I could see choosing a theme for the year – science, adventure, nonfiction, mystery, animal or wildlife, outer space, Caldecott winners, Dr. Seuss etc.
Finding Book Club Books
We were lucky because some weeks our librarian ordered extra books, so everyone could check them out. When we did a theme (Iditarod and Patricia Polacco), the kids all read different books, so they library had enough. Most libraries will order books through their interlibrary loan program if you give them enough lead-time.
You can find some books online for kids, but not necessarily the ones you are looking for. Storyline Online has a several videos of people reading books, including one by Patricia Polacco. These are mostly for younger children. Children’s Books Online has free kids books to read online or download. Another place to look for kids’ books to read online is the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.
Some books we bought or already had. If you have a list of books several months in advance, you can keep an eye out at garage sales, library book sales, or thrift stores (our local thrift store let’s kids pick out a free book every time they visit!).
Book Club Ideas for Kids
There wasn’t a lot of book discussion during our book club meetings, so I took care of that beforehand. For each book we read, I googled “book club discussion questions (name of book).” Sometimes I found great ideas. For Flora and Ulysses we used discussion questions from the publisher and questions from Shmoop.com.
I also checked out book reviews for kids and had my boys weigh in with their own reviews. Again, google “book review (name of book)” and you’ll find plenty unless you are reading something really obscure. I also like Spaghetti Book Club because they have tons of reviews by kids. And not just the award-winning books, a lot of the books your kids are reading anyway, like the A-Z Mysteries. Slime Kids has links to several sites with book reviews.
As for book club activities, it depended on the book. With Symphony of Whales they listened to whale songs and watched YouTube videos about sound. The kids made puppets of the characters in Fantastic Mr. Fox then created alternative scenes with them. For the Iditarod books, we had a local musher talk to the kids about what it like to run the Iditarod. And bonus, he brought a sled dog and all his equipment.
When reading Flora and Ulysses, the kids drew comic strip super heroes. Candlestick Press has a teacher’s guide with other ideas. If you want something really comprehensive, check out all these ideas for Flora and Ulysses.
Online Book Clubs
If you can’t find a local book club for kids and don’t want to start your own kid club, you can always join an online book club.
Since we are traveling full time right now, I signed our older son up for an online book club through Brave Writer. They offer a slew of online writing classes and we are excited to dip our toes in with the kids’ book club.
Leave a comment below to let me know what books you choose for your book clubs for kids and the activities to go along with them!
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