[photopress:Father_son_reading_1008.jpg,thumb,pp_style]by Lu Ann Staheli
I happened to catch a presentation on Book-TV with the award-winning author Walter Dean Myers (Shooter) and his illustrator/author son, Christopher Myers (Blues Journey). Among much discussion about the writing process and their own careers, the elder Myers brought up an intriguing idea—a family book club.
I’m a voracious reader, and I loved the idea of a family book club. I started to think how I might implement such an activity into our family routine, and what would be the benefits of doing so.
I knew organizing the selections for the book club could present a problem. My boys were so far apart in ages, with an eleven year age span from oldest to youngest. I came up with a solution: instead of everyone reading the same book, we read books on the same theme. We read books about animals; books about adventure; and books about orphans. We read fantasy, mystery, and non-fiction. Because we have five sons, we heard about five different books each month. Picture books were perfect for the youngest, and middle grade novels were perfect for the teens. My husband and I were able to discuss the books, which both of us enjoyed. We also shared books of our own.
The process was the same as with any book club. Once the theme for the month was chosen, each family member got a book and the assignment to finish within a certain period of time. Trips to the library were planned as necessary. A date was set for discussion and everyone read on their own, completing as much or as little of the book as they so desire before the discussion date. Because this wasn’t a school assignment, abandoning a book was okay if the book just didn’t speak to you, but the children were encouraged to find another book to share if at all possible.
Once the deadline had arrived, we met as a family to discuss our books. Of course, treats were always provided, and we learned a lot about each other through the books that we read.
And that brings me to the rationale. Why get together as a family to discuss a book?
Novels allowed us a safe place to discuss values, choices, and character motivation—the same concepts parents might want to discuss with their children. When parents have the safety net of discussing fictional characters, rather than real situations within the walls of their own homes, they might find children can supply better solutions to problems than even the adults could come up with. These book discussions became a values baseline for our family, and the boys felt comfortable asking questions they might never have asked in another situation.
Non-fiction allowed us to learn about the world, both from the book and from each other. It allowed our minds to take us places we’ve never been before, or let family members share from their own experience. Because my husband and I have traveled the world and had a variety of experiences in our lives, we were able to give information about other cultures and things we have learned. These discussions led to more questions from the boys that we were able to answer– questions we didn’t anticipate.
Our own experience proves a family book club can be a great way to bridge the gap once children reach their teens, but it can also keep grown children closer to their parents and family. With the ease of email and blogging, even those family members who live far away can be part of the discussion. And why limit the discussion to only parents and siblings? A family book club can be a way to bring cousins closer, so those family reunions aren’t such a pain for kids who don’t feel they know anyone. With the shared reading experience, distance becomes inconsequential and friendships grow through discussing, even via the internet.
The family book club was a great experience for my family. I’ve known others who have also found it to be a fulfilling activity. If the family book club works for you, then give Walter Dean Myers the credit for coming up with the suggestion, and feel free to expand upon it to make it work for your family, like I did for mine.
Lu Ann Brobst Staheli is Utah’s 2008 Best of State Educator K-12, and former Nebo Reading Council Reading Teacher of the Year, Utah English Language Arts Teacher of the Year, and Utah Reading Council Celebrate Literacy Award recipient. Her publications include “Recipe for the Reluctant Reader” and two newspaper columns on literacy issues.