“How do I get my daughter to read?”
It seems to be the question that every teacher librarian or English teacher of teenagers is asked by desperate parents. Competing demands placed on my students means that they often don’t have time to read. Many of my students find it difficult to concentrate on a book for more than a few minutes at a time (conditioned by screens big and small). It also seems like something that doesn’t really lead to anything – academically and socially – in their eyes, but we know for a fact that reading plays a big role in academic results, emotional sense of wellbeing and in the age of social media, sometimes social cohesiveness.
I could go into the many reasons why reading is fab, but the fact is that we all know it is important and parents are wanting to find ways to support reading in their teenagers – so what do we do to support them?
I have recently introduced an initiative at my school called “Bonding Over Books”. This is a book club for our senior school students and their parent (or significant adult in their life). It is open to anyone in year 7 to 12 (but aimed mostly at 7-10).
Our first book was the amazing Life on the refrigerator door by Alice Kuipers. This little book appeals to students of any age but is also very appealing to those girls who are not big readers. This is due to the nature of the writing style – the book is written entirely in notes between a mother and daughter. I have given this book to kids that wouldn’t touch a book with a ten foot pole and they have borrowed it and asked for something similar (I am yet to find something similar – help!).
I also wanted it to appeal to the parent reading the book with their daughter. The mother character allowed the parents (mainly mothers) to both reflect on their own self as a mother – but also see how their behaviour affects the choices their daughter makes. The main character, Claire, really wanted to understand what was happening to her mother, and their relationship made for very interesting discussion within the group.
Although I wanted to challenge my book club members with young adult fiction that pushed some boundaries, Life on the refrigerator door was a very safe first choice – at least while I got to know the members.
We broke the group into a few small groups and then came together as a big group at the end. This helped ensure that each parent and student were able to contribute to discussion and they weren’t dominated by other members of the group. The teacher librarians had discussion questions prepared on cards, which I asked one of the students in my group to read to the others and lead the discussion.
At the end we voted on the books that we would read for next term. We chose The Protected by Claire Zorn and Tin Heart by Shivaun Plozza (reviewed here).
Tips for starting a parent / student book club at your school:
- Collaborate with others – we convinced a very enthusiastic English teacher to help lead discussion. In addition to this, we worked with the Head of English and the English staff to market the book club to parents through email and parent-teacher nights. We also worked with the wellbeing team (our school psychologists) who read the books and will attend some meetings where books deal with particularly meaty topics (such as mental health, bullying, death).
- Advertise both through the kids and the parents – we found that the parents were the real drivers of attendance at book club so worked at building pages of information, Google forms for sign up, leaflets for parent teacher evenings, emails from English teachers and tutors and posting in our digital magazine.
- Pick books that will engage all ages – unless you are targeting a small age group, it is essential to choose books that will spark engagement with teenagers of all ages and interests. Our first book, Life on the refrigerator door was great for this. Claire Zorn’s book, The Protected, is one that I would generally suggest for year 9+, however this book was chosen by our group so it obviously meets the interest level of the group.
- Provide food – we have a small budget for catering, which we use to provide a cheese platter and tea/coffee/hot chocolate. It makes for a cosy atmosphere.
- Make it short – our book club runs for 45 minutes to 1 hour. This seems to be a perfect time for a brief introduction, small group discussions about the book, whole group discussions and questions at the end and time to choose the next book.
- Purchase extra copies of books for the library – we have a couple of extra copies for the teachers that are working on this project to read as well as the wellbeing team.
- Provide reminders prior to events.
Have you started a book club at your school? What format did it take? Do you have any book club reading suggestions?