Start Your Own Grandparent-Grandchild Book Club
It’s time for my book club to gather at my house. The living room is picked up and pillows are plumped. My fellow members’ favorite snacks (and beverages!) are laid out. All is ready for a convivial literary discussion. I’ve even finished the book this time!
But this book club isn’t your typical wine-and-brie-with-the-ladies bibliophile gathering. The refreshments range from blueberries to M&Ms to chocolate milk and the only participants are me, my husband — and our 8-year-old granddaughter.
We three are the happy members of a Grandparent-Grandchild Book Club. Laura Koenig, head of central child services at Boston Public Library, describes these literary gatherings as “spaces for grandparents and grandchildren to come together to enjoy and discuss good books … and to get to know each other in a new way.”
Grandparent-Grandchild Book Clubs range from very informal — as with our three-member squad — to more structured, like those sponsored by libraries and bookstores. They have many similarities to book clubs generally but the benefits differ somewhat. And the reading lists can be poles apart — “Ivy and Bean” is our choice this month.
The refreshments range from blueberries to M&Ms to chocolate milk and the only participants are me, my husband — and our 8-year-old granddaughter.
Ruth Shafer, a librarian with Fort Vancouver Regional Library in Vancouver, Washington, facilitated a family book group called Discussion Junction for many years. Parents — or grandparents — and kids would read the “book of the month,” says Shafer, “and be ready to discuss the plot, theme and emotional reactions to the book.”
Discussion Junction was Shafer’s favorite program during her 27 years as a youth librarian. Why? Because there is so much upside — and so little downside — to these efforts.
Benefits for Kids
A love of books.“Grandchildren get a reading role model,” says Koenig, and “are much more likely to be motivated to read on their own.” I can attest to this one: Our granddaughter Izzy now proclaims, spontaneously and proudly, “I love reading!”
Improved reading skills.For kids who are just getting their literary sea legs, book clubs with grandparents can ignite their nascent reading skills.
Kids become “literary savvy.” It isn’t just that the kids are reading (which is awesome!); they’re also discussing the books. This is the essence of becoming a life-long reader—and learner. Participating in these gatherings, “allows the children to see how to talk about books, in a meaningful way, beyond ‘I liked it,'” explains Shafer.
“The most important outcome of these programs is about getting children to talk about what they think and feel with a trusted adult”
Reaching outside “comfort zones.” Grandkids can spread their bookish wings a bit — with the guidance of their grandparents, says Shafer. True for grandparents too — who may never have considered reading YA (Young Adult) science fiction or a graphic novel (like “Anne of West Philly,” a retelling of “Anne of Green Gables”). Or “Ivy and Bean.”
A safe place for kids to express themselves. This benefit is paramount, according to Shafer. “The most important outcome of these programs is about getting children to talk about what they think and feel with a trusted adult,” she says.
Michelle McCann, co-author of the book “Reading Together: Share in the Wonder of Books with a Parent-Child Book Club,” agrees. McCann and her son were family book club members from the time the kids were first graders until they went off to college. She underscores the value of this benefit: “We were able to talk about issues and emotions I don’t think we would ever have touched on without books opening the door for us,” she explains.
The Bottom Line Is Bonding
As for the grandparents involved, they’ll gain “a better understanding of their grandchild as they learn about what they love and don’t love,” says Koenig. And they’ll learn about books—and beyond, says Shafer, “glimpsing at current trends in literature as well as society, since many books for children mirror our world.”
In the end, it’s all about the bonding. “Being in a book club with your child or grandchild is a wonderful way to spend time together, get to know each other better, bond over great stories, and make new memories,” says McCann.
Tips for Getting Started
Ready to launch your own Grandparent-Grandchild Book Club? A few pointers:
Remember that these groups are book clubs, first and foremost. So the usual book club rules apply — with a few twists.
The usual book club rules apply — with a few twists.
Pick a book. (more on that below).
Set a (hopefully) regular date. A monthly gathering often works best—e.g the second Tuesday of each month.
Keep it to an hour max. While your adult book club (that just sounds WRONG!) may linger over drinks and canapes, book groups involving kids should be shorter—or attention spans and the fun factor may fade.
Bring discussion questions. Everyone — even the youngest members — should try to come up with a few good discussion questions. This is, IMHO, essential to reaping the full benefits of these groups. Your grandchild is not only deepening her reading comprehension, she’s also improving her writing skills. Yet another win-win.
Insider tip: Make those questions open-ended — e.g. “why” or “tell me about” inquiries versus those that can be answered “yes” or “no.”
Keep a book club notebook. McCann recommends that all book club members have a spiral “book club” notebook where they can write down questions, thoughts, and even make sketches—and record their rating of the book (on a scale of 1 to 10) each month.
There’s no end to the extras you can add on. “If the book talks about a special kind of food, consider trying to cook it together,” says Koenig. McCann’s book suggests costumes, games—or trips to see movies and plays based on that month’s selection.
Remember that these are extras — no pressure to do them!
This can’t be overstated: “Most of all, make it fun!” urges Koenig.
The selection process will vary depending upon the ages and interests of the kids, with younger children needing more guidance. Experts recommend that, as much as possible, let the kids be the “deciders.” “But don’t shy away from occasionally recommending a book from your own childhood or books you read to your children,” adds McCann. As long as there is that crucial “buy in,” you’re good to go.
There really is no downside to Grandparent-Grandchild book clubs.
“Talk to a librarian or bookseller about other book recommendations,” says Koenig. And there are endless book ideas online. Shafer likes the annual lists of America’s Battle of the Books. Award-winners like Newbery are also good options.
And no worries if you choose a book that doesn’t quite cut it. “Even books nobody liked made for interesting conversation,” says Shafer of the groups she facilitated.
See? There really is no downside to Grandparent-Grandchild book clubs. As McCann wistfully observes, “Of all the things I did with my son growing up, being in a book club with him, reading and discussing books together, was one of the most profound.”
My husband and I hope that — down the road a bit — we’re able to look back and say the same thing about our little literary gatherings with granddaughter Izzy.
By Marie Sherlock | November 22, 2023
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