How to Start a Kids Book Club

We started a mom-son book group to help our boys enjoy reading years ago. Little did we know that it would help us weather a global pandemic. Here's how to spin up your own kids book club, plus a few kid-approved reads to get you started.

Kids Book Club Illustration
Photo: Illustration by Yeji Kim

When my son found his best buddies back in kindergarten, we moms bonded too. Fast-forward to second and third grade, and one of us raised the idea of starting a book group with our kids for a few different reasons. A few of the boys were reluctant readers, and we hoped that reading together would make it fun. Plus, as book-loving mamas, we were sad to learn that boys are less likely than girls to read for pleasure, and we hoped a club could change that since reading is a great way to help kids both academically and emotionally. And last but (very) not least, I wanted to find something to discuss with my son apart from Minecraft and his favorite YouTubers.

Now that the boys are in middle school, a lot has changed, but the book club we started back in the day is still going strong, and I've come to love it for more reasons than I could have fathomed back then. You learn a lot about your kid through books. I remember cackling with my son over The Terrible Two, and recognizing his wacky sense of humor. There was also the time we debated his book pick in the aisle of our local bookstore, and I nearly talked him out of choosing The Girl Who Drank the Moon which seemed far too literary and complex. Wouldn't the boys be lost, or bored? Nope. They chattered excitedly during the meeting, and the moms agreed it's one of the best books we've ever read, for adults or kids.

Even before the pandemic, our kids book club had become more than a way to get our sons to read. It was a window on their thoughts. It said to our boys: We care what you think. Let's trade ideas. Stories matter. It also said friendships matter too. Whether we're gathered around a dining room table or over Zoom, we want our sons to know the joy of having a good book and a friend to talk about it with. Interested in kicking off your own book club for kids? Here's what I learned as a mom along the way when it comes to setting things up for success. Happy reading!

Recruit a (Small) Group

Early on, we fought the urge to invite every child we know and love, capping the group at seven boys and their moms. The goal is to foster discussion and limit chaos. A smaller group helped us get everyone more involved, starting by having the boys brainstorm and vote on a group name. I'm happy to tell you that "The Barfing Book Boys" lost out to "The Lakeside Book Boys," fitting because our city sits on Lake Michigan. Choosing a group name is a great way to get kids involved and feeling like they are the ones running things, not only the parents.

Start Reading

When our group began, some members were just 7 years old. Their moms read the books aloud to them to help them keep up. But even skilled readers enjoy being read to sometimes, so starting by reading books aloud together is a great game plan for new groups. And when it comes to recommendations, experts are your best friends. Some of our best books have been suggested by booksellers at our local independent bookstore. Librarians are also happy to suggest great reads.

Have older readers? Previewing your picks is a good tactic. As our boys have aged into more mature books, moms pre-read or research the books on sites such as Common Sense Media and Goodreads to determine if they're right for our group. Talk with fellow parents to agree which topics are okay and not.

Set Your Book Club Schedule

We decided the boys would take turns choosing books, and the chooser and his mom would host the gathering and lead the discussion. At first we met every eight weeks or so to give everyone enough time to finish the books. Questions were simple. Would the boys give the book a thumbs up, thumbs down, or, something in between? Who was their favorite character? The host mom usually led the discussion. Now that they're in sixth and seventh grade, the boys write their own discussion questions and they take the lead.

Another tip? We like sharing snacks or a meal during meetings. We've found that discussing the book while eating keeps the boys at the table—and talking about the book—just a bit longer.

Take Things Virtual

When the Lakeside Book Boys gathered in our living room this March to discuss the latest book, the moms were uneasy, given the coronavirus news. That weekend our governor announced that schools were closing, and advised people to shelter at home. Mom-son book group was our last in-person social gathering for a long time.

But that didn't stop the Lakeside Book Boys. Within a week they were together on a Google Hangout, talking about their latest book, Dread Nation. It was just the thing for our unsettled middle schoolers: It gave them something to talk about as they adjusted to the awkwardness of virtual meetings. It was also a chance for them to hear from other moms when they were sick to death of their own.

Book group has been a chance to really know my son's friends. I see them chime in passionately about characters in books like Chomp or Wonder, and pose thoughtful questions. We moms love those times when they're so excited that they're talking over each other. Sure, sometimes we're lucky to get 10 minutes before they escape for a Nerf gun battle. But we've learned not to sweat it.

Fun Book Club Books for Kids

The Terrible Two by Mac Barnett and Jory John

Best for: Grades 3-5

The Lakeside Book Boys Review: We laughed out loud about Miles, Niles, Principal Barkin … and the cows.

Endling: The Last by Katherine Applegate

Best for: Grades 3-5

The Lakeside Book Boys Review: An absorbing fantasy adventure. We especially liked Tobble, a small creature with anger issues.

Booked by Kwame Alexander

Best for: Grades 4-6

The Lakeside Book Boys Review: A book about a boy who loves soccer, written in verse. Popular with reluctant readers.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

Best for: Grades 4-6

The Lakeside Book Boys Review: A captivating story that sparked conversation about adoption and more.

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper

Best for: Grades 5-7

The Lakeside Book Boys Review: This puts kids in the shoes of Melody, who can't walk or talk but has a photographic memory. An all-time fave.

Posted by John David Anderson

Best for: Grades 5-7

The Lakeside Book Boys Review: How do you communicate when phones are banned at school? The quirky friends in this story appealed to our boys.

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