Book Clubs: Key Step in Building the Reading Habit in Children


Behavioral science tells us that competence, community, and autonomy, are the three pillars to build self-motivated behavior in people. A book club discussion ticks all of these boxes. 


A reader who joins a book club and reads a book a month finds that the books add up, and by the end of the year, they've read twelve outstanding books. During the book club discussion, a well-selected book will widen a child's world view on people's daily lives in other parts of the world, the issues and situations they face, and how they solve these problems. The erstwhile reluctant reader could find themselves discussing a book with authority during social interaction. The shift in self-belief that that one is now a "reader," in turn, builds a sense of competence that feeds on itself. 


At a book club meeting, a child meets other readers who fall somewhere on the spectrum of avid to reluctant readers. They recognize that there are "children like them" interested in the discussion and feel that they are part of a community. Even if they've met as strangers, the quality time spent with fellow readers could lead to friendships. I've observed children reveal some incredibly personal experiences in the safe and intimate atmosphere of these meetings. Mothers and fathers could also do their part in building community as a family and model reading behavior in everyday life by setting aside family time where children read a few chapters of their book club book. A parent could discuss the types of books they read as children, contrast it with the variety of books available now, or talk about their childhood favorite books. 


How can a child feel a sense of empowerment during a book discussion? The facilitator of the book discussion is the person who can instill a sense of autonomy in children. The facilitator, who could be a parent or a teacher, reads the book, preps the book discussion questions, and answers the questions raised as honestly as possible. The hands-on guided discussion has to be balanced by giving children the freedom to ask questions during the book discussion. The facilitator could also take polls on the themes and discuss the topics covered in the book. Children must feel that their opinion, however contrary it is to popular thinking, is valued and validated. When the facilitator allows children the space to share an alternate opinion and says that it's OK to have that view, a child feels a sense of autonomy and empowerment. 


If these three intertwined factors contribute to self-motivated reading in a child, the book club's success depends on making the right book selection. Many websites give static book lists, but the custom-built search engine on offers some excellent book choices that cater to different ages and reading levels. These book suggestions cover some of the best books in children's literature and include chapter books, book series, nonfiction books, and classics with detailed book reviews. Parents can access books by buying these books off the shelf in a bookstore, or parents could take this opportunity to get their child a library card which will encourage children to go to their local libraries and browse through books. 

Building the reading habit is a process where children are self-motivated readers and think of reading as enjoyment and a pressure-free experience. To do this, first, one has to break preconceived notions about reading, and the self-image children carry about themselves. Second, a reading program in the form of a book club at home or at school, the type of books suggested for discussion, and the atmosphere of trust during the book discussion are great ways to create a fun atmosphere around reading. Third, I've learned that doing an activity based on the story motivates children to think of reading as fun. The activity could be a craft activity, playing games game or even the making of a treat. Parents send their children to book clubs because they think that a book discussion will build the reading habit, but this can become a sustainable activity only when kids have a good time at the meetings. 

Ideally, schools should incorporate book club discussions as part of their reading program, and teachers and parents could use this opportunity to enable conversations among students. If this is not possible, parents could host book clubs at their home. Here are some quick housekeeping points. Children need three weeks to a month between books. Decide on the meeting venue, date, and time in advance. If the venue is an issue, mothers of book club participants can alternatively host the book discussion in book club members' homes and provide light refreshments and snacks. For younger children, parents could consider a read-aloud picture books club. We live with the reality of the pandemic, which may not allow face-to-face book club meetings. However, technology such as Zoom meetings enables us to host a virtual book club. 

As adults, you know that book club meetings keep one on track to read at least a book a month, even if we lead a busy life. A book club provides the environment to read different types of books, discover our friends' favorite titles and writers, or visit the public library. The same rules apply to a children's book club. While book clubs for kids positively impact both reluctant readers and avid readers, reluctant readers benefit exponentially from having a consistent and structured reading program of a variety of books. Chapter by chapter, a children's book club slowly but steadily builds the children's reading ability, and children could well remember this as one of the favorite times in their life.