Between the Lines
They are the hardest group in the world to tempt with the pleasures of reading. Not teenagers, who are often haughty and proud of their reading habits. Not children, who love to be read to. But tweens. That Web-savvy, Walkman-wearing, Game-Boy toting group of girls and boys who would almost rather do anything than sit down and read a book.
So what’s a parent to do? Help your tweenager set up a book group for their friends with the promise of trips to the mall bookstore (friends included) and lots of free food. Once you have them, keep them with a constant supply of mind-blowing, action-packed, thought-provoking books.
The Fun-Filled Book Club
Ricky Stern, one half of the Beryl E. Bean book series writing team, has made knowing the 9- to 12-year-old’s mind and giving them books they will read her business. Beryl Bean is a heroine hip enough to be real and wholesome enough to be a good role model. Stern and her writing partner, Heidi P. Worcester, also give workshops on how to get your tween reading through book clubs designed to be fun enough to make tweens want to come back.
“A book club for children this age should be coordinated with your children’s friends and should be designed to be fun,” says Stern, a New York City mother of two. “Tweens are just becoming social butterflies. They may have after-school activities, and this is the time when homework begins to increase. So any free-time will usually want to be devoted to friends and playing or downtime, and a book club for this age can fill both those needs nicely.”
Many children of this age have yet to discover what a joy reading can be. In their mind it is just a “school” thing. In a world of flickering images, it’s hard for them to equate reading with entertainment. So it’s up to parents to make reading enjoyable.
The Successful Book Club
“A book club aimed at kids for this age group can motivate readers in several different ways,” says Stern. “First, if you pick age-appropriate books, set up the group as a social gathering and provide a fun, relaxed meeting, children are going to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts about the books they read. They will want to be a part of the group and in order to participate will be motivated to read the next book.”
Stern believes that the goal is to get children involved in the club so that they feel some ownership and responsibility in keeping the group going. By allowing the children to choose the books and taking turns choosing and bringing snacks you have given the children the opportunity to make the club their own, increasing the chance they will remain interested and engaged.
What to Read
One of the difficulties you might face putting together a book club is that the level of reading varies so much at this age. Tami Orr, whose 12-year-old daughter has been attending book clubs for several months now, believes that you need to be careful of the books you pick. “The children pick the books once a year,” says Orr, a Portland, Ore., mother of four children.
Though her daughter enjoys the social aspect of book clubs, Orr believes that it has been a struggle for her because she is a late reader. “Many of these books (several are considered adult novels) are too difficult for her to easily read and understand,” says Orr.
In order to avoid this, keep the books easy to read – not dumbed down, as an exciting story is a must. Reading the books fluently is necessary for enjoyment. If a child spends too much time deciphering, all the fun is gone. Err on the side of too easy rather than too difficult.
Time to Talk
Getting the group together and choosing a book is only half the battle. The discussion part of the book club must have some structure. Allow the children to go off on tangents, but you will occasionally need to bring them back on track. The most important thing to remember when putting together questions for discussion is to avoid those questions that can be answered with a yes or no.
Ask the children about motives. Why did a character do what she did? What do the character details – such as the foods he likes or the clothes he wears – tell about the character?
The following tips can ensure that your tween’s reading club gets off to a good start and runs smoothly:
- Pick books that your group will want to read. Ask local librarians and independent bookstore owners what tweens are picking for themselves. Pick a book by subject. – if your group is interested in learning more about sports figures or historical characters, then find a book that will feed that interest, or pick a book that has a strong character that your tweens can relate to.
- Look on the Web under the author’s name or the publisher to find questions, games, activities that have been devised to be used with the book. Many books have teacher guides on their Web sites.
- Make the book club meeting like a party. Serve a book-related snack. What does a main character like to eat? Imagine what she/he would eat? Serve a snack that correlates with the geography of the story. If it takes place in England, serve tea and butter cookies. If it takes places in New York City, serve pizza or bagels.
- You can also do an activity that relates to the book. You can ask children to do character sketches, you can write a dialogue between yourself and the main character of the book or you can plan a craft/activity from the book. One book group that reads the Little House series made bread and churned butter for their book club meeting.
- Remember to ask instead of tell and only facilitate the discussion when it lulls or when it strays too far off topic.
Books Your Tween Will Love!
While reading is a year-round activity, there’s no better time than summer vacation to kickoff a book club. Now if you only knew what books were “hot” in the middle grades. Fear not, we have it on good authority that these books will knock your tween’s socks off!
Wandering Warrior by acclaimed author Da Chen has been described as Harry Potter meets Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. 12-year-old Brian H. of Erie, Pa., loved the action. “It wasn’t boring, that’s for sure,” he says. “The main character, Luka, uses martial arts like crazy, and there are even monsters!”
*Parent note: This book is not for the faint-of-heart or overly emotional preteen; hardships and horrors abound.
How Angel Peterson Got His Name: And Other Outrageous Tales of Extreme Sports by Gary Paulsen is good, clean fun. 11-year-old Adam K. of Mentor, Ohio, couldn’t stop laughing. “I thought it was great,” he says. “After I read the book, I asked my dad if he’d ever tried some of those things.”
Daredevil escapades done by Paulsen and friends back in 1954 are great for laughs and a quick read.
*Parent note: Of course this is a great read for boys, but don’t rule it out for girls. The humor is universal, and the stories give young girls the unique opportunity to get into the head of young boys!
Sparks by Graham McNamee takes readers on a unique ride through the fifth grade year of Todd Foster, a special needs student recently promoted to the “regular” classroom. “I liked this book,” says 10-year-old Becca P. from Fairview, Pa. “It made me sad sometimes, but it made me think about being nicer to people, too.”
*Parent note: This book lends itself to some great, life-affirming book club discussions.
Vicky Angel by Jacqueline Wilson tackles a difficult subject like the death of a best friend with warmth and wit. “I loved it!” says Kellianna B., a 9-year-old from Pittsburgh, Pa. “Just because Vicky dies doesn’t mean Jude never sees her again.”
*Parenting note: Another book that will lead to thought-provoking discussion.