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How to set up a virtual book club for young people

Several weeks ago, I did something I said I’d never do: I joined my first book club. Why was I so against it? I imagine it has something to do with the piles of un-read books lying around my house that I really want to get to. If I desperately want to read these books, how on earth would I find the time to read other books? However, we are living through a pandemic lockdown after all, and I decided to push myself out of my comfort zone. Of course, I haven’t looked back.

Anyway, my middle child, 12 year old Lily, was watching me with interest as I joined my virtual book club. She’d naturally been missing her friends during lockdown and she asked if she could start one up herself. It couldn’t have been easier: she thought of 4 friends, I contacted their parents, chose her book and scheduled a zoom meeting for one month’s time.

The book she chose was North Child by Edith Pattou (known as ‘East’ in Pattou’s native US) which she had recently read and was hugely enthusiastic about. She even kept telling me that I really had to read it (which I haven’t yet done, but hopefully will get round to at some point.)

I thought I’d try getting in touch with the author as an extra bonus for Lily and her friends. These days, it’s not difficult to track authors down and I sent Edith Pattou a message via Instragram to tell her about the upcoming bookclub. She very kindly responded really quickly and also sent the girls some extra conversation starters they could discuss which was so exciting for Lily and her friends, to have this kind of communication with the author of a book they’d loved.

Next, Lily and I visited Edith Pattou’s brilliant website and spent about half an hour brainstorming some other possible questions they could discuss about the book and the author. Then they were all set!

Lily was very clear on the day that she didn’t want me hanging about while they were talking (quite right too.) I made it really clear to the parents of all the girls that it was absolutely fine if they went off track; ZERO pressure to be having to just talk about the book, particularly as they hadn’t seen each other at all over lockdown. But I really couldn’t resist having a little listen outside the door now and again. I was utterly amazed that they talked about North Child for about an hour, followed by chatting and sharing music.

It was such a lovely experience and one I’d wholeheartedly recommend you to give a whirl with your children.

To summarise, all you need to do is this:

  1. Get a free zoom account
  2. Ask your child to choose a book. It helps if it’s one they’ve really enjoyed to kickstart things.
  3. Ask your child to choose 3-4 friends they feel really comfortable with and drop their parents a line with a proposed day and time
  4. Look at the author’s website and brainstorm some questions.
  5. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with the author on social media or through their website – the vast majority will be delighted to hear from you and happily provide other questions or input.
  6. Watch the magic happen and help to set in motion a wonderful habit of book discussions for life.
  7. Make sure each child has a chance to choose a book, rather than the same person deciding each time. This is part of the fun of it.

The book Lily is currently reading for her next book club was chosen by one of her friends and is Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard. So far, she’s a little unsure about it as it’s not at all her normal kind of read. But again, what a fantastic thing at this age to be putting themselves out of their comfort zones and picking up different kinds of books. On the WhatsApp group I have with the other parents, I’m encouraging them to ask their children to be honest about their reactions to books. This is a great practice and will get them thinking about why something does or doesn’t work for them.

I’m very much hoping that once restrictions ease, the girls can be at each other’s houses to hold their meetings rather than be looking at one another on a computer screen. But if I’m very honest, this bookclub would never had come about had it not been for the pandemic. Just one of the many unexpected joys to come out of this confinement.

If you set up a book club for your child, I would absolutely love to hear how it goes. Do let me know! As an aside, Edith Pattou has said that she’s always happy to provide questions for book clubs and will even potentially make an appearance to say hello in person! It really doesn’t get much better than that. So definitely check out her website and see if anything there takes your child’s fancy.

Enjoy!

Rebecca Stonehill

Thank you for reading this blog post. If you enjoyed it, compliment it with an exploration on whether writers should be part of a writing group; why engaging kids with poetry is a way into writing and Rising above dyslexia: one 13 year old girl’s journey.

4 replies
  1. Claudia
    Claudia says:

    Thanks for this great story! Annika and I have a really fun ongoing bookclub with one of my best friend’s, Annika’s godmother. We have a WhatsApp group and have been reading through some classics together – The Little Princess and Little Lord Fauntleroy, possibly Five Little Peppers and How They Grew next. She’s just turned 8 so a book club with her peers would take some more guidance but we’ve really been enjoying this book club. We take turns asking questions for the group to discuss and it mostly takes place over voice messages. Some days there are 10+ messages and other times a few days pass but it’s really nice to dive deeper into books with her and my friend.

    Reply
    • Rebecca Stonehill
      Rebecca Stonehill says:

      Hi Claudia, what a fabulous idea, I love it! I remember adoring The Little Princess & Little Lord Fauntleroy when I was younger. Yes I think probably age 11/12 up is a good age for independent zoom book clubs but it’s so wonderful how much Annika loves her books, what a great little reader she is.I know Marcus is still young, but is he showing lots of interest too? Sending love x

      Reply
  2. sustainablemum
    sustainablemum says:

    What a wonderful idea. I love that this has come from a love of reading and wanting to do something that you were doing that looked interesting to your daughter. I know that my daughter would love this kind of thing but she finds reading incredibly hard work and does not get any pleasure from it. I read to her as much as I can and am trying to find a really good source of audio books for her so that she can still engage with her friends who are all readers.

    Reply
    • Rebecca Stonehill
      Rebecca Stonehill says:

      Hi there, I really think listening to audio books is just as good, as listening is such a great skill too. I know some people who only ‘read’ via audiobooks and it is such a positive experience for them. Perhaps if your daughter has listened to an audio book she’s particularly engaged with she could kick off a bookclub? If you ever need any suggestions for different types of read just give me a shout as I’m a big fan of children’s books

      Reply

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