If you’re a grandparent, you probably know the joys of reading aloud to grandchildren. But don’t let that book connection expire as they start to read on their own: Start your own book club.
Book discussions with grandchildren are a great way to keep up a regular connection and have interesting conversations that don’t involve asking about school. Plus, these discussions can provide deep insight into younger perspectives. They also allow grandparents to share wisdom and experiences in ways that are relatable.
Grandparents and grandchildren can read the same book and pick a regular time to discuss — whether that’s by phone, by video chat or in person. The book club might involve multiple grandchildren (if you have them) or just one. You can make the gathering special by cooking themed food if you’re gathering in person, or by dressing up or wearing a hat related to the subject matter in the book.
Nancy Lingle, the adult librarian at the Davidson, North Carolina, branch of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, did something similar when her son was a tween.
“[My husband] and I let him pick the book and we would discuss,” she says. “And because he was interested in the material, we became interested in the material. It was fascinating to see what he thought of the characters and the storyline.”
Librarians know that reading is a great way to engage a child. But Corey Farrenkopf, a librarian at the Eastham Library in Eastham, Massachusetts, says the first step is to probe what captures the imagination of your younger reader.
“Kids don’t have much agency,” he says. “They’re forced to read certain books in school, forced to do certain chores. And if you don’t want this to be a chore to them, give them the reins.”
Or, as Farrenkopf puts it, consider a book club as a way to enter your grandchild’s world rather than pulling them into yours. And, be ready to admit that your grandchild’s world may be more sophisticated and move at a faster pace than your own childhood universe. The books you read as a child may be too slow for modern readers.
“You’re competing with social media and all that stuff,” says Farrenkopf, who has taught high school and middle school. “You have to think about how the dopamine receptors work in their brains. Video games, TV, social media all give you that instant hit of dopamine, whereas books are a slow drip.”
That’s a good reason to start with something that’s fast paced, he says. “When you’re reading something that’s thrilling in every chapter, it’s like, Oh, what’s going to happen next?”
Here are more tips on how to start your own reading club with a grandchild, followed by book suggestions.
- Get outside traditional formats. Don’t hesitate to start with a graphic novel or a comic book. A graphic novel might even get a child interested in a classic book — for example, there are graphic versions of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. Even traditional chapter books may have more illustrations and less emphasis on text than in previous eras, says Nicole Dunn, a library associate at the Davidson branch. “Sometimes [adults] shy away from that, but it can be a really great way to encourage kids into reading and open up dialogue and conversation for kids that are not necessarily into the more fully text-based books,” Dunn says.
- Start with a world familiar to a child, such as superheroes. “You can figure out a story arc in the Avengers universe you want to read and get a couple of copies of that,” says Farrenkopf. “You’ll probably be the cool grandparent if you [say], ‘We’re going to talk about Captain America and Iron Man.’ ” Look for books linked to movies or other media that kids recognize.
- Ask engaging questions. Missy Dillingham, children services manager at the John B. Holt Brentwood Library in Brentwood, Tennessee, known for its fantastical children’s room, suggests something like these: Which characters would you like to meet in real life? If you could give the book a different title, what would it be? Would this book make a cool movie? Who would star in it? What is one thing you would ask the author if you met?
- Beware of outdated notions. While it’s tempting to share some of your childhood favorites, watch for racism, sexism or other outdated attitudes. When you do run across something that makes you wince, use it as a way to discuss how times have changed. Librarians say to remember that reading is a safe way to explore attitudes or cultures different from your own. Be open to what you both might discover.
- Use books as inspiration. Did you read about sushi? You could plan a night out to try it, suggests Dunn. Create bookmarks built around a book’s theme or characters. Bake or cook a dish described in a book. Explore a related historic site or craft. “It doesn’t have to be complicated,” Dunn says.
- Don’t forget about nonfiction. Check out science books or perhaps some narrative nonfiction, says Farrenkopf. Or learn about a child’s favorite celebrity. One favorite: the “Who Was?” series, which includes people ranging from Catherine the Great to RuPaul.
- If you’re not sure, ask. Librarians and book sellers can help you determine if a book is age appropriate or might have emotional triggers. Learn how books are categorized. For example, young adult (YA) books are defined as books with a main character ages 13 to 18 or so, Farrenkopf says. But some might have more mature themes or be scarier than others, so check if it’s OK for your particular grandchild. And grandparents should always check in with the parents of their grandchild if there's a question of whether a book might be appropriate.
Ready to read? The following 10 book suggestions came from librarians and kids, as well as Stefanie Corbin, owner of Footprints Cafe, a bookstore in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, that celebrates diversity.
Grade 3 into middle school
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. A young girl gets help from magical strangers to save her father. Read the book, then watch the movie.
Three Keys by Kelly Yang. One book in a series about a family that owns a motel while under the cloud of changing immigration policies.
Wishtree by Katherine Applegate. A story about friendship and nature, told from the perspective of an oak tree.
Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford. A mysterious house, a smuggler’s lost map, a house full of strange guests — what could possibly go wrong?
New Kid by Jerry Craft. Who hasn’t felt like the new kid? This graphic novel is a conversation starter about life in the lunchroom, friendship and racial stereotyping.
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Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. The first in a West African-inspired fantasy series and a notable book of 2018.
Black Flamingo by Dean Atta. Set in London with themes that include identity, race and drag queen culture.
Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron. The fairy tale turns out to be less than happily ever after for the girls of the kingdom. That spurs them to take action.
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack. In the first book of this series, a teenage witch has to choose: mortal boyfriend or her destiny. Oh, and she has to save her town. Also a comic book and a TV show.
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. Fantasy, magic and vampires wrapped up with teen themes. This is also the first in a series.
Susan Moeller is a contributing writer who covers lifestyle, health, finance and human-interest topics. A former newspaper reporter and editor, she also writes features and essays for the Boston Globe Magazine and her local NPR station, among other outlets.