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From the Stacks: Goodbye storytime, hello book club

Note: Staff members at the Lawrence Public Library write blog posts about books, bookish things and other media. The Times is reposting some of those blogs in this feature, From the Stacks. Find many other blog posts, titles referenced in these posts and much more on the library’s website, lplks.org.

When my kids informed me that they were “too old for picture books,” I was lost. Our nightly storytime routine was a chance to connect after a hectic day, and a signal for busy minds that it’s time to wind down. They needed that, and frankly, so did I.

On a desperate whim, I picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and started reading out loud to my kids, then ages 7 and 9. Now two years later, I’m amazed to say that I’ve spoken every word of the Harry Potter series, but I’ve also been surprised by some interesting side effects of this “big kid” storytime, which I like to call Monkey House Book Club (yep, this author is a Vonnegut fan).

More quality time

Arguably this one is a given, but if you are reading 30 minutes a night, you’re logging 182 hours a year of quality time with your minions. There are a wealth of articles about the benefits of spending time with your kids; it encourages communication, builds self-esteem and lowers the risk of behavioral problems. While you are discussing what you’d do if you were a mouse at Heartwood Hotel (A True Home), you’re getting to know your kids and they are getting to know you.  

Improved reading skills

We all know the benefits of reading; it strengthens empathy muscles, expands vocabulary, helps reduce stress and sharpens analytical thinking skills. Reading with your kids, as opposed to listening to audiobooks or reading by themselves, also gives you the opportunity to define unknown words and expressions as they come up. You are also showing your littles that reading is a leisure activity, and not just a required assignment.

Family togetherness

We’re a blended family. Seeking out relationship-building opportunities is important in any family, but it’s even more so in a blended family. Luckily this opportunity pretty much fell in our lap.  We raved so much about the Upside-down Magic series to the step-brother, that he read the series with us. Now we have an arsenal of inside jokes and we now know who is a Flicker, Flare, Fuzzy, or Fluxer.

Tackling difficult issues

Book club is also an opportunity to introduce your children to another kid with ADHD and anxiety heading into middle school, Sidetracked, or follow the life of another girl with ADHD who is really good at science and math, but notices that growing up means changing friend dynamics, This Is Not the Abby Show. Reading all of these books fostered deep discussions about empathy, difference, struggle, privilege, neurodiversity, ableism, personal strengths, change, puberty, and friendship.

In Blended, reading how Isabella navigates a life between Mom’s house and Dad’s house created a safe space for us to talk about our own feelings of loss from divorce. When issues of race and wealth enter the narrative,  I am given an opportunity to pass down my values and provide thoughtful answers to difficult questions.

Getting started

If I’ve sold you on the benefits of starting a book club with your tweens and teens and you want to try it out, here are the ground rules we’ve settled on through lots of trial and error:

• Find a cozy spot with room for everyone. The more comfortable you are, the more you’ll want to keep up the habit.

• Everyone gets a chance to pick a book. It’s just no fun if the adult picks all the reads.

• No questions or comments until I reach the end of a sentence. Without this rule, I couldn’t get through a paragraph in under an hour.

• Establish a limit. This rule solves the “Just one more page” problem. We’ve settled on two chapters per night. Unless the chapters are ridiculously long or we all fall asleep.

Angela Hyde is the Program Coordinator for the Lawrence Public Library Friends & Foundation.

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