Among the baseball team parents, it wasn’t hard to spot Liza Nelson as a mom who might be a bit out of the ordinary. While I struggled to get my one boy to the ballfield with all the necessary accoutrement of the game, her two sets of twins (yes, you read that correctly) arrived properly kitted out and on time. Four gloves, four jerseys, four pairs of pants, 8 socks. Eight cleats. Yup, we were looking at someone special here. And, nice special, not jealousy-invoking special.
But the real kicker came the day I found out that she ran three book clubs for her kids – two separate ones for her boy/girl twins, Jacob and Holly, now in fourth grade, and one for the boy/boy twins, Michael and Joseph, now in third. Not only that, but the club for younger boys, according to Nelson, was full. To the point that more boys were waiting to join. I nearly fell off the bleachers.
Because running a successful book club for boys is the literary equivalent of summitting Mt. Everest, I asked Liza to share her secrets. “I did some research on line and found The Kids’ Book Club Book [by Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp]…As I do with most things,
I take what I like and think will be most fun/interesting,” said Liza ”I’m a big believer in not reinventing the wheel, but instead, borrowing the parts from the best resources available. When I saw the list of ‘Jackie Hemond’s discussion tasks’ in The Kid’s Book Club Book, I knew I had found the key to how I wanted to structure book club.” Using this as a basis, Liza omitted some of the tasks that didn’t work, and added a new ones for the club.
The members of the club rotate through the following tasks:
The Illuminator tells about the main events in the book.
The Conductor conducts the meeting.
The Character Shrink chooses one character to “psychoanalyze”.
The Questioner comes up with open-ended questions (maximum of 5) to ask the other kids.
The Statesman finds facts about the setting of the book.
The Game Warden develops a short, fun activity connected with the book.
The Gossip tells a little something about the author.
Feeder of the Hungry brings food associated with the book.
The Word Wizard looks up and shares meanings of new vocabulary words.
The DeEnergizer develops an outdoor activity connected with the book.
The clubs meet year round at the Nelson home. Liza described a typical book club meeting, for either boys or girls, as follows:
Opening activity: The club’s opening activities have included drawing a scene from the book, creating a new cover for a book, making snow globes with a scene from a book, and drawing a cartoon based on the book. Liza adds wryly, “For the older boys, I have them do an outdoor activity called the DeEnergizer designed to do exactly what you think.”
Meeting time: Kids go through their jobs except the Game Warden
Snack time: Kids have snack and discuss next book options. Everyone gets a chance to pick a book before a person can pick a second book. The names of books are put in a hat and picked at random.
Game time: Kids play the game that was created by the Game Warden.
Post Meeting: Kids pick jobs for next meeting.
“Snack and game are based on a theme from the book,” Liza notes. “Once in a while we’ll have a movie meeting, where we’ll watch a movie based on one of the books we’ve read.”
Many of the most successful books for boys have been books from series, such as Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief series and Kate McMullan’s Dragon Slayers Academy. Liza notes that the boys decided as a group to only read one book from a series, though they have decided that they can read books from a different series by the same author. They have also limited graphic novels to twice a year.
The three book clubs just celebrated their one-year anniversary, lasting longer than Nelson would have predicted. “For me, there is no better feeling than when I see the boys try a book they wouldn’t normally choose and end up loving it so much that they read the whole series!” says Liza. ”At each of my children’s parent/teacher conference, they mentioned how wonderful it was that each child was participating in a book club and what a great experience it is for them to have. I feel good that I am giving them something outside of the norm of soccer and baseball.”
Wendy Shang is thankful for amazing kids, great books and inspiring moms everywhere. She is the author of The Great Wall of Lucy Wu (Scholastic).