How to Start a Culturally Rich Book Club

Amber O’Neal Johnston | June 15, 2022

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One of the homeschool activities I’m asked about most is our Heritage Book Club. It’s an off-shoot of the local support group I run for black homeschooled children and their families, and it’s one of our most popular activities. We don’t limit the children to one type of book, but most of the selections feature Black authors and/or characters. We designed the book club to bathe our children in cultural mirrors that they don’t often find in other literary environments, and since launching our culturally-rich book club the children have read over 100 books! I can’t help but smile as I write this. 

The goals of Heritage Book Club are to:

  • Foster a life-long love of reading
  • Provide a fun environment in which to safely build lasting friendships
  • Promote opportunities for leadership and public speaking among peers
  • Expose children to a variety of literary styles, authors, and genres
  • Enhance literacy skills and increase vocabulary

Our homeschool support group started in 2016, and the book club launched the following year. Since then, we’ve had various age/grade breakdowns to best meet the needs of our membership, but this is what things look like this year:

Most of the groups meet monthly (teens meet weekly), and here are some helpful resources for determining placement:

Book club is NOT school, and the children do not have to maximize their potential reading levels. It is a fun activity, with friends, focused on one book a month. When making placement decisions, we ask parents to consider their child’s social needs, maturity, and the subject matter of certain books in addition to reading levels.

Meeting Format (1 hour):

10 min Group check-in with ice-breaker question or general conversation
25 – 35 min Child-led book discussion facilitated by child/parent team (rotated monthly)*
15 – 25 min Snack, craft, game, or activity based on the book

*Exception: While meeting on Zoom during COVID-19, the groups are fully led by parent volunteers because it is difficult for the students to lead engaging meetings virtually. As often as possible, students will have opportunities for leadership roles during meetings.

Here are my notes from a recent meeting if you’d like to see an example of how to run a book club meeting. Normally, we’d have one or more hands-on activities because we typically meet in person (with the various age-based groups meeting simultaneously in different rooms), but all of our book club groups are meeting via Zoom for now.

Ground Rules (Parents are asked to review these with each child):

  1. Come prepared to discuss the book.
  2. Allow the child facilitator to lead the meeting (with help, as needed).
  3. Be a good listener and participate in the discussion.
  4. Raise your hand if you would like to talk.
  5. Be respectful of your friends.
  6. Ask questions.
  7. Feel free to disagree with your friends but do it respectfully.
  8. Have fun!

General Guidelines (provided to parents):

  1. Meetings are led by the children (with help from parents, as needed). If you find that you’re unable to attend the meeting that you and your child are scheduled to facilitate, it is your responsibility to find a replacement ahead of time so the meeting can successfully go on.
  2. Please encourage your children to remain open-minded about books they may not normally choose themselves. The diversity of thought/choice is one of the alluring aspects of a book club.
  3. If your child does not enjoy a certain book, please have them come to the next meeting prepared to discuss specifically why they disliked the book, what they wish the author had done differently, how the book compared to other books that they’ve read, etc. rather than just “I hated it.” Disagreement is expected and healthy. Being disagreeable is not.
  4. All groups are mixed gender with boys and girls meeting together. We may decide to break out into separate gender-based groups at some point, but they will meet jointly for now. This means that your child will read books with both male and female protagonists. Please encourage them to be open-minded and not pigeon-hole books as being solely for girls or boys.
  5. Latecomers can be distracting, so please make every effort to arrive on time.
  6. Silent reading? Yes! Audio books? Yes! Read alouds? Yes! Feel free to read books aloud, tag-team read with your child, or utilize an audio book if a title is chosen that is above your child’s current reading level or if your family just wants to enjoy sharing a book together. That’s TOTALLY OK!
  7. Please remind your child to check in at the front table to receive a book charm (1 per meeting).
  8. Please remember that this is supposed to be a stress-free, fun, enrichment activity for the children and parents. Let’s keep it sweet & simple!

Book Selection Guidelines: We’ve read a ton of books in the past several years .They range from light-hearted and fun to intense and emotional. Some years, the children get on a roll with a certain type of book and other times the selections are all over the map.

Here is a list of our past culturally-rich book club selections. I will be updating this monthly with our current selections, and I’m also still adding in past books.

  1. Books are selected ahead of time based on child/parent recommendations.
  2. All books must absolutely be age-appropriate and family-friendly. If in doubt regarding questionable or mature content, it’s likely not an ideal book for the group. If you’re not sure, PLEASE consult with the other parents in your group before recommending the title. Our families have varying philosophies on when and how to expose their children to sensitive topics or language, so please make a reasonable effort to respect the boundaries of your group. Generally speaking, the Young Adult group has the most latitude for mature topics, but please ask if you’re not sure.
  3. Unless otherwise agreed upon by the parents ahead of time, the Juniors, Middle Grade, and Young Adult book selections should be chapter books in order to provide a healthy challenge, plenty for the children to read over several weeks, and enough substance for a good discussion during the meeting.
  4. We are trying to expose the children to books that reflect their heritage, so most selections will feature Black authors and/or characters. However, some months we choose books that offer windows into a different culture or another aspect of diversity (i.e. ability levels, special needs, etc). Other months we may explore completely unrelated aspects of the human experience, especially when the book is recommended and voted on by the children.
  5. Please consider a variety of genres when making book recommendations:
 
  • Biography
  • Non-fiction
  • Humor
  • Realistic fiction
  • Folk tales
  • Poetry
  • Adventure
  • Historical fiction
  • Fantasy
  • Mystery

If you’d like to download a copy of all of this info in a single document, here is what I distribute to interested and participating parents each year: Heritage Homeschoolers Book Club Info Sheet. It’s locked so you won’t be able to make changes to the master file, but you can download the file and make as many edits as you’d like to your personal file.

You can reach me on Instagram @heritagemomblog.

ox - Amber O’Neal Johnston

Author and Mother

A Place to Belong

 

 

 

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