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Book Club for Kids is a podcast where middle school readers discuss the books they love with host Kitty Felde. The author answers questions. A celebrity reads from the book.

Tips for Creating Lifelong Readers

Tip #65: Can a Book Get My Kid to Talk to Me?

Kitty Felde

Odyssey readers

We've been asked to share a few Book Club for Kids secrets. Specifically, how do we get kids to open up to us on the podcast about their hopes, dreams, fears, complaints, and anything else on their minds?

Our "secret sauce" for the Book Club for Kids is that we start with the book and wait for the moment when the conversation takes a left turn. And it always does. Then we follow wherever it leads.

Those sideways discussions are always the most enlightening. On one episode, kids in one of the safest suburbs in America confessed their concerns about security. Another day, seventh graders explained that dystopian novels are actually quite hopeful because their protagonists are female and the boys in the book treat them with respect. A pack of fifth grade boys admitted that while they resented and fought regularly with older siblings, they actually missed them when they went away to college. All of these conversations began with the book and took that left turn.

In some ways, it's easier for us to get kids to open up. We're not their parents or teacher or other authority figure. But you can do it, too! You can turn those carpool trips into real conversations.

So here's our top five ways to use a book to get a kid to talk to you. 

  1. Read the book. Borrow it after they go to bed or get your own copy. You can cheat and read the summary online, but it's harder to have a rich conversation when you're working from someone else's notes. Read the book and allow it to resonate with your own life experiences - stories you can share with your child.

  2. Your kid is the expert. Think back to when you were 12 years old. If only an adult would treat you like you had a brain in your head, you'd tell them anything. Your young reader will welcome the opportunity to show you how much she/he knows about the book and the world at large. Start the conversation by asking about something in the book that puzzled you. Are rules of the dystopian world too confusing? Is there a back story for that flying dragon who shows up on page 72? Is there a pop culture reference that makes no sense? This is a good place to begin the conversation with your young reader.

  3. Ask a followup question. You're getting warmed up now. Keep the conversation going.

  4. Listen. Is your reader getting excited about a particular topic? This is your left turn signal. The conversation is about to take off in an unexpected direction. Follow your instincts!

  5. Be willing to share something personal when appropriate. Listening is always better, but a willingness to be vulnerable and open is gold. It's an opportunity to communicate person to person, rather than adult-who-knows-better to child-who-should-listen-to-me.

And if all else fails, listen to Book Club for Kids together. Use the discussion in the episode as a jumping off point for your own discussion. Good luck!

Here are some other suggestions about kicking off book discussions from Book Riot, I Love Libraries, and BookBub.