Setting up your own Neighborhood Book Club

Below you'll find tons of helpful tidbits to get your project off the ground. Remember, our suggestions are merely that, suggestions. I have learned what works for us through trial and error. This website is to guide you, but feel free to experiment and please share your new discoveries with me.

1. getting started in the summertime...

Without a doubt, the hardest part is finding your initial members so you'll want to give yourself plenty of time. Invite the number of girls that you can seat at your dining table to participate.  If slots need to be filled, ask teachers or clergy officials for recommendations and contact information for parents or guardians.  Reach out to the guardian if you have not previously included a particular girl. Let them consider whether or not to approach their daughter about the book club.  If they choose to do so, communicate with them until the first meeting unless the girl wants to ask you specific questions.  Just make sure that you have approval from the adult before you talk to the girl. I encourage parents to vet me. After all, they need to know their child is safe.

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Get copies of the first book...

Obtain copies of the first book (your choice) that the club will be reading. Each girl will need a copy, but they will not take them home. That way you always have a book for each girl at each gathering. I will offer a few tips on procuring just the right books in the Books & Expenses section.

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Mail a letter... (or two)

Once all your members have accepted, mail a letter (yes the old fashioned kind, for it is nice for girls to receive an actual letter in the mail) that defines the format and the expectations of your club meetings.  Include a schedule plus the name of the first book that the club will read.

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A few days before starting...

Call, text or email a reminder of the first meeting.  Ask for confirmation of attendance from each girl. Be sure they know where to meet and that they have transportation to your meeting place.

2. before the girls arrive...

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Set the table with full tea service (tea, sweeteners, milk), flowers (fresh cut), and a book at each place setting. The tea is in the pots, ready to be poured. For a table of eight we make two pots of tea (different kinds).  That way the girls get to learn about tea.

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Some days I use place cards because this is a treat for the girls and it makes them feel special to see their name on a card. Do all you can to make your table special for them.  Remember, many families eat off of paper plates regularly, so taking a minute to put out real dishes, truly makes the girls feel special.

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Make sure that a bag of cookies or some sort of snack is on hand as backup in case the girl assigned to snacks (which you'll do at the first meeting) is delayed, cannot come, or forgets altogether. It does not need to be fancy. Once, caught off guard, I simply put out bread and butter with jam.  It was perfect. For snacks, use your prettiest tray or platter.

3. At the first meeting...

Spend a little time socializing so that the girls can get to know each other.  It is good to start with prompts about books.  “What did you read this summer? What is the best book you have read so far?  What book would you like to read?”  Keep in mind that some of the girls may be struggling personally, socially, spiritually or emotionally. Ease into getting to know them.

Keep the conversation light. Pass around a notepad and collect preferred email addresses and cell numbers. Make sure that all members have your cell number.

Ask if there are any meetings that anyone will be missing so you can plan for that. Let them know that you understand that unexpected conflicts will arise and impede attendance once in awhile, but that you expect them to commit to the schedule unless illness or something unavoidable arises. Use this opportunity to teach responsibility and courtesy.

Pass around a sign up sheet for the snack rotation.  Tell the girls that if any of them needs to swap snack days, that is up to them but they should notify the host that this has been addressed.

4. on meeting days...

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3:30pm

The girls arrive and let themselves in the front door, which I unlock a few minutes early. They unload their school bags and join the host at the table, chatting about school, pouring tea and serving plates with the day's snacks. During this time, one girl is assigned “the bell.”  We keep a pretty little brass bell on the table which is used to bring the meeting to order with a gentle little tingle. You don’t have to use a bell, just something ritualistic and consistent. Bell Girl girl keeps her phone on the table so she has access to a clock. A different girl is assigned “the dictionary,” which is on her phone.  She looks up unfamiliar words as we discuss them, and keeps a list of them. The other girls put their phones away.

3:45pm

Bell Girl rings the bell and we all pick up our books.  I ask the girls who wants to read first. If nobody volunteers, I start.  The first reader reads aloud and periodically we stop to discuss the story or unfamiliar words.  The girls are encouraged to interject their thoughts, observations and questions at will.  Each comment or question is addressed respectfully and honestly. When a girl wants to stop reading aloud, she simply says so and we pass it on to someone else.  There are no strict rules about this and girls are allowed to pass whenever they wish.  If no one wants to read, the hostess can read, but this rarely happens.

4:45pm

The bell girl rings the bell and we stop reading at the nearest stopping point in the text.  The girls take their dishes and napkins into the kitchen and excuse themselves to the living room, where they will make up and rehearse a skit based on one of the events in the book. They should incorporate at least two of the new words into the skit. The hostess should not participate, but should use the time to clear the table and put books away.  The girls will naturally find leadership within the group.  Once the skit is ready, they will call the hostess in to watch the skit.

5:00pm

The skit is over, and the girls head out the door, their rides waiting outside.

words to the wise...

1. Do your best to mix up the demographics of the girls.  Try to find girls who do not all know each other yet, or at least not very well.  Without a common history, they will naturally gravitate toward the common bond that reading together provides.

2. Occasionally call each girl to tell her how much you appreciate her participation.  If you feel that one of the girls needs a little extra support and affirmation, ask one of the other girls to join you in that effort.  There is no need to elaborate as to why.  Simply tell the girl something such as, “Because Courtney is new to our group/younger than everyone/worried about her dad, she must feel a little awkward.  Could you make an extra effort to make her feel welcome and comfortable?  You are good at that and I know she would  welcome support from time to time.” You will be amazed at the friendships that blossom before your eyes.

3. Keep in mind that a girl may want to confide in you about a personal matter.  If the matter is of an inappropriate nature, tell her that you cannot discuss it with her, unless her parents give you permission.  Make her understand that if what she tells you leads you to believe that she is in danger, you are obligated to report it to lawful authorities.  If the information is generic teenage drama, just be supportive.

4. Do your best to follow the local school calendar.  If schools are on break, the book club should be on break.  Plan your schedule for the entire semester prior to the start of the school year and give each girl a printed copy to take home.  If you have a conflict on any given week, simply give the club that week off.  They deserve to know what the schedule will be so do not change things as you go along.  This is disrespectful and confusing.   Remember, some of girls’ families may not have the luxury of structure and consistency, but the girls will be hungry for it.  Give them a time, place and routine that is reliable.  It will make them want to return week after week to read and share the love of books.

5. Take advantage of holidays, end of year and changes in weather to shake up things a little.  Have a party, serve ice cream sodas instead of tea, close out the year with parlor games or dress up as a character from one of the books.  The possibilities are endless.  My group was so sad to take a summer break (which I needed!), that we decided to go on a field trip and have a sleepover at my house on day mid-June.  Remember, although this endeavor is grounded in a love for books, it is really about much more than that. Shared books lead to friendships, mutual support and shared experiences. Those are the things that turn into good books.

6. Chances are that one of your girls will be a whiz at organizing. Appoint her as your secretary to communicate with the entire group. This frees you up a little and it gives the girls ownership of the group. Just give the secretary a task and let her run with it.

7. I strongly suggest that you populate the club with girls who are not immediate family. One of the reasons the program works well is because everyone comes together because they have one thing in common, the love of reading. Although it is tempting to start a book club like this for your daughter and her friends, that is a different type of club.  If that is your desire, go for it and have fun, but understand that this format was designed for girls who have no significant existing relationship with each other or the hostess.