A Summer Book Club for Your Tweens and Teens
by Sarah Hamaker
To me, summer has always been synonymous with reading. Those lazy, hazy and hot days are conducive to stretching out by the pool or resting in a hammock under a tree with a good book and a long afternoon ahead of you. Reading can also be a good way to connect with your tween or teen over a provocative subject, an interesting author or a spiritual truth tucked between the pages of a novel or work of nonfiction.
This summer, I’m embarking on a summer reading program with my 11-year-old and 13-year-old daughters in which I’ve selected four books for us to read and discuss. Having a book club with your tween and/or teen can facilitate discussion of meatier ideas. Here’s four things to keep in mind before starting such a book club.
Goals. To know what you’re trying to accomplish going into your family’s summer reading program will help you get there. What do you hope will be the end result? What do you want your tween/teen to learn?
Frequency. How many books you tackle in the summer months will depend on how fast your tween/teen reads and how much time he or she will have for reading. Aiming for at least one book a month is probably a good rule of thumb.
Format. You could ask your child what order to read the books or you could decide. You should ensure that each person participating has his or her own copy, in paper, electronic or even audio version.
Discussion questions. Having a list of questions or things to think about while reading the books will help aid conversation after the book is finished. Many authors provide discussion questions on their websites and sometimes publishers include them in the back of a book. Or you can ask your tween/teen to come up with a list of questions for each book.
Now onto the fun stuff—compiling a reading list for the book club! I recommend picking books from different categories to expand your reading and discussion. You could ask the kids to pick one as well. Be sure to read the selections before assigning the books to ensure there are no unwelcome surprises. One book I had initially selected turned out to not be what I thought, so it’s good to take that extra step.
Here are some general guidelines to help you choose your book list, along with how I came up with our family’s reading selections for this summer.
Topical. The issues facing tweens and teens today are as old as those faced by Adam and Eve and as new as the latest headline in your local newspaper. Books are a great way to explore hot button societal issues, such as gay marriage, transgender, abortion, suicide and sexting, and to figure out everyday concerns, such as peer pressure, premarital sex, drugs, alcohol, cheating, lying and gossiping. Whatever you think your tween or teen may be encountering in school or through friends, picking a book that discusses that issue can jumpstart good conversations. Remember that fiction often tackles sensitive, social issues in an easily digestible format.
With two girls in middle school next year, I decided that thinking about what it means to be a girl growing into a woman would be a good topic and choose Beautiful Girlhood by Mabel Hale—an older volume, but still packed with relevance to today’s tweens and teens.
Spiritual. These books will help your tween or teen grow in God. It can be as simple as how to pray or as deep as deciphering a particular church doctrine. For religious books, make sure the volumes aren’t too simplistic (i.e., beneath them) or too lofty (i.e., incomprehensible to them). It might take some digging to find books addressing some aspect of Christ that is the right fit, but your local Christian bookstore will likely have some guidance.
Biographies of Christians throughout the ages are a great way to introduce spiritual truths in a subtle way for kids. I wanted a religious book to delve deep into the inner girl and picked Stepping Heavenward: One Woman’s Journey to Godliness by Elizabeth Prentiss for its 16-year-old protagonist and her real-life struggles.
Personal growth. There’s a reason self-help books continue to be so popular—improving yourself can bear immediate fruit in terms of a better outlook and overall situation. One caution on personal growth books: Be careful not to pick an area for which your tween/teen might be overly sensitive. Rather, stick to subjects your tween/teen has expressed interest in or has had struggles with recently.
For example, my tween and teen are introverts and have had difficulties reconciling their quieter personalities with the demands of class speaking and participation. I picked Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts by Susan Cain, which is written especially for introverted kids, to help inspire them and reassure them of their value in an extrovert world.
Challenge. This is kind of a broad category, but it encompasses books that push your kids to think outside their comfort zone to try something new or different or hard. To remind them that even though they are young, they are still capable of making a difference in their family, neighborhood, church, school and community. Suggestions include books about social justice, compassionate acts and charity work/service opportunities. For our family’s challenge book, I decided on Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations by Alex and Brett Harris, which provides a look at what teens can do and encourages them to step out in faith to do those things.
This kind of targeted reading list and discussion should help you connect with your kids and also assist them in their own growth and understanding of themselves, God and the world at large. I encourage you to start your own journey of discovery with your tween or teen through a summer reading and discussion program of your own.
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