By Kathryn Rea Smith, PH.D.
Reading and talking about books with your child, whether formally in a book club or informally at home, is a great way to strengthen the bond between a parent and child and open the door to discussions about all manner of interesting topics.
My friend Jan Neece, a psychologist in Knoxville, knows first-hand the power of sharing books as a way to forge a special bond with one’s child. When Jan’s daughter Faith was in third grade, Jan formed a mother-daughter book club. The club was composed of eight mother-daughter pairs who met monthly from the time the girls were in third grade until the end of eighth grade. Each month a different mother-daughter dyad hosted the club in their home, selected the book, and prepared questions to use as the basis for discussion. Food was served at the meetings and, where possible, the type of food reflected some aspect of the story. After eating the girls would play for a while, the mothers would chat, and then everyone would gather together to talk about the book. The book club ended years ago—Faith is now a college sophomore—but Jan vividly recalls the experience as a highlight in the relationship with her daughter during the elementary and middle school years.
When I asked Jan for her perception of the benefits of the book club, she observed that in addition to fostering close, lasting friendships for the mothers and daughters alike, the book club was a great vehicle for her and Faith to talk about a variety of topics and issues that otherwise might not have come up for discussion. Jan also really enjoyed learning more about Faith’s and her friends’ perspectives on various issues. Often Faith surprised Jan with more mature reflections on an issue than Jan would have thought possible for someone so young.
The experience of reading with my son was such a success that we are now onto another book.
When I spoke with Jan recently, she happened to be visiting with her daughter and was able to ask Faith about her recollections of the book club. Both Jan and Faith recalled Katherine Patterson’s 1981 Newbery Medal award book “Jacob I Have Loved” as one of the best books they read for the club during its middle school phase. This story is about twin sisters, one plain and ordinary and the other beautiful and talented. The book skillfully addresses sibling rivalry and feelings of jealousy in ways that led to deep, insightful reflections and lively conversations both between Jan, Faith, and also among the book club members.
As a parent, I was inspired by Jan’s book club story, especially in terms of the benefits that sharing books together brought to her relationship with her daughter. This summer, I suggested to my younger son that we read and talk about a book, and he chose “Night Hoops” by Carl Deuker, a novel about two male high school basketball players. We had one copy of the book which we passed back and forth, each reading a few chapters a day. Sometimes my son scolded me for “reading ahead.” Chagrined, I confessed to him that I been caught up in the story and kept reading further than planned.
After my son and I finished the book, we talked about it. Because he is a basketball player, he was able to explain things to me about the basketball game scenes in the story that I did not understand. I, in turn, asked him questions about the two main characters, Nick and Trent. What was it like for Nick when his parents divorced? Why did Trent struggle so often with strong feelings of anger? What did he think about the relationships between Nick and his father and between Trent and his mother? I was interested in my son’s observations about the characters and their motivations, and I was touched by his capacity for empathy towards Nick and Trent.
The experience of reading with my son was such a success that we are now onto another book. When I asked him what he liked about reading together, he said that “it brings us closer.” Okay—I’m sold! Mother-son book club, anyone?
Kathryn Rea Smith, Ph.D. is a private practice psychologist specializing in psychological assessment and parenting consultation. Dr. Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.