June 26, 2022

Intergenerational book clubs for families

About three years ago, Barbara Casson, now 65, observed that while other families were doing activities together, her little family did not have many opportunities for shared activities, especially with parents in different states.

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“I really think it’s important for families to have shared experiences, not just when you get together and ask a series of questions like you’re being interviewed,” said Casson, who lives in Columbus, Ohio. “We were never going to travel together.”

Fortunately, they found another way to connect. “One of the kids said we should start a book club because we all love to read,” said Casson, who is an English teacher turned principal.

Casson and her son, daughter-in-law, and daughter each chose a book to discuss in their club. That Christmas, they traded their book club picks as gifts. (Casson’s ex-husband later joined the book club; her stepdaughter took a hiatus while in graduate school, then joined.)

Family Book Clubs

Meeting in person, on Skype or over the phone as needed, the family discussed various books, including comedy, historical and fantasy novels.

“The best thing about a book club is that it introduces you to things you wouldn’t think of reading,” said Valerie Moore, 37, of Chicago. Moore is Casson’s daughter-in-law and is pursuing her Masters in Library Science.

“The process of deciding what a family book club might look like could be a lot of fun.”

Casson admits they didn’t like all the books; even his son admits that his chosen title on the history of cotton reads like a textbook.) But the club sparked more interesting conversations. “It gave us a lot of things that we can talk about separately from ‘How’s your job? How is the dog? Casson said. “I have always valued my children intellectually.”

For example, The round house by Louse Erdrich sparked discussions of Native American tribal law, an area the group had not previously considered. “We get to talk about all kinds of different things that would never have been discussed otherwise,” Moore said.

Other families have also formed intergenerational book clubs.

Several years ago, my brother suggested that my mother and I read and discuss the same books in order to stay in touch since we are scattered across the country. Our long-distance book club has had its ups and downs as we have navigated job changes, moves, and other life events. But we’ve read and discussed fiction and non-fiction titles from Harper Lee, Jhumpa Lahiri, Robert Kiyosaki, and Sheryl Sandberg, among others.

Benefits of Family Members Reading Together

Tobi Jacobi, an English professor and director of the Community Literacy Center at Colorado State University, participated in a mother-daughter book club with his daughter through his public library. The two also read and discussed a book by Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Laureate, alone.

“It was really fabulous, because at the time my daughter was like, ‘What are the limits for girls?’ and there are so many mixed messages about what girls can do and what they can’t do,” Jacobi said. “It really made room for us to be able to talk about it through Malala’s experience .”

Jacobi has also worked with community partners to organize intergenerational book clubs at places like GED (General Education Development) and ESL (English as a Second Language) centers for people who might not consider themselves readers. For these groups, literacy outside of school provides “access to a reading experience that was not tied to a grade,” Jacobi said.

As part of Jacobi’s other literacy work, an intergenerational book club through a group called Grandparents Raising Grandchildren has encouraged grandparents, some of whom have been pushed into parenting due to issues such as drug addiction, to read with their grandchildren.

“It gives a way to smooth out the relationship that might exist when one person is in more of an authority role,” Jacobi said. “There, the voices of children could be valued.”

Pushing the boundaries of book choice

In families that don’t struggle with literacy, grandparents or other family members may still enjoy revisiting classics or exploring new literary worlds as they connect with younger generations. If a book club includes children, Jacobi recommended. give them feedback on the chosen books and the settings around the book club.

“The process of deciding what a family book club might look like could be a lot of fun,” she said. “Are there limits to the types of books or can we expand our understanding of what makes a book? A lot of people think classics are important to read, but how about switching to another format like poetry or graphic novels? (The latter has become very popular with younger readers.)

Once you’ve chosen a book, don’t assume you need to buy multiple copies.

“There are plenty of opportunities to consult books in groups,” Jacoby said. “Our public library has sets of fifteen books that you can check out, so it’s becoming more accessible.”

Even if you don’t like someone else’s chosen title, it might surprise you by opening up a new author or genre. “We all fall into our habits of things we like to read and that’s not bad,” Moore said. “But that doesn’t broaden what we might be interested in.”