In the new school year, I want to give my kids the rich experience of sharing a book with friends, of thoughtfully turning a book inside out with discussion. There wasn’t an existing book club around us, so I decided to start a book club for our homeschool community.
After I posted an all call on our local homeschooling Facebook boards, it was time to get the group off the ground. I wanted to give the kids some ownership, generate excitement for what’s to come, and help the kids start to bond. So I decided to get our year of reading started with a book tasting.
What is a book tasting?
A book tasting is fun play on hoity-toity food/wine culture. Just like adults attending a wine tasting will sample several different wines and decide on their favorites, kids attending a book tasting will take just a “taste” of many different books and choose which they find most appealing.
Here are the components I prepared for our book tasting:
- A Curated Selection of Books
We’ll be reading 8 books this year in our book club, so I curated a selection of 14 books that would appeal to a wide range of readers within our group’s selected age range, with the idea that the kids would narrow the 14 books down to their 8 favorites. I picked books with high ratings on Goodreads, because especially for kids who haven’t fallen in love with reading yet, I hope that every reading experience we engage in can be a positive one. I also made sure to choose books from diverse genres. It’s easy as readers to get into a rut of reading just a certain type of book that we know we almost always enjoy. But one of the things that’s great about book clubs is that they can help us dip our toes into genres that we wouldn’t typically choose on our own, which helps us stretch and grow in our reading lives (regardless of age).
I put a hold on my list of 14 books at the library and then on the day of our book tasting placed them in stacks by genre hidden under napkins. You know, so I could pull the napkin off for a dramatic reveal. A book tasting is supposed to be FUN!
- A Tasting Menu
I created a tasting menu for the kids to hold onto. It could be pretty boring to sit through someone reading 14 book summaries, but the interactive menus helped keep the kids engaged.
Instead of courses like appetizer, main course, etc., our menu was organized by genre. Under each genre, I listed the corresponding books and provided space for kids to rate each book’s cover, description, and first sentence.
I invited the kids to use the space I had provided for ratings but also to make any marks on the paper that might help them to choose their favorites, like a big star for one that sounds amazing or a frowny face for one that sounds awful. Remember – it’s important to keep a book tasting flexible and fun. If you’re disciplining a child at a book tasting for not filling in a tasting menu “correctly”, you’re definitely doing it wrong.
- Give a “Taste”
I love opportunities to explicitly teach kids good reading habits, so I made sure to talk about how “good readers” preview a book, namely how good readers might “taste” a book by looking at the cover art, making connections to other books they may know of or have read by the author, reading the jacket description, and trying out the first sentence or paragraph of the book to see if it’s a good “hook.”
As we worked our way through each book on the menu, kids recorded their opinions about the book’s cover, its jacket description, and first sentence.
After kids had finished “tasting” all of the books on our menu, it was time to vote. For voting, I brought along a tub of counting bears and gave each kid 8 bears to vote with. Books were spread out on a table, and a vote counted as a bear placed in front of a book. Some kids decided to use one bear per book, and some kids had such strong feelings about certain books that they used more than one bear/vote to help boost a certain book’s chances of being selected. And either way is okay – flexible and fun, right?
- Bookmark Crafting
When the kids had finished voting, it was time to do a little bonding over craft time. We kept it super simple – card stock I had cut into bookmark rectangles, lots of stickers to choose from, and a variety of markers, crayons, and colored pencils. While the kids were crafting, I tallied up the votes from book voting and revealed the top selections.And that’s it! Not too hard to put together at all, and I think our book club is off to a great start.