Creating Your Own Book Club Guide

    by Pamela Little

Most book club discussion guides are created by the publishers, or sometimes by the authors, of the books. Though publishers are beginning to catch on to the market, readers' guides are still relatively few and far between. Though they're often not available until the book is published in paperback, they can also be hard to find for books more than a few years old.

So, what if you really want to discuss a particular book but there's no readers' guide available? Worse yet, what if you peruse the readers' guide and find it doesn't meet the needs of your group? Simple: You create your own guide.

Below are suggested triggers for discussion questions for your own guide. As a general rule, start with broad questions that will enable you to find out where the group's interests lie, and then focus on those specific issues. As you create questions for the particular book your group is reading, aim for five to ten key discussion points that will generate conversation. If everyone is happy discussing a particular aspect of the book, don't rush the group to another topic just because you've developed questions for it. More tips on guiding book club discussions are in this issue's The Wire.

  1. Start by asking basic who/what/why questions, such as:
    • Who wrote the book?
    • What do we know about the author?
    • Who are the key characters?
    • What do the characters do?
    • What is the book about?
    • When was the book written?
    • When and where does it take place?
    • What did you like or dislike about the book, and why?
    • How did the book affect you?
  2. Next, focus on individual characters and discuss, for example, what their actions reveal about them, why they act the way they do, whether they are believable, whether and how they grow in the course of the story. Then book club participants can relate characters' experiences to their own lives: Is there anything in your experience or personality that's similar to that of a given character? How would you have reacted in a particular situation in the book? Project into the future: What do you think would happen to the characters next?
  3. Book clubs can also discuss the book's style. Is the story told from one point of view or many? First person, third person, or a combination? How would the book have been different if a different point of view had been used? Is one "voice" more believable than others?
  4. Wretched experience in school makes some children leery of discussing books' themes, but a simple question that often elicits readers' perceptions of theme is, "What do you think this book is really about?" Another one is, "What do you think the author wanted you to take away from reading this book?" Once you've established one or more important themes, participants may once again want to relate the themes to their own lives.
  5. Compare and contrast the book you're discussing with other books. Preferably these should be books the group has read together, so that everyone can participate rather than having to listen to two members discuss the relative merits of a book the rest haven't read. A starting question might be, "Does this book remind you of any other book we've read?" When children name a book, you can ask why the book seems similar: characters? themes? setting?

For more help in writing your own book guide, see Reader Response Questions, some of which come from You Gotta Be the Book by Jeffrey Wilhelm.

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