Nearly five years ago qualified librarian, former teacher and mother of two Stella Chevalier set up the Pre-School Parents Book Club, which meets at Westcroft Library in the London Borough of Sutton, and which she now runs on a voluntary basis. The group uses Quick Reads titles every month, alongside a longer book, and often receives sets of titles from Reading Groups for Everyone.
Caring for pre-school children is a round the clock job. I wanted to give parents a daytime book club that fitted into their busy lives and that they could bring their pre-schoolers to. They were visiting the library for toddler rhyme times and craft events, so I thought why not give them a forum for rediscovering reading for pleasure and wellbeing, a choice in their reading matter and support for their children's reading habits?
For each session we read two books - one short story like a Quick Read and one longer book - to cater for the different time constraints and reading abilities of members. Members can read one or both. When the group first started, we used the Six Book Challenge (now Reading Ahead) as an added incentive to parents to keep reading and coming to meetings.
I make sure we stick to discussing the books and don't descend into 'mummy' talk: our library service already offers parents plenty of child-centred activities. People will stay after a meeting to pick up books for their whole family, but also to chat about books, make friends and have adult conversations - they regain something of themselves outside of parenting, which many of them feel can completely take over. I'll never forget one mum telling me: "I feel like I've got me back".
Quick Reads, non-fiction and graphic novels
Quick Reads are really important for our group. A Quick Read might take an average reader about an hour to finish, but for a parent with pre-school children it can take you a month. One mum, having completed one, told me proudly, "I've read a whole book, I never thought I'd would get to do that again, or be asked what I thought about it." Another said it had enlivened her brain, which she'd thought was turning to cotton wool!
Our group's favourite Quick Read recently has been I Am Malala - it led to lots of discussion about women and reading.
Meanwhile, our other book choice comes each month from a range of fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, award winning books, books that inspired recently released films and titles that tie in to events such as Cityread London and World Book Night.
Being part of Reading Groups for Everyone allows us to apply for often newly-released books from the notice board: it's a real treat for members to receive and review. We've won sets of books like Alice and the Fly and Bridget Jones's Baby - I recently organised a Bridget Jones party theme meeting, to give members something back for being seen as readers.
Instilling a reading ethos in families
Some of our most discussed books have been ones with really nasty baddies or excellent female characters. Recently we really enjoyed Sarah Perry's The Essex Serpent - we got a proof set from Reading Groups For Everyone and it generated much discussion about the writing style, setting and characters - and Edgar Allen Poe and the London Monster by Karen Lee Street.
Our group is all about instilling a reading ethos in families. Many parents want to relax at the end of a busy day and may feel they only have energy to sit in front of a screen. But we've found that encouraging parents to read regularly can improve their wellbeing, and indirectly support their children as reading role models into their teens.
Book group member Jenny said:
"Reading has always been a big part of my life but since my daughter was born I have gone through patches of not reading through tiredness. The book club gives me the motivation to read more and read different genres. It's also nice to not be reading children's books all the time! I think my daughter is already taking after me and would spend all day listening to stories if I let her".
Fellow member Amanda said:
"On days when I feel like an abject failure as a mum, reading makes me feel like a whole person, in parts successful, in parts not. I walk out of our meetings more human than I walked in. I love coming to this group. It enlivens my brain again to remember what I was once like; it's stopping my brain from feeling full of cotton wool all the time".
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