Nearly five years ago librarian, former teacher and mother of two Stella Chevalier set up the Pre-School Parents Book Club at Westcroft Library in Sutton. She talked to us recently about what the group means to her and to its members.
Why did you start the group?
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 why not give them a forum for rediscovering the pleasure and well-being benefits of reading?
How does the group work?
Not everyone can do evenings, so we meet either late morning or lunchtime, and always discuss and plan meetings two to three months ahead so we can be flexible. We meet in the children’s section of the library – pre-schooler parents need a safe space where they can watch over their toddlers whilst taking part in discussions.
For each session we read two books – one short story like a Quick Read and one a full-length book – to cater for the different time constraints and reading abilities of members. Members can read one or both, and in the past we’ve used the Six Book Challenge (now Reading Ahead) as an added incentive to parents to keep reading and coming to meetings.
We stick to discussing the books and don’t descend into ‘mummy’ talk. 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’.
Why is the group important?
I am passionate about this group. For me, it’s about well-being; time away from kids to lose myself in books.
At the library, I’d see mums sitting beside buggies, clapping along during toddler story time sessions. I wanted to reignite a passion for reading back into their lives, with their kids watching.
Parents are the biggest influence on their children reading, so it’s important that we’re seen reading too. Equally, choosing a YA title as a book club read has allowed parents of teenagers to discuss the same book their child is reading.
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 regularly read can improve their well-being, and support their children as reading role models into their teens.
How do Quick Reads fit in?
Quick Reads are really important for our group. A Quick Read book 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!’
Our group’s favourite recent Quick Read was I Am Malala – it led to lots of discussion about women and reading.
How do you choose full-length books?
We choose from a range of fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels. We are inspired by award winning books, books linked to recently released films and titles that tie in to events such as World Book Night.
We take part in opportunities from Reading Groups for Everyone – it’s a real treat for members to receive new books to read and review. Some of the books we’ve received from RGfE include Alice and the Fly, Bridget Jones’s Baby and The Essex Serpent.
We’ve also had a visit from Sophie Hannah, a Zadie Smith book club event and a virtual Q & A with Katarina Bivald. These events, planned for the daytime, felt like special highlights and gave group members the incentive to complete longer books.
What the group have to say
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