Book parties are the best parties. I am fortunate because, in my line of work, I get to attend quite a few. Parties for books written by other people, parties celebrating my own books, parties full of books and joy, and sometimes, even cake!
But my favorite book parties are the simple ones I threw with my children many years ago; just me, my kiddos, and some books.
Let me explain.
I often say that my lifelong work is to grow lifelong readers. That was the essence of my work for a decade as a classroom teacher, then it was top of mind as I raised my children, and it is what inspires me today as a children’s book author of both picture books and early readers. I’ve spent A LOT of time thinking about ways to encourage young readers, and I’ve learned that creating a culture of celebration around books is an excellent place to start.
Enter the book party.
Who doesn’t love a good party? A special occasion or theme, fun food, and, most importantly, great company makes us want to linger somewhere and enjoy a good time. So why not transform your next at-home storytime into a celebration and show your readers what good company books can be! The magic is in how you spin it. In our household, we called them “reading parties.” And we still do, over ten years later! But as you will see, there are lots of ways to put your stamp on this type of soiree.
Here’s how it works:
1. Pick a cozy spot
Location is key. It should be comfortable and convenient. Don’t make it complicated because you want this to be a tradition you can recreate, in different ways, again and again. Our favorites ranged from the couch to a blanket fort to a picnic under our favorite tree. After choosing your spot, think about ways to make it cozy – fuzzy blankets, big pillows, favorite stuffed animal reading buddies, and maybe some snacks waiting nearby.
2. Choose a theme
As a former elementary school teacher, I dream in themes! Themes can be as specific as “insects” and “construction vehicles” or as general as “alphabet books” and “friendship stories.” You can organize a reading party for every season, celebrating books that highlight changing seasons and holidays. My personal favorite? A reading party with only our absolute favorite titles! Not only are themes super fun to work with (think of coordinating snacks like ants on a log for bug-centric books or goldfish crackers for an ocean-themed party), but they also help young readers connect the books to their experiences, and make connections from one text to another.
3. Gather a pile of books
And I mean a pile! One or two books won’t scream “party” – you need books of all shapes and sizes, which you can stack into an exciting, anticipatory tower of reading. Use Arnold Lobel’s words as a guide: “Books to the ceiling, books to the sky. My piles of books are a mile high.” Even if you don’t read every single one, it sends the message that reading is limitless. When one book closes, the magic of another is within reach.
4. Give your child a choice & voice
Children love to exert some control over their day, and especially over their reading lives. A reading party is a perfect way to give them that opportunity. Does your child want to be read aloud to, or do they want to read the books to you? Maybe they will choose the theme – and you can search together for books that fit. This is a wonderful way to revisit forgotten titles in your home library or introduce a new book while allowing your child to take an active role. My older son loved to be in charge of the order of the books when he was in preschool. He would mull over the titles, then sort the pile into a particular succession, and off we went – on a reading journey of his making.
5. Be flexible
The goal of this book party is ultimately to encourage a love for reading and to share with your child that feeling of getting lost inside a book. So, use your judgment. If you start with a pile of books and, after reading a few, your little one loses interest (squirming on the couch, looking longingly at the swing set, yawning, and inching toward a nap), take a break. Move on to the snacks or an activity. Come back to that stack later when it feels right. Reading at home with our budding readers should never feel like a chore or a must-do. Again, I’ll call upon the words of another wise writer. Kate DiCamillo rightly says, “Reading should not be presented to children as a chore, a duty. It should be offered as a gift.”
And that is what these reading parties always were to our family – a gift! The gift of happy times together. Even now, I get the warm fuzzies thinking about it. And more importantly, my kids (now in middle school) have warm, fuzzy feelings about reading too. I can’t count the number of times that one of us has seen another reading and then jokingly announced, “is it reading party time?” – prompting the whole family to sit down to read together. I celebrate inside every single time that happens.
So, however you want to plan your book party (snacks/no snacks, daily/weekly), have fun! By developing a language and culture of celebration around reading, you are growing lifelong readers. Readers who, one day, will think nothing of grabbing a handful of books, settling into a comfy spot, and enjoying the company inside the stories.
By the way, if you get the chance to attend an outside-the-home book party (like at a bookstore or library), you should go to that, too! Scoop up any opportunity to show children that books are something to celebrate in this world.