Book Club Bunch began in 2017 in a downstairs corner of Waterstones on the King’s Road.

It was me, one actor, and a handful of stressed-out little exam boys, my son included.  My desire was to create a safe, non-assessed space where these children could enjoy the pure pleasure of listening to a story beautifully read aloud and the freedom to talk about it in any way they liked.  It was an antidote to exam pressure.  It was a place for them to let off steam, be entertained, be challenged, and be themselves.  Naturally, although the principal objective of the book club was emotional wellbeing, it quickly became a hive of development and stealth learning.

When words are read aloud they create worlds that take up residence in a child’s imagination.  Children who may struggle to read on their own can access more exciting stories and benefit from understanding more complex words and ideas.  They can pull themselves up out of a place of struggle and excel.  When they come to read independently there is a familiarity with sentence structure, vocabulary, the rhythm of a story.  They read better. And when they read better they want to read more.

In our book club discussions, which take place after the readings, we guide children in figuring out meaning for themselves and cross-referencing their knowledge, showing them that they can think independently.  In opening out literary devices, we examine the power of language to affect reader response.  And who doesn’t want that superpower? Although there is structure to the discussions, there is also the expectation that we will go off-piste, into a unique area that interests the group.  We may link to current affairs or something happening in one of their lives.  The club, after all, belongs to the children.

In these years we have scaled to include online clubs, school clubs, and our first vodcast, and we have honed the set up and structure.  Our greatest asset, the book club leaders, are the very best we can find.  They are both professional actors, with the energy and skill to bring literature to life for children, and English scholars and tutors who live close to the written word day by day. Above all, they care passionately about children having the best chance in life through developing a love of reading.

The pandemic has evidently widened the learning gap between the most privileged and the poorest of children.  Our greatest mission now is to bring this unique way of learning, this learning through pleasure, to all our children.

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