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Bonding Through Books

When Shireen Dodson's daughter, Morgan, was 9, the two started a book group with parents and kids they knew. Little did they guess it would last through high school. "During those years when children don't really talk to their moms, the books led to in-depth conversations," says Dodson, of Washington, DC, who wrote The Mother-Daughter Book Club in 1997.

Parent-child book clubs get kids reading avidly, thinking critically, and even (gasp!) talking openly about issues like drinking, sex, and drugs. To start your own group:

Recruit kids and their parents to join  -- they could be people you know, or folks you enlist through your child's school, a bookstore, or the library.

Keep the group small  -- about eight kids  -- so everyone has a chance to talk. Take turns hosting, or choose a central meeting spot, like a diner.

Have a system for choosing a new book each month (enough time for everyone to read it). The host family could pick the title, or everyone could suggest a book and pick the winner out of a hat. Either way, make sure an adult has read the selection first so you know it's age-appropriate.

If the kids clam up, try asking questions they can relate to: Has something like this ever happened to you? What would you have done in the character's situation?