The LITclub, Transform Reading into an Experience

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"The LITclub is your guide to turn reading the classics into an immersive, fun journey. Discover tools to enhance comprehension, foster critical thinking, enjoy themed meals, and ignite a shared love for literature in your family."
First 10 Pages



Chapter 1: The LITclub Story 1

Part I: The LITclub Design

Chapter 2: Community 5

Chapter 3: Critical Thinking 11

Chapter 4: Great Books 17

Part II: The LITclub Tools

Chapter 5: Historical Context 23

Chapter 6: Lesson/Conversation Guide, A 10,000-Foot View 27

Chapter 7: Lesson/Conversation Guide, A Microscopic View 50

Chapter 8: Project Presentations 57

Chapter 9: Focus Paper 63

Chapter 10: Word Study 66

Chapter 11: Themed Meals 69

Part III, The LITclub Experience

Chapter 12: An Explanation of the Experience 75

Chapter 13: Personalizing Your Experience 78

Chapter 14: An Ancient Reading Experience 90

Chapter 15: A Medieval Reading Experience 102

Chapter 16: A Renaissance Reading Experience 109

Chapter 17: A Modern Reading Experience 116

Appendix A: Books 124

Appendix B: Helpful Resources 127

Appendix C: Defining Literary Devices 129

Appendix D: Print Packet 132

Appendix E: Vocabulary Lists 195

1 The LITclub Story

“If LITclub were a theatrical play, the books would be the backdrop and the members

would be the story: characters, plot and theme.”

—Jim Dent

The First Monday of the Month, 5:55 p.m.

Twenty-eight teenagers hang out together in my living room. I run upstairs to print something. Over

the noise of the printer, I hear the plucking of a mandolin and a couple of guitars. The double bass jams

while a keyboard player warms up with a few scales and another pianist practices his skills on the

baby grand. Fifteen parents make themselves at home in my kitchen, pulling together a medieval feast

to honor Hamlet, the Dane. I smile. It is a typical LITclub night.

It takes several books, maybe four or five, to build the kind of synergy I hear downstairs; however,

you don’t need musicians to produce this kind of magic. A casual, accepting atmosphere and the

freedom to be yourself brings out the best in people and that’s what LITclub is all about — people.

The printer stops. I collect my pages and go downstairs. Squeezing through the loud, bustling crowd, I

make my way to the kitchen, looking for faces of kids along the way that I haven’t greeted. I want to give

them a hug and let them know how glad I am to see them. The kitchen is no quieter. Parents chatting and

laughing affirms to me we are doing something good for our children and each other. The spread of food

the parents have prepared invites me to get the show on the road.

After we pray, the moms serve their plates and cozy up around my kitchen table. When I give the

signal, kids set upon the buffet like a swarm of locusts, then scatter all over the house and yard to eat

their supper. For a moment, I soak up the sights and listen to the voices whirring away. I feel

privileged to share in the lives of these women and their children. I wish I could bottle this moment

and keep it forever.

Jackie interrupts my thoughts. “Ali, I’ve been wondering for several weeks. Why do you do this?

Why do you open your home, let our kids traipse through and mess up your house, feed us, and then

give us rich lessons in literature?”

Silence enters the room and removes every chattering conversation like a waiter clearing the table

before dessert. They want an answer. I am stunned by the question and the attention. I’ve known these

ladies four years. Why has stage fright arrested my thoughts?

I take a deep breath and glance over at Jackie and then at each parent in turn. The answer

becomes clear as I look into their eyes. A smile overtakes on my face. “Because I love you and your

children. I love everything that happens when we’re together at LITclub. I love the conversations. The

meals. The projects. The laughter. The growth. The friendships.”

My answer satisfies them. They pick up their paused conversations where they left off.

Jackie’s question was good for me. I thought about it on and off for several weeks. I was curious how I

might answer it in the future if someone outside of my club were to ask me the same question.

Besides my love for the people, I think the results from reading in LITclub cause me to host the

club year after year. It thrills me when a shy young man transforms into a confident public speaker or

when a parent tells me that her son, who hates to read, doesn’t want to drop LITclub. I see children

grow and learn and parents’ hopes come true. I see a strong community develop and all the things that

come out of that. How could I not want to be part of something like that?

For this night and our study of Hamlet, we ate a Danish meal, discussed the play, and watched the

kids present their projects. At the meeting last month,

they were divided into five groups; each asked to

rewrite one act of Hamlet for a puppet show that would

appeal to younger children. During the month, they met

in their groups to prepare the rewrites, had a puppetmaking

party, and then one rehearsal. After we

discussed Hamlet, they performed their puppet show.

The experience of watching high school kids get excited

about rewriting a classic play and performing it as a puppet show astounds me. It is like this every

month, and with every club I have facilitated. The insights they share about the book and the incredible

way they interpret the project guide and build presentations for us is the reason that I continue to host

LITclub and the reason I hope you will too.

A group comes together because there is something they value about books and are usually taken

by surprise when they receive much more than they bargained for. LITclub goes beyond the study and

enjoyment of books. It is more than reading, interpreting, and discussing—much more. An academic

subject has lessons, right? Academic subjects have projects, yes? There are subjects that require

students to interact with each other and a teacher. Most students eat lunch during the school day. We

do all these things at LITclub, but the outcome is different from an academic class. The sum of the

parts ignites, and a new entity—an experience evolves. That is why LITclub explodes wherever one is started.

The life of LITclub is generated from something other than a social activity combined with an

academic course of study. My husband describes it like this: “If LITclub were a theatrical play, the

books would be the backdrop and the members would be the story: characters, plot line and theme.”

The action and actors in a play are up-close and personal. A live play is not the same as a movie or a

television show. Shaking hands with an actor after watching a movie is impossible for most of us, but a

live performance is different. There is a symbiotic relationship between the actors in a play and their

audience. The theatre stimulates all our senses. We hear the actors’ voices and the fall of footsteps. Our

minds engage the motives and desires of the characters and their story as it unfolds. We respond with

tears, anger, frustration, anticipation, and laughter. After the curtain falls, the players are available to

greet their audience. LITclub mirrors this effect. With its multifaceted approach, LITclub produces a

sensory impact that far exceeds that of an ordinary social event meshed with an academic class. As

Jake Perkins, a 14-year-old, puts it, “You can take a book I’d never read on my own, put it into this

atmosphere, and it becomes much more attractive and engaging.”

There is so much that I want to say here, so much that I want to tell you and show you about our

experiences but the truth is you have to experience it yourself to get the full impact—and you will. The

experience is not tied to Ali Dent as the facilitator. Wherever LITclub is started, the story is the same.

A friend of mine, Lee Desmond, moved to Colorado the same summer that I moved to San Antonio.

She started a club in Denver. She began hearing testimonies from her club members as I have always

heard in mine. Listen to what one of the mothers said about her LITclub experience:

“When we started literature club, I was a little hesitant because Stephen, my eighth-grader, wasn’t too

interested in reading. I decided to join the club so that Stephen, the oldest of five boys, and I could have a

regular mom-son time. The evening of our last LITclubmeeting, Stephen had the option of going to dinner

for his dad’s birthday or going to literature club—he chose literature!”

—Kori Brewer, LITclub parent

The bulk of this book introduces you to the special features that make LITclub unique, tells you

how to use each one of them. It goes one step farther and gives you materials that will enable you to

easily get your club up and going. Before we get to that, however, let’s explore a bit more of what you

can expect to receive from The LITclub. The next three chapters discuss the results you can expect

from The LITclub: community, critical thinking skills, and the accomplishment of having read the


Part I

The LITclub Design

“Life itself is the most wonderful fairytale.”

—Hans Christian Andersen

If you could interview the author of your favorite book, what would your first question be? One of

my favorite stories is The Lord of the Rings trilogy. If I could interview Tolkien, the first thing I would

want to know is how the story developed from an idea to a full novel. Did it start with Gandalf, or

Bilbo, or maybe even Frodo? Did he decide to write it because he could see a straight line between

Hobbiton and Mount Doom? Then, I would want to hear the process: all the details about his ideas,

deletions, rewrites, discouragement, and so forth as he brought his story idea to life. Novels don’t pop

out of thin air. The original idea might start that way, but then it’s worked over, thought through, lived

with for a while, and reworked until it becomes a story to be shared.

Similarly, the idea of starting a club to read the classics sort of popped out of thin air, but that was

just the beginning. The first year taught me that parents with children in high school are searching for

two things: to build a loyal group of friends with whom their kids can spend time with, and to create an

opportunity to practice critical thinking and to read the classics. These two goals motivated me to work

the LITclub idea over, think it through, live with it for a year or two, and rework it until it is what you

have in your hands today: a book that will equip you to create a club for your friends and family.

To begin, let me explain the LITclub design and what you can expect to gain from it.

2 Community

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another,

‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”

— C. S. Lewis

Around the age of twelve, thirteen, or fourteen, young people want to do things in a group, but in a

way that is different than playing with other children when they were younger. Then, the playtime was

about imaginary worlds built with Lego’s and action figures, or created in the back yard that was

transformed into Sherwood Forest or Camelot, acting as knights and royal ladies. When they grow older,

they still want to socialize, but the focus changes to real life activities instead of imaginary worlds. LITclub

fuels this, as it becomes an outlet for social interaction, education, and service to each other and the


The purpose of a LITclub is to make friends, practice

critical thinking, and read the classics. Homeschool teachers

join the club to fulfill English requirements for their children

and to provide a forum that matures critical thinking and

communication skills. Sometimes a parent joins the club

because her child is lonely or he’s entering high school and

she wants him to enjoy his teenage years by making memories with a like-minded group of friends. Public

and private schooled families create clubs for the same reasons minus the English requirement. Everyone

who joins LITclub does so because they love books and want to share that passion with their friends and

family. Regardless of the initial reason for joining LITclub, the outcome is always the same—community.

We are inescapably made for it and are less without it. Let’s take a look at how community affects the

outcome of LITclub.


Planning evenings around watching movies or gathering at a park give the kids time to get to

know each other. Sharing entertainment and service projects take friendships to a new level. Our club

puts two dates on our calendar each month: the club meeting and one extra evening where we do

something fun. It changes from month to month, but the goal is just for fun. The kids in my club have

also shared service projects that have opened their hearts and awareness to the community needs

around them. Our San Antonio club started a theatre troupe and sword-fighting class. The swordfighting

class included weekly lessons to hone their theatrical sword-wielding skills for future theatre

performances. The theatre troupe chose scripts that would encourage younger children. They took their

first play, What if? written by Becky Clayton, to the pediatric ward at a local hospital and Morgan’s

Wonderland, the only theme park in the world that is made for handicapped children. The extra

activities don’t have to be like this. Dinner and a movie in someone’s home accomplish the same thing

—deeper friendships that increase trust, the bedrock of LITclub conversations.

The LITclub book conversation is at the heart of the club meeting. Therefore, creating a safe and

welcoming environment is a primary concern. In addition to outside social activities, meeting in a

home is the quickest and least complicated way to boost comfort levels. For most people, home is a

place to relax. As such, hosting LITclub in a home (as opposed to a restaurant, public library or

school) creates a natural comfort zone that will put students and parents at ease.

Juxtapose a classroom to a living room. A classroom, by nature, implies work, and success or

failure. When I walk into a classroom, regardless of how friendly the teacher may be, I feel an

expectation to behave in a certain manner. I automatically adjust my listening skills to capture the

information needed to give right answers. I am not relaxed. I am not my true self. A school atmosphere

will kill LITclub, especially a newborn club.

On the other hand, home is a place for sharing with family. It's a place to eat, sleep, love, cry, and

feel safe to be at our best and worst without condemnation. If you start your club in a home, the kids

will automatically feel less intimated, which is your first goal as the facilitator of your club.

Community and comfort cannot always be manufactured, but there are steps you can take to foster an

environment where the kids will feel safe and begin to grow.


Most parents want their children to read well and be well read. As a result, many jump at the

chance to plug their children into a reading group, especially a classical reading group. LITclub uses a

different format than the standard book club model. In addition to interactive projects that target

various learning styles, LITclub requires parent participation. This bonus feature caught me by

surprise and became what I believe to be the bones and sinews that make LITclub strong.

At first, parents wonder how their presence will add value. Parents and sometimes teens suspect

that parental attendance will somehow diminish the child’s experience or hinder his learning and

interaction. Nevertheless, I require it because I know that when parents get involved and realize the

vision, they will be grateful for the shared experience.

Tammy, a mother of two teenage daughters said it wasn’t until she had attended four meetings that the

light bulb went off and she understood the value of her presence. Sharing the books and the meetings with

the kids brought them closer together. It gave them common ground upon which to share ideas.

When I created the first club in 2002, I asked the parents to attend because I felt inadequate to

keep order and lead the group simultaneously. After a few meetings, it became apparent to me that

parental participation is necessary for quite a different reason. When parent and child share a meal, a

book, and conversation with other parents and children, an intimacy emerges between the adults and

children. Many of the kids form lifelong friendships, and so do the parents. Members make friends,

memories, and connections—with books and with each other.

If you have a drop-off club, this connection is impossible. The child who goes to the club alone

will have a good time and learn a lot. When her mom picks her up she chatters all the way home about

everything she did and how much fun she had. Her mom is pleased, but it’s still one-sided. Now,

imagine the parent attending with her child. She not only hears of her child’s delightful experience, but

also gets to witness it, receiving treasures of her own. Just as characters breathe life into a novel,

parents and children who read the classics together animate LITclub.


The first LITclub began for two reasons: the need for a high school English course and the desire

to make friends. At that time, I understood very little about the necessity of building trust in order to

have a dynamic club. I was aware, however, that the way to make friends was to be friendly. In our

family that meant having folks over for dinner.

Years ago, my husband, Jim and I discovered the magic of sharing a meal with people we didn’t

know well. We noticed that, afterward, we were no longer strangers and we responded differently to

each other the next time we saw one another. Eating together at our club meetings made sense to me if

we were going to make friends with new people.

Sharing the meal is not optional at my club. That’s how important I believe it is to the success of

the club. How you plan your meals can be personalized to fit your style. I believe a full meal produces

the greatest effect, but you can adapt this to suit your likes and needs. In Part III, you will find a

suggested menu for each book, with links to the specified recipes. I provide this for your convenience,

but your club members might find it rewarding to plan and design menus for your meetings.

Building community is the foundation for a strong club. All it requires from you is an open home,

a friendly attitude, and love for the people who come. You might be thinking, “What? I don’t have to

be a smart literature person to facilitate LITclub?” No, you don’t. The particulars regarding literary stuff

are secondary, and the details for lessons and book conversations are provided for you in Part III,

“The LITclub Experience.” As you will see in the following chapters, book conversations are just that,

conversations. Once you get the hang of it you’ll see what I mean.