Madeleine and I have both read The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, but not with our whole mother daughter book club yet. I can’t wait until it’s our turn to pick the next book so we can suggest it. My husband has read it too, and we all thought it was one of the best books we’ve ever read. It’s a tall order for three people whose taste in books doesn’t always match.
The Book Thief deals with heavy subject matter—it’s set in Nazi Germany and is narrated by Death—but the story is so compelling I found myself savoring every page and reading slowly so it wouldn’t come to an end. I’ve never read a fictional book about the daily lives of ordinary people in Germany during World War II, and that is certainly part of what made The Book Thief so interesting.
The main character is Liesel Meminger, a 9-year-old girl sent with her brother to live with foster parents when her father is arrested for communism and her mother expects she will soon follow. Her brother dies on the trip to the foster home, and Liesel steals her first book from the man who digs her brother’s grave. She settles into the household of Hans and Rosa Hubermann and makes a new life in a town very near Munich.
War is everywhere around them—from book burnings, to Hitler youth meetings, to Jews marching through the streets on their way to concentration camps, to food rationing to bombing by Allied planes. And Death narrates the events of Liesel’s life dispassionately, but with wonderful details and with the kind of foreshadowing that made even the hardest events of the book easier to read.
The Book Thief is a rarity among books—a truly original tale that I intend to read again and again. I highly recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs with high-school aged daughters.
Click here to read an interview Madeleine and I conducted with author Markus Zusak.
Uglies was on the list for both my daughters and me this summer, and somehow I got it first. I was transported into the world of main-character Tally immediately. Tally is about to turn 16 and can’t wait for the day she goes for the surgery that will make her pretty for the rest of her life. Her best friend Peris has already changed, because he’s a few weeks older than she is, and Tally is lonely waiting for her turn.
Then she meets Shay, who takes her on adventures outside their city. Shay claims to know of a place where kids run away to before they become pretty. And she’s unsure of whether she wants to be pretty or not.
This futuristic world had lots of innovations it was fun to read about—hoverboards for transportation, holes in the wall that spit out new clothes—but it also had a controlling dark side. I recommend it as a good book to generate discussion about the importance of beauty and conformity in any society. You should probably pick it up with the intention of reading the whole series though. Uglies sets up the sequel, Pretties, which also sets up the third book, Specials.
These brownies with a peanut butter surprise have been a hit at more than one mother-daughter book club meeting. Be sure to have lots on hand when you serve them.
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter
- 8 ounces semisweet chocolate
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
- 4 large eggs, room temperature
- 2 tsps. vanilla extract
- 1-1/2 cups flour
- 1/2 tsp. salt
Place the chocolate into a double boiler with simmering water. When the chocolate is nearly melted, stir in the butter, cut into small pieces. When melted, stir the mixture until it’s smooth. Transfer the top of the double boiler to a cooling rack and let the chocolate cool to room temperature.
Heat the oven to 350. Lightly butter a 9 x 9″ square cake pan. Dust it with flour and shake out the excess.
Combine the sugars in a large mixing bowl. Add the eggs and beat until well blended with an electric mixer on medium speed. Blend in the vanilla extract; add the cooled chocolate and mix until blended.
Sift the flour and salt into a medium bowl, then stir into the chocolate mixture.
Make peanut butter filling by combining the following ingredients in a medium sized bowl:
- 1/3 cup smooth peanut butter
- 1-1/2 ounces soft cream cheese
- 1 large egg
- 1/4 cup sugar
Beat with an electric mixer until evenly blended.
To assemble the muffins:
Line 18 to 20 cups of a standard muffin tin with bake cups.
Fill each muffin cup about halfway with brownie batter. Spoon about 2 teaspoons of peanut butter filling into the center, pushing it down a little into the batter. Cover the filling with another spoonful of batter. The cups should be about 3/4 full.
Bake for 15 minutes, until well risen and cracked on top. Transfer muffin tins to a wire rack and cool for 30 minutes.
My daughter Catherine and I recently attended our book club meeting to talk about Goose Girl by Shannon Hale. It was a delightful book that got the approval even of the readers who don’t much care for fantasy. The concept of taking a known story like the fairy tale this is based on and creating a whole story-behind-the-story is very well done here.
Here are some of the discussion questions we touched on:
- How did Ani find the confidence to be the person she was supposed to be?
- Could she ever be a ruler like her mother?
- When did you start to think that Geric may not be a guard at the palace?
- How did Ani/Isi’s experience being a goose girl help her become more confident?
- If you had written this book, what would you have changed about any part of the plot?
Catherine and I enjoyed Goose Girl so much, we went to the library right away and picked up the sequel, Enna Burning. We like it a lot too, and we’re looking forward to picking up the third book, River Secrets.
It’s interesting reading the series, because one book doesn’t pick up where the one before left off. Instead they each build a new story based on a different main character, someone who may have been fairly minor in a different book.
There’s so much great historical fiction for children and young adults these days that it’s difficult to keep this list manageable.
Here are some of the favorites listed by book clubs. Check out Powells.com to purchase any of these titles.
9 and 10 Year Old Readers
- Bat 6—Virginia Euwer Wollf
- Boston Jane—Jennifer Holm
- Our Only May Amelia—Jennifer Holm
- Walk Across the Sea—Susan Fletcher
- Caddie Woodlawn—Carol Ryrie Brink
11 to 13 Year Old Readers
- A Year Down Yonder—Richard Peck
- A Long Way from Chicago—Richard Peck
- Petey—Ben Michaelson
- The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle—Avi
Age 14 and Older Readers
- A Lesson Before Dying—Ernest J. Gaines
- In the Time of the Butterflies—Julia Alvarez
- Night—Elie Wiesel
- The Crucible—Arthur Miller
- The Kite Runner—Khaled Hosseini
- The River Between Us—Richard Peck
- The Secret Life of Bees—Sue Monk Kidd
- To Kill a Mockingbird—Harper Lee
- Wild Life—Molly Gloss
At last night’s mother daughter-book club meeting one of our members proved you don’t have to cook a complicated meal to make everyone happy. In fact, with two picky eaters and one vegetarian in our group of 12, this turned out to be quite a hit. The book was Goose Girl by Shannon Hale, and we had a picnic to go along with the one in the book. This meal was also great for our hostess, who arrived from picking up her daughter from piano just minutes before the first guests drove up. Obviously, this idea can be adjusted to the taste of any group.
Karen’s Picnic Fixings
Provide the following for mix and match according to taste:
- Sweet pickles, dill pickles
- Olive assortment
- Fresh carrots, broccoli, cauliflower with veggie dip
- Sauteed sweet red, green and yellow peppers
- Sauteed mushrooms
- Sliced cheese assortment
- Mustard, mayonnaise, ketchup
- Wheat bread, sourdough, rye, tortillas
Sandwiches can be grilled. This is a great meal to follow up with ice cream sundaes or banana splits for dessert.
For more ideas of meals to serve at your book club meetings, check out the recipes section under categories.
Not everything I read is for my mother-daughter book clubs, but keeping up with selections for those two makes it challenging to tackle a weighty book in the time I have left. Especially since my personal reading time is just before bed, I sometimes have a hard time keeping my eyes open long enough to read more than a few pages.
That’s why the book I’m reading now is perfect. It’s called The Grail: A Year Ambling and Shambling Through an Oregon Vineyard in Pursuit of the Best Pinot Noir Wine in the Whole Wild World by Brian Doyle, and it’s about the author’s year-long quest to find the best pinot noir wine. Each chapter is short, no more than two or three pages long, and it tells of what’s happening in a vineyard at certain times of the year. Doyle spends his time in a particular vineyard, that of Lange winery in Dundee, Oregon, but he also sprinkles his chapters with talk about visits to other wine-growing regions in other parts of the world.
Doyle’s style is light and playful, and the only problem I have with reading it at bedtime is it makes me thirsty to taste wine. But I’m taking notes and plan to have a pinot noir tasting of my own when I’m finished with the book. It’s a fun read!
A few years ago, Madeleine and I read a Nancy Drew mystery for our mother-daughter book club. Each mother-daughter pair picked a different mystery, then we talked about the similar styles and things that seemed to hold each of the books together.
The moms remembered Nancy as the pioneering spirit she was for the time we were growing up. We saw her then as someone who wasn’t afraid to take on challenges and stand apart from the crowd. But we were surprised to find that the daughters saw her as too dependent, and they derided her for getting her boyfriend or other friends to tackle some of the more difficult challenges she faced. We had an interesting discussion on cultural changes from generation to generation.
On June 15 the Nancy Drew movie hits screens around the country, providing a great opportunity for mother-daughter book clubs to read one or more of the traditional Nancy Drew mysteries and compare it to the movie. If the trailer is any indication, this Nancy Drew is totally hip in her old-fashioned ways and very independent.
You can choose more than one Nancy Drew mystery, as my group did, or have everyone read the same novel and discuss it in relation to the movie after you’ve seen it. Then send in your comments to let others know how you think this female character has changed over time.