I was sucked into Nina Goldman’s life the minute I started to read this little gem of a book from Renée Rosen. Nina was born with a strawberry birthmark that covers one of her eyes, and early on she learned that it brings both good and bad attention to her. I agonized along with Nina as she struggled to fit in socially through middle school and high school, sure that her eye was the only thing keeping her from being popular. Nina’s story brought back memories from the mixed up social scene of my own school years, where everyone was trying to find who they were, and most of us were insecure about something.
Dominating Nina’s life outside of school is her father, Artie, whose larger-than-life character sucks in everyone around him as they try to live up to the high expectations he creates for himself and his family. There’s not much room for other memorable players in this story, but Rosen weaves other characters into the narrative seemlessly, and she makes it easy to get the dynamics between Nina and her friends, and Nina and the rest of her family.
Nina’s mother is a minor character, but readers will find lots to talk about in the family dynamics at play, the times described in the book (1960s and 70s), and Nina’s search to find what’s really important to her.
It’s hard to believe this was penned by a first-time author, but Rosen brings very complicated issues together seamlessly in a book that’s hard to put down once you start it. Something to note: the frank handling of drug use and teenage experimentation with sex probably makes Every Crooked Pot most appropriate for high school readers and their moms.
“When do you find time to read?” I hear the question all the time from moms and dads, but rarely from kids. Kids who like to read seem to be good at finding time to read even when they’re staring down several hours of homework and sports practice in the evenings after school. It seems to help them relax or take a break when they’re dealing with other challenging mental issues.
In some ways I think of reading as “massage for the mind,” which means a way to completely and totally relax and rejuvenate my mind so I can go back to handling the million little details that crowd my day. When I’m reading I’m not thinking about anything but the words in front of me, and that total concentration helps me to tackle the other issues with more energy when I get back to work.
So when do I read? In the morning with my daughter before she catches the school bus. In the afternoon with my older daughter when she gets home from school. At lunch, while I munch on a sandwich. During my daughter’s piano lesson. While I’m in the car waiting to pick one of my daughters up from an after school activity. Before bed. Since I read a little bit at different times of the day, I also find myself thinking about characters from a fiction book or real issues from a nonfiction book as I go through other mundane tasks like doing the laundry or vacuuming the carpet. And that helps me process what I’m reading better.
I can’t imagine having a day with nothing to read. For me, it would be harder, not easier, to get everything done without knowing there’s a book waiting nearby.
When my oldest daughter, Madeleine, was in fifth grade, we read Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli in our mother-daughter book club. The girls all liked it, but they couldn’t really identify well with the issues brought up in the book: What does it mean to be popular in school, can you find friends who accept you for who you are even when you’re different from the mainstream, are you strong enough to go against the popular mindset by befriending someone who is different?
The moms on the other hand, got the issues exactly. We remembered all too well the days of junior high and high school when you’re not only trying to determine who you are, but also realizing that who you choose to hang out with is a reflection of that. We thought the book was excellently done, and that we had maybe read it when our girls were too young.
I’ve been thinking about that lately because my youngest daughter, Catherine, is reading Stargirl now. She’s in eighth grade, and she’s really enjoying it. The things she’s reading about are resonating with her, because she’s seen similar situations happen with kids in middle school.
Amazon.com recommends this book for ages 10 – 14, but I’m more inclined to agree with the age recommendation by Publisher’s Weekly, which is 12 and up. It’s perfect for a mother-daughter book group because the adults will appreciate Spinelli’s excellent writing as well as identify what he’s writing about, and girls in middle school and older will be able to make correlations between situations in the book and things they deal with in their own social and school lives.
I’m looking forward to discussing Stargirl with Catherine when she’s done reading it, and we’re both looking forward to reading the sequel, Love, Stargirl.
A reader from Milwaukee, Wisconsin recently sent in a few ideas for games to play during a meeting. Here’s what she had to say:
“In addition to the discussion, some of our meetings ‘pit’ mothers against daughters in games quizzing us on the book—we’ve played Jeopardy, Deal or No Deal and others. It provides a little change to the agenda. We have a short game and then discuss the book.”
What great ideas to get lively discussions going. Sometimes the books my club members have liked the most have generated the least discussion, because we couldn’t think of anything to say beyond, “I really liked everything about this book.” Situations like this would really benefit from a game that brought out different aspects of the book that the group could then talk about.
Here are a few book recommendations from the group in Milwaukee for 7th – 8th graders:
Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pies by Jordan Sonnenblick
Chinese Cinderella: The True Story of an Unwanted Daughter by Adeline Yen Mah
Pobby and Dingan by Ben Rice (short but impactful)
My daughter, Catherine, and I went to see Gennifer Choldenko when she spoke at Powell’s Books in Portland on Monday. She gave a wonderful presentation, and she talked about how she writes her books as well as gave details about Al Capone Does My Shirts and her new book, If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period. She also read the first chapter of the latter book.
Three of the six girls in our group made it to the reading. They loved it! They got to meet one of their favorite authors and have her sign copies of their books. They asked questions, and they got to know a little bit about the person who created the story they had read and loved so much.
It was interesting to hear Gennifer say that she writes about middle school, because she remembers those years so vividly. “Anything can happen, because everything is changing,” she said. “I give my characters a lot to deal with because life is scary sometimes.”
Indeed. Here’s a group photo we took that night:
Attending an author appearance makes a great outing for your group. Check listings in your local paper, or look for flyers at your favorite bookstore to find out about upcoming appearances. You can also check the author’s Web site, which often lists places where she will be talking.
Have you ever considered bringing an outside expert into your mother-daughter book club meeting? Inviting a guest can energize your group and get everyone excited about your upcoming gathering, but how do you decide whom to invite?
The author is the most obvious answer, and with just a little research you can probably find the author of a children’s or young adult book who lives near you or may be traveling in your direction. Some authors even say they are willing to talk to Mother Daughter Book Clubs by phone. Contact local writer’s organizations to check for authors who live nearby.
But you can also bring in others who may also enhance the reading experience. For instance, if you read a book on historical fiction like Our Only May Amelia by Jennifer Holm, you could ask someone from your local historical society to join you for the discussion. She could possibly even bring along pioneer tools or other implements from the time period that can help bring history to life.
Youth librarians are usually very good at helping people dig to get a greater understanding of what they’ve read. Hold a special meeting at the library to tap into the resources there if you regularly meet at home.
With just a little thought, you can probably come up with someone to invite as a guest for most books that you read. It’s just a question of deciding when your group may need a little boost or would enjoy the change of pace that a guest can bring to your meeting.
Cindy Hudson, author of Book by Book: The Complete Guide to Creating Mother-Daughter Book Clubs. Photo by David Kinder
The kids are back in school, book club meetings are on the calendar again, and class reading assignments are being made. Fall may be a particularly difficult time for girls to find time to read book club books, because of all the new obligations that usually come when school starts. Sports, homework and music lessons often top the list of activities that keep everyone running during the week and on weekends.
If this is a problem for the girls in your club, check out the class reading assignment list, particularly if everyone in the club goes to the same school. Many of the books assigned in class are classics that are easy to get at the library. If your meeting is held before her book is due, she’ll have the advantage of having a group discussion on it already before she’s tested on what she learned.
Another option is to choose a light-hearted book that’s fun to read. My youngest daughter’s group just read All American Girl by Meg Cabot. Many girls will relate to the everyday problems Samantha has while they have fun thinking about how their lives would change if they did something heroic. Time spent reading it makes a great break from homework.
Other selections that make fun, light reads include A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck, Boy by Roald Dahl, Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen, The Princess Diaries, by Meg Cabot, and Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko. These books have lots to think about and discuss during book club meetings, but reading them won’t feel like an extra assignment to your daughters.
If you have other suggestions for the list, please comment and let us know about them.
When last I wrote I was preparing for a weekend trip to the Oregon Coast with my oldest daughter’s book club. We started this tradition of spending weekends away three years ago, and the trips keep getting better every year.
There are twelve of us, so it can be a challenge finding a place to stay, but it’s worth the effort. This year we reveled in a sunny, warm Saturday at the coast, not always a given in Oregon. The nice thing about our retreat is that we get to spend time with the whole group as well as one on one with other members.
Some of the fun to be had this weekend:
- Walking on the beach
- Building sand castles and playing in the surf
- Yakking in the hot tub
- Watching Chocolat
- Playing pool, ping pong, scrabble and rummy
- Hanging out, eating good food and talking
Oh, and there was solitary time to read or nap or sunbathe for whoever wanted it, too. Somebody made the comment that this year one of our major topics of discussion was the girls’ having driver’s permits and learning how to drive. Next year we expect to talk about their plans for college. Every year it seems to be a different right of passage.
Here’s a picture of our group sitting down for Saturday night dinner.
Do you have a favorite mother daughter book club actvity? Send in your comments and let us know.