Spotlight on a Mother-Daughter Book Club in Brookfield, Wisconsin

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Eight moms and daughters from Brookfield, Wisconsin

The members of this mother-daughter book club in Brookfield generously took time during their last meeting to answer some questions about their group. Read on to find out how the group started on some of their favorite books.

How did your group get started, and what grade were your daughters in when you first formed?

Our group started at the beginning of the girls’ seventh grade. Several mothers had done similar clubs with older daughters and suggested we form a club for this group of girls. The girls have a relatively small class so we invited all of the girls in their class to join and decided we would form one or two groups depending on level of interest. Our original group was 7 mother daughter pairs so we elected to do a single book club. We will meet through the summer after 8th grade – we decided high school activities would preclude meeting in high school.

How many mother/daughter pairs are in your book club?

We are now up to 8 pairs – one mother/daughter joined us after a few months. They had originally declined due to other commitments but heard our discussions at other school events and decided they were missing out.

How often do you meet?

This varies depending on other school activities and holidays but is generally every 6 weeks.

Do you tend to read certain genre books?

Everyone brings suggestions of books they would like to read and we have had quite a variety. We generally get consensus on which book we will read next.

Tell us about the three books you’ve read that have been favorites with the group and what you liked about them.

  • The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd—a wonderful story of women and their diverse friendships. Teaches perseverance and acceptance of others. We have already talked about doing a book club reunion when the movie comes out next year.
  • Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick—Funny and sad story with a great boy lead character.
  • The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom—thought-provoking book that led to a great discussion and made us all think about the impact we have on others.

Do you have activities outside of book club?

We plan to go to a movie of one of the books we have read and then out for dinner where we can compare the movie and the book.

Can you offer any tips or advice to other mother/daughter book clubs?

Make it a fun, quality time for mothers and daughters – not one more chore for the girls, another assignment to finish, an attempt to improve reading skills, etc. To make it fun, each meeting was hosted by one mother-daughter pair and the discussion led by another pair. We always started with a game—often based on a TV game show – that “quizzed” us on some details of the book. We had inexpensive prizes which were theme based – for example Burt’s Bees Lip Balm for Secret Life of Bees. The hosts often served theme-based food—for example, Chinese food for the meeting to discuss Chinese Cinderella. The game and food made the meetings fun and helped lead to great discussions. We had prepared questions to prompt discussion—each one started by of the girls. Eight mother/daughter pairs was a good size—I don’t think you can go much bigger and have a discussion that includes everyone. Teach the girls to listen—at first everyone tried to talk at once but we eventually got to the point where one girl started the discussion and everyone contributed.


Book Review: West with the Night by Beryl Markham

West with the Night, a memoir by Beryl Markham, is one of my all time favorite books to read. Both for the glimpse it gives into life in Africa during the early decades of the 20th century, and for the descriptions of life for a bush pilot.

As a child growing up with her father in Africa, Markham faced down lions and wild boar. As an adult she trained race horses before learning to fly airplanes and becoming a bush pilot. Eventually she became the first pilot, female or male, to fly west with the night and cross the Atlantic ocean solo from Europe to North America. Marham bring the African bush to life with stories of boar hunts and elephant hunts. Of horse races and airplane flights over desert terrain. And she tells her story beautifully. There are other famous characters here as well. If you’re familiar with Bror Blixen and Denys Finch-Hatton, who appeared in Out of Africa, you’ll find more about both of them in this book.

Markham lived a courageous life in a time when girls were only supposed to wear dresses and play with dolls and flying airplanes was a man’s job. Her account of the early part of her life is fascinating and provides a good example for older girls. I recommend West with the Night for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 14 and older.

Book Review: Sold by Patricia McCormick

I just finished reading Sold by Patricia McCormick. The story is about a Nepalese girl—13-year-old Lakshmi—who leaves home thinking she will be working to support her desperately poor family. In reality she has been sold into the sexual slave trade and is taken far away from anything that is relevant to her. A fictional tale of a very real event, Sold is an important book that sheds light on how easily girls can be lured away from their families and into situations from which it is difficult for them to escape.

To research her story, McCormick traveled to the countries of India and Nepal, and she interviewed the women living in Calcutta’s red-light district, as well as girls who had been rescued from sexual slavery. As the mother of two daughters, I think it’s important for them to know that cases like these are not isolated, and sexual slavery occurs all over the world, even in the U.S.

Sold has recently been released in paperback, and I believe it would make for a very interesting discussion with a mother-daughter book club. The scenes of Lakshmi’s life before she leaves home are bittersweet as well as enlightening about what life is like for the people who live in the villages of Nepal. And Lakshmi is as innocent as you might expect any girl her age to be. Her voice rings true throughout the book; she’s a very real character.

A non-fiction book I recently read on this topic called Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade and How We Can Fight It by David Batstone makes a great companion to Sold. Batstone tells of organizations in many different countries that are fighting this horrific practice, and gives ideas for what each of us can do to help support them.

Peanut Butter Pie Recipe

My daughter Catherine can’t get enough of this super simple pie that’s easy to prepare for a mother-daughter book club meeting. Catherine loves just about everything with peanut butter, but she’s not alone. Every time I make this recipe the pie disappears so fast I think I should have made two.

Peanut Butter Pie

  • 1 8 oz. package of cream cheese at room temperature
  • 3 to 4 tblsp. milk
  • 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • about 1/2 cup (or slightly more) peanut butter
  • 1 tub (8 oz.)  Cool Whip, thawed

Blend all ingredients together and spoon into a graham cracker crust. Refrigerate. You can purchase a pre-prepared graham cracker crust, but making one is easy too. I make a chocolate graham cracker crust.

Chocolate Graham Cracker Crust

  • 1-1/2 cups chocolate graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 6 tblsp. melted butter

Mix all ingredients together and press into a pie tin. It will be loose and crumbly, so refrigerate until cold before spooning the pie filling in. You can bake it at 350 degrees for about 8 minutes, but my family prefers it unbaked.

It’s that simple. I got the recipe from my mom, and she also finds that the pie is gobbled up quickly every time she makes it. Enjoy!

Book Review: A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

A Northern LightLast night my daughter Catherine and I met with our mother-daughter daughter book club. We had read A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly. The girls are in eighth grade, and this book addresses more mature subject matters than we’ve addressed before. The girls were ready for it.

Most of us thought A Northern Light was a beautifully written book with well-developed, complicated characters who made difficult choices. It was a great entrée to discuss the limitations put on women by society in the early 1900s, and to talk about how the girls’ choices in life are so different now from when the characters were living or even from when the moms were growing up.

Set in upstate New York, A Northern Light weaves the real-life story of Grace Brown into the fictional story of Mattie Gokey (Mathilda Gauthier). Mattie’s mother has died, exacting a promise from Mattie to take care of her younger sisters and her father and brother. But Mattie’s father is isolated from his family emotionally, as he works non-stop to eke out a living on his farm. Mattie’s brother has left, after a blow-up with his father, and no one expects to see him again. Mattie’s sisters need parenting, but not from an older sister.

And Mattie has dreams of her own. She’s a talented writer who’s been accepted with a scholarship to attend Barnard College in New York. But how will she ever get the money to live while in school or permission from her father to leave? Told in flashbacks between a time when Mattie’s story intersects with Grace Brown’s, a young girl who drowned on a lake at a summer camp in the Adirondacks, and Mattie’s life leading up to that point, the story moves along at a comfortable pace until we ultimately reach the point of Mattie’s biggest decision. Donnelly flawlessly weaves in vivid details of life in the Adirondacks – lumbering camps for logging, isolated farms, summer camps for wealthy tourists, supply boats, and one-room schoolhouses – that transports the reader back to that time in history.

It also deals frankly with several sexual situations. While the passages dealing with these situations were a little awkward to read out loud, they were appropriate for readers eighth grade and older, and they also gave us a chance to discuss some issues that are tough to talk about if you’re not discussing a character in a book. Highly recommended for older mother-daughter book clubs.

Add a Little Poetry to Your Mother-Daughter Book Club Meeting

npm_2008_poster_thb.gifIn honor of National Poetry Month, which is coming up in April, I offer this recommendation for a mother-daughter book club meeting. Instead of everyone reading a book to discuss, you can designate a meeting dedicated to poetry.

Everyone can choose their own poets to read, and here are some ideas for you to start with:

  • Emily Dickinson—multiple collections of her poems, many of which are about flowers and nature
  • Robert Louis Stevenson—who wrote A Child’s Garden of Verse, which was popular with both children and their parents when it came out.
  • Shel Silverstein—best known for Where the Sidewalk Ends, but other collections are worth a read too.
  • Jack Prelutsky—author of more than 50 poetry collections, including the laugh-out-loud It’s Raining Pigs and Noodles, and A Pizza the Size of the Sun.
  • Alan Katz—a former writer for the Rosie O’Donnell Show, whose new collection is titled Oops!

You can also have everyone try their hand at writing a poem or two to read aloud at your next meeting. Any form will do: haiku, limericks, free verse, sonnets, tanka, odes…the list offers lots of flexibility.

One of the most interesting assignments I’ve ever had for book club was a poetry month. Everyone in the family got into it. My husband, two daughters and I made a trip to the library together and checked out different books of poetry. At dinner every night, we would each read aloud a poem from one of the books that had special appeal to us. Sometimes they were thoughtful, sometimes they were funny, but they all made us think about something differently.

And writing the poems wasn’t as difficult as we thought when we first got the assignment. In fact, it was probably more challenging for the adults than the kids, who get practice writing poetry in school. And it was a blast to read what we had written out loud at the meeting.

For more ideas, check out the Scholastic, Inc. website, which lists activities appropriate for different age groups.


Newbery Club—An Idea for Your Mother-Daughter Book Club

A librarian I know who leads a book club for kids at her school recently told me about a Newbery Club that several schools in the district participate in. Here’s what she had to say:

“There are over 10 schools where we collaborate and all lead Newbery Clubs. We love getting together as adults and discussing/reviewing books. We then bring them to the students who narrow down the selection and begin reading and also blogging between schools about the books. It is my favorite program I participate/manage.

“Their favorites this year were:

  • The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart—fabulous mystery, long read but the kids loved it. Enjoyed the surprises.
  • The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt—my favorite, laughed all the way through. Historical fiction. I was thrilled to see this win the Newbery Honor.
  • The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick—impressive visual book, won the Caldecott recently.
  • Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass—very interesting realistic fiction book, enjoyed the adventures and discussions that came from this one.
  • Peak by Roland Smith—excellent adventure. The boys liked this one quite a bit, girls almost as much. This led to reading Into Thin Air which is a great biography.”

newbery.gifThanks to Deborah Alvarez for the recommendations. This also sounds like a good way for mother-daughter book clubs to pick books. Particularly since there are so many titles to choose from. To check out what’s on the list, visit the American Library Association’s Newbery Medal Home Page.



Book Review and Mother-Daughter Book Club Meeting Idea: Awesome Plays for Teens and Tweens by Christina Hamlett

Here’s an interesting and fresh idea that was passed on recently from a mom who’s in a book club with girls ranging in age from 12 to 15.

“One of the girls (in her group) likes drama a lot and has been reading a playwright she likes and whose plays she’s been in. We thought it would be fun to buy an anthology of one-acts, assign parts to read out loud like a readers theater, and talk about the stories. Most of us have been to theater performances but weren’t familiar with what a play looks like on the page.

“The anthology we read is Awesome Plays for Teens and Tweens by Christina Hamlett, and we’re now completely hooked! This is a collection of 15 one-act comedies and each one is short enough that we could read several of them in each meeting. It was great fun to assign roles to one another, plus this experience was invaluable in terms of encouraging our daughters to speak clearly, enunciate, experiment with different accents…and not trample on each other’s lines! It was also a wonderful spotlight on our young actress in the group who led discussions afterwards about what it’s like to be in a play.

“The girls all loved “Lessons of Oz” which is a humorous take on what happens when Dorothy comes back and becomes a best selling author but her pals from Oz aren’t so happy with the gifts they received. With “Lessons of Oz” fresh in our heads now, we’re thinking of going as a group to see “Wicked” when it plays here. I recommend playreading to mother and daughter clubs who are looking for something fresh and fun to do and Awesome Plays for Teens and Tweens is a great introduction to the world of the theater.”

What an interesting idea to liven up a meeting and let both girls and moms try something new. If you’d like to read the full reviews from Inez of Arizona and Marci of Hawaii, here’s the link.



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