Structuring A Mother-Daughter Book Club Meeting

By chance, both of my book clubs with my daughters were scheduled for the same week recently. Typically I don’t like several evening events scheduled for the same week, but this provoked just the opposite reaction in me. I was really looking forward to two evenings of fun during the week without the worries of events I “had to” attend.

I think that’s because book club is about so much more than the books. Both of my groups follow a similar format. We start off with pure socializing time where the girls head off for a play room and the moms congregate in the kitchen. For the mom’s that usually means conversation time about what our daughter’s are experiencing at home or school and to get advice from the others in our group. We also talk about our work and volunteering jobs as well as family issues. Over the years we’ve supported each other when one of us has gone through breast cancer treatment, the death of a parent or other life struggles.

After social time comes dinner and more socializing. We’re still in separate groups of girls and moms, and I find this is when we start to share ideas about the book we read with our peer groups; usually it’s something the moms don’t want their daughters to hear and vice versa. It’s a way we have of taking the pulse of what others thought before we settle into our group discussion.

When the group finally gets together, we sit in a circle, but we don’t necessarily voice our opinions by taking turns. The hostesses usually lead the discussion by starting off with a  question or two, and then one topic often leads into another. For instance, our recent discussion on The Crucible started with the beliefs of early American settlers, and several girls expressed amazement that people then so readily believed charges of witchcraft. But we quickly morphed into talk about how “witch hunts” can happen in general, and several people contributed fairly recent examples. When we modernized the idea, it was easier for everyone to see how a witch hunt mentality can take hold of even sensible people.

Interaction between group members is what makes this part so much fun. One idea leads to another leads to another. We usually say goodnight reluctantly, all of us aware that the alarm rings early in the morning.

Do you have things that you find work particularly well for your group or a structure you’d like to share? I’d love to see your comments about your club.

Cindy Hudson, author of Book by Book: The Complete Guide to Creating Mother-Daughter Book Clubs. Photo by David Kinder


Book Review: Stolen Voices, Edited by Zlata Filipovic and Melanie Challenger

stolenvoices.jpegMy seventh-grade daughter, Catherine, and I read this collection of war diaries from World War I to Iraq for our book club. We read it aloud together, and I’m glad we did. It gave us a chance to talk about the historical times each of the wars was set in and discuss the difficulties each of the diarists experienced. Particularly interesting were the views expressed by young people writing in Israel, Palestine and Iraq, since those conflicts are current events.

During our group discussion we sat in a circle and each of the girls and moms talked about the diary that lingered in their minds the most. Not surprisingly many of us chose Inge, a Jewish girl sent from Austria with her sister to stay with an English family during World War II. Since the girls are the same age Inge was when she was writing, the anguish she experienced at leaving her parents and her home resonated particularly with us.

I worried that the subject matter would be too intense for middle school girls, because some of the descriptions are particularly strong. And not all the diarists survive. But during our discussion it was quite clear that the girls had learned a lot from reading the book, and they highly recommended it for other girls their age. In fact, one of our members had not read Stolen Voices before our meeting, but said she couldn’t wait to start after hearing the rest of us talk about it.

I think Stolen Voices is an important book for people of all ages, but it’s especially important for the young. And I think it’s a great book to read with a group.

The diary of Zlata Filipovic, one of the editors, is also included in the collection. A line from one of her entries sums up the sentiment that was a common thread among many of the diarists, “I simply don’t understand it. Of course, I’m ‘young’ and politics are conducted by ‘grown-ups.’ But I think we ‘young’ would do it better. We certainly wouldn’t have chosen war….”

Click here to read an interview with Filipovic.

Millions: Read the Book, Watch the Movie

millions.jpegMy daughter, Madeleine, and I decided to try something different the last time we picked a book for her mother daughter book club. We chose to read Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce, which is also available to watch as a movie.

The girls are all in high school, and it’s sometimes a challenge for them to read books for pleasure, because they have so much reading homework for their classes. We thought they would look forward to watching a movie together and if one or two girls hadn’t found time to read the book they could still participate in the conversation.

We moved our meeting night to Sunday evening so we could gather earlier than usual and spend more time together. After dinner we settled in to have dessert and watch the movie, and when it was over we were able to talk about ways the book and the movie were different. We talked about changes we liked or disliked, and how the pictures of the characters we formed in our minds while reading lived up to the characters on screen.

If you’re not familiar with the story, Millions is about a boy named Damian who believes a bag of money that drops from the sky onto his playhouse came from God. He wants to give it to the poor, but his brother Anthony wants to invest it in real estate. The boys’ mother has recently died, and they and their father are adjusting to life without her. Millions blends humor, mystery, adventure and heart-warming moments all into one beautiful little book. And the movie is a wonderful adaption, probably in no small part because Boyce was the author of both.

Our blended book/movie talk was a nice break from our regular routine, and Millions was a good choice for both reading and watching. School Library Journal recommends it for 4th—8th grade, but I think it’s a story that anyone can love.

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffin Recipe—Great to Serve at a Book Club Meeting

My kids love these muffins and so does everyone else I’ve cooked them for. They’re great to serve at your book club meeting, to have for breakfast, or to eat as an after-school snack. And they’re easy to make too, since everything mixes together in one bowl. Here’s the recipe:

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffins

  • 1-2/3 cup flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tblsp pumpkin pie spice (or cinnamon)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Add pumpkin, eggs and melted butter. Mix together and spoon into muffin tins lined with baking cups. Fill cups about 2/3 full. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 – 20 minutes.

A Youth Librarian Comments on The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron

Here’s a guest posting about The Higher Power of Lucky from the youth librarian at my local library:

As Cindy has described, over the past few weeks, the blog-o-sphere has been abuzz over The Higher Power of Lucky, this year’s winner of the prestigious 2007 Newbery Award. You may know the John Newbery Medal, the “Oscar” of juvenile fiction, is awarded “…to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children” by a committee of librarians in the American Library Association (ALA). Shortly after the medal winner was announced, a few school librarians objected to the book’s use of the word ‘scrotum’ and the brouhaha was on.

As someone who HAS read the book, I don’t understand what the fuss is about. This is a sweet, humorous, and loving story about a young girl’s search for her place in the world. Lucky lives in Hard Pan, California, a small desert community of ramshackle buildings and eccentric neighbors. Since her mother died, she’s been cared for by her father’s former wife who came all the way from France to be her temporary guardian. But all Lucky wants is to find a permanent home. After eavesdropping on the community AA meetings, Lucky wonders if a “higher power,” whatever that is, could help her find a home. With the help of her dog, a good friend, and her neighbors, Lucky’s questions get answered.

So, what does this story have to do with the word scrotum? Not much. It’s a word, an anatomically correct word, which apparently pushes some people’s buttons. But in the grand scheme of this book, it was used in a humorous way to catch a child’s interest—kind of like the title of Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series.

If you want to know more, Susan Patron, author of the book and a librarian with the LA Public Library, wrote a beautiful explanation, “‘Scrotum’ as a children’s literary tool,” published on Feb. 27, 2007 in the Los Angeles Times, of why she used the word scrotum.

And just so you know, I’m a youth librarian, employed by one of the best—Multnomah County Library (MCL) in Portland, Oregon. Although I know that many of my colleagues share my feelings about this book, the comments above are just that…MY feelings and should not be construed as representing the opinion of my employers. That said, I am proud to say that MCL has a long history in support of Intellectual Freedom, the right of everyone to choose what to read, including books that use the word scrotum. MCL currently owns 65 copies of the book, all of which are checked out, and as of this moment, has 71 people waiting for a chance to read it. — susansm

The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron

The Higher Power of Lucky cover imageThe buzz at mother daughter book club with my high school daughter a couple of weeks ago was about The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron. A middle school brother of one of the girls has been assigned to read it in class. Several moms heard it was controversial, but none of us has read it. It’s a Newbery Honor Book that School Library Journal lists as appropriate for 4th through 6th graders.

As I understand it, much of the controversy centers around the use of the word “scrotum” in the first page of the book. There is also mention of 12-step programs and a higher power. Even the New York Times weighed in on the controversy, with an article (click here for link) about the uproar the book has created among school librarians who decide whether or not to shelve it at their schools.

Our girls are obviously older than the target audience, and they have certainly learned appropriate anatomical vocabulary in health class by now. But we’re considering reading it along with The Crucible for our April meeting and discussing what’s considered questionable for younger audiences. Stay tuned.

The Crucible and Other Intense Reads

thecrucible.jpegThe Crucible by Arthur Miller will continue the run of heavy-discussion-topic books we’ve been reading in my book club with Madeleine. In the last year we’ve read Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, The Life of Pi by Yann Martel, In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez, and Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce. We’ve discussed moral issues covering everything from friendship to revolutionary resistance to the corrupting influence of money. And now we’re tackling witchcraft and socially sanctioned violence. Whew, it’s been exhausting!

But it’s also been a great outlet to talk about issues the girls are covering in school, and to find out about how their perspectives differ from those of their moms. For instance, when we read In the Time of the Butterflies the girls were mostly in favor of the Mirabal sisters’ revolutionary resistance to the dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. The moms on the other hand had a hard time believing they would willingly endanger their children in pursuit of a cause.

It challenged all of us to think about the most important things in our lives and what we’re willing to sacrifice to achieve a higher cause.

Book Club Discussion: Remember Me to Harold Square by Paula Danziger

harold-square.jpgLast night twelve moms and daughters gathered for our February book club meeting. This is my book club with my younger daughter, Catherine, who is in 7th grade.

Our hostesses planned a lively evening with activity ideas from the book. Remember Me to Harold Square is about a high school boy from Wisconsin who spends six weeks one summer in New York City with friends of his parents, who have a high school daughter and a middle school son. The four parents have devised a six-week-long scavenger hunt for the kids to help them experience the best of the city and stay busy for the entire visit.

We started off with a mom-devised scavenger hunt that had all the girls working together to find the clues they needed to put together a message about their prize: a special English trifle for dessert. The game was quite a hit. When it was over we all enjoyed bagels with cream cheese, lox, and veggies—one of the many meals the book’s characters tried during their adventure.

This book generated lots of great discussion. We talked about whether it’s an advantage for girls to be friends with boys before they start to date them and the difficulties of getting seriously romantically involved with someone when you’re still young. None of the daughters are dating yet, or even plan to, so it was a good way to talk about dating issues theoretically.

We all liked the idea of creating a summer scavenger hunt for museums, parks, food, etc. in our city. The moms voted to put together a list for the girls by the end of school so they can plan summer time together.

Our next selection: Stolen Voices by Zlata Filipovic. We’ve been to two separate readings in Portland with Zlata and are excited to dive into her newest book.


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