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When I originally offered to help with my daughter’s first book club, it was as a simple show of support for my 7-year-old bookworm. Flash forward 4 years and nearly 50 books later, the club has become one of the most valuable volunteer gigs of my parenting career.

Our group was started in 2nd grade by a friend whose daughter devours books as quickly as mine. We had 15 or so girls, a wide range of reading levels, and an abundance of little-girl energy. We experimented with a few formats and settled on a simple model that continues today: Monthly meetings last 90 minutes and include, in this order, book talk, snacks and outside play. Over the years, as the basic model holds steady, our discussions keep growing and changing along with the maturing girls.

In 2nd grade we read classics like The Secret Garden and Matilda alongside Judy Moody and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Third grade introduced us to authors Wendy Mass and E.L. Koningsburg. By 4th grade, the girls were eager for more complex, coming-of-age stories and we found those in books such as Escape Under the Forever Sky and Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters. The Book Moms got to vote too, and because we had all grown up with Judy Blumes on our nightstands, we insisted on Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. That book led to our longest and liveliest meeting to date. We started by encouraging the girls to get all their giggles out (Because c’mon “We must, we must, we must increase our bust!” is still hilarious.) By the time we all finished talking we had covered friendship dynamics, religion and the tricky business of growing up.

This year, the 5th graders read hefty and adventurous novels like Wildwood and books by repeat authors so we could compare and contrast the stories. Through the magic of old-fashioned networking, we paired up with In This Together, a girl-focused publisher, and were given advance copies of a book, plus the chance to skype with its author. Katherine Rue, author of the new Carly Keene Literary Detective series, spent 30 minutes with us discussing her mystery book, and it was as if we had a rockstar in our midst. During the author Q & A, my favorite question came from an astute 10-year-old: “Is Carly Keene a nod to Caroline Keene, author of Nancy Drew?” These smart girls don’t miss a thing.

Over the years, we’ve tried to teach them how to fairly discuss a literary work, and how to appreciate a story’s features even if you didn’t adore the whole book. But our main goal has always been much simpler: to give them a safe space to talk about books. No multiple choice questions, no right or wrong answers, no grades. The other moms and I have become pros at the Curious Nod and the Noncommittal Hmmm. “Good point! Why do you think the author wrote it that way?”

Though our membership has shifted a little over the four years, the consistency of the group has been a solid thread throughout their elementary school years, which I now realize was so critical and grounding considering the size of our large public school. And if I ever doubt whether the girls enjoy book club, I will remember this: When the 5th graders were assigned in class to write their own obituary, one girl described how, after becoming an artist, surgeon and best-selling author, she retired and “spent time painting and attending book club with her childhood friends.” Is there any better testament than that?

As for me, it’s always been about more than just great books. The books, and the book club talks, have become launchpads for continued conversations at home. I’ve found that it’s nice to know who Katniss is, but it’s even better to know Cornelia, Prue and Calpurnia, and why these characters made such an impression on my daughter.

The success of the book club also reminds me to be the kind of mother I want to be: the kind who follows her child’s lead and lets her child’s passions dictate how she spends extracurricular time. The kind of mother who happily handles the logistics and structure required to make things like book club happen, knowing that it always takes some legwork to support any kind of valuable experience. The kind of mother who, after all that active doing, is then able to sit back and just listen. The kind of mother who isn’t intimidated by letting the girls, and their conversations, unfold organically from there.

I will need these reminders for the teen years ahead. If the 5th grade chattering is any indication, we are nearing uncharted territory as the girls find increasingly complex books to fill their growing minds and insatiable appetites.

I don’t know what the coming years hold for my daughter and I, but I do believe that books will help us survive it. I’ve promised to be there, as long as she will have me, reading along beside her.

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Updated on 8/19/14

Want inspiration and tips on starting a book club for your own child? I’ve got a couple posts to help you out…

The Club pt. 2 and Boys Allowed

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Speaking of books and moms…I am thrilled to be giving away a copy of Moms are Nuts, a hilarious collection of essays about having a mom (not being a mom). It features an outstanding ensemble of writers, including Emmy winners, magazine editors, comedians, TV personalities, bestselling authors and social media superstars. Get ready to laugh and to give thanks that your own kids haven’t found a publisher for their stories. Yet.

To win a copy of the book, leave a comment (about books, your awesome mom, or whatever is on your mind) and I will pick a random commenter on Monday 5/5 at 5pm Central Time).

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Comments

  1. What a gift you’ve given your girls. I always used to say mine didn’t need a book club because they read so voraciously, never considered the conversations I might have missed out on. Love this (and the photo of course!)

    • And the great thing is….the books get better and better. You won’t be reading Magic Treehouse forever (although, bless them…they once got us through an entire summer.)

  2. Do you still have all 15 members? It’s great you’ve been able to keep it going over the years as different activities compete for time. I’m sure it will be something your daughter remembers fondly once she’s off on her own.

    • We don’t have all the original members…schedules and interests change…but we have most of them, plus a handful of girls who came a year or so later.

  3. In some of your earlier writings you have written about your Mom’s love of reading. The thousands of books she read or listened to during her life. I have always treasured how she read to you and your brothers and what she passed on.
    When I was growing up we usually spent a week of my Dad’s annual vacation visiting my Mom’s parents in rural Oklahoma. They had bought a couple of sections of land thru the years that they farmed while living a modest life. My grandmother loved to read anything including law books. I would always bring her several books of crossword puzzles when we visited. Sadly she would complete every one before we left along with the New York Times’ daily. She came to visit your Mom and me shortly after we were married and discovered your Mom’s dictionary from college and read it from A to Z.
    My brother and I inherited our Mom’s portion of the home site and many years later we needed to do something from a legal standpoint. I contacted a lawyer in a nearby city. A couple of weeks later he called back and his first question was, “Where did you get your middle name?”
    “It was my Mom’s maiden name.”
    “What was your grandmother’s name?”
    “Wow! Do you know anything about her?”
    “Sure, well maybe I don’t.”
    He proceeded to tell me a story. In those times nearly all land was held by male members of a family but not in this case. Many people including unscrupulous lawyers would claim land when the owners failed to pay taxes on their land by a few days. They merely paid the taxes and earned title to the land.
    When a local lawyer filed on my grandmother’s land he quickly became mired in a historical lawsuit filed by a country lawyer and an uneducated but well-read female land owner that was not a few days late with her payment but a year ahead.
    The resulting verdict became the foundation case for land ownership in the State of Oklahoma and still taught in law school today.

    Pop

  4. I love that photo of your daughter, Liz. And what a great, fun idea to do with daughters and moms – I wonder if there could ever be a mother-son book club? Should I put that dream to rest? :) Maybe if we talk about books WHILE we’re shooting hoops or doing legos or something.

    And so wonderful that your daughter and her friends are tackling some of the bigger, meatier books – compelling themes, strong characters.

    All I know is…I wanna be part of this club. xo

    • Funny you mention the mother-son club…I’ve thought about that since our 9yr old loves to read too. But yeah, it would absolutely have to be an ON THE GO type thing.

      Also, you know you can always come visit and borrow my girl for a bit. :))

  5. This reminded me of the C. S. Lewis quote…..”No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally-and often more-worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond”.

    I love the pic and this post!

  6. What a lovely way to connect with your daughter and to get to know her friends and their moms! Last summer I read the original Wizard of Oz to my son..he can read independently but I loved that experience with him. Just a chapter or two a night and we’d also do our own reading. Now that he reads on his own, we are also trying to read “with” him (lying next to him) a few times a week. I find it’s a great time/space for me to hear more than he’s willing to share in our afterschool hours. So thankful I have a boy who loves to read!

    • I love this. I have such sweet memories of reading like this with my now 9yo son…we read the Harry Potter books together like this. :))

  7. This is one of the most beautiful posts I have read.

    Encouraging reading is one of the most important things a parent can do. I can remember my Mother buying me books to read way back in the 1950’s. I rarely ever saw my Mother without a book in her hands and I, as the first born, must have been born with one in my hand.

    It must have been 1960 when I picked up To Kill a Mockingbird and was forever hooked on fiction. I had read The Hardy Boys and many other books but this book was when reading became real. I can remember being under the covers with a flashlight late at night reading the last chapters and nearly trembling with anxiety as Scout and Jem were “running for their lives.” I have reread this book many times and love it more each time.

    It also helped some that I grew up not far from Monroeville Alabama where this took place. Being a teenager in Alabama in the 1960’s was quite an experience and I must believe that reading this book helped shape me in to the person I am today.

    Thanks so much Liz!

    • One of my favorite books as well! I love how you said it was the book that made reading “real.” Thank you so much for your kind words.

  8. I started a mother-daughter book group a few years ago and we love it. It’s a lot of fun to read together and then talk about what we each got out of the book. I love to read and I have a goal to read 100 books this year. =)

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