Thursday, November 11, 2010

Broadneck Bookworms

Several years ago, one of my running buddies mentioned that she and her daughter were in a mother-daughter book club here in the Cape.  Being a big reader with a particular affection for young adult and children's books, I was immediately interested, but didn't have the nerve to ask to be a part of the group.  When I asked my daughter, who is also an avid reader, what she thought about joining a mother-daughter book club, she was not particularly excited, although I don't think she really had much of an idea what it was.  I put it to rest but secretly harbored a wish to be part of this group.

Two years ago, I got my chance - the call-up from the big show!  There was an opening in the club, and they wanted to know if my daughter and I would like to join the group.  I excitedly asked her how she felt about it, and again, she was lukewarm.  Well, forget the warm and fuzzy mother-daughter part, I was going to be part of this club if I had to drag her kicking and screaming.  I told them that we would both be delighted to join the group and eagerly awaited our first meeting.

Fast forward two years (I mean that literally, and no pun intended), and the book club has been everything I had hoped it would be.  I know that my daughter has enjoyed it every bit as much as I have, if not more.  The Broadneck Bookworms consists of eight young ladies, all now 8th graders in middle school, and their mothers, in addition to two girls and their Moms who are on "sabbatical".  One of the girls lost her mother in the years before my daughter and I were in the club, but she continues to be a part of our group, and we are so happy to have her in our fold.

The format is as follows:  We meet once a month for two or three hours to discuss our latest book, have some snacks or dinner and maybe a glass of wine or two (the Moms - duh).  We rotate hostesses and meet at their house, or if the weather is nice, at the beach or the pool.  An activity is usually planned that relates to the story we've just read, sometimes even a field trip, but occasionally the girls just run around or talk girl talk when the discussion is over, and us Moms have a chance to catch up on the latest in our Cape lives.

An obvious goal of any kids' book club is to encourage reading and reading comprehension, particularly in the earlier years, and I think we have accomplished that, although most of the girls are big readers anyway.  It's also a great way to get your kids to read a broader variety of books - to step outside the genre to which they're typically drawn and discover other styles.  My daughter and I both enjoy fantasy books, but by reading book club selections chosen by other girls in the group, we've had a chance to try some different subject matter and have enjoyed many of them a great deal.

More importantly, what the mother-daughter book club has provided is an opportunity and forum to have conversations with our daughters about all the life topics that come up when we read.  Some of the books we have liked the least have led to some of the most dynamic and thoughtful discussions.  We have discussed romance, friendship, loss, poverty, racism, death, politics (domestic and foreign), current events, family roles, media influence, the environment, bigotry, sports, body image, stereotypes, and yes, even sex in recent months.  I particularly value this aspect of our club as we navigate the middle school years and head into high school next year.  As much as we like to believe the communication lines are open with our girls, it's good to have this extra venue where our daughters are at ease with people they trust and enjoy to say things that they might otherwise hold back.

The middle school years can be tumultuous for the most together of young people.  Kids, and I believe girls in particular (biased, perhaps), go through dramatic physical and emotional changes in a very short period of time.  I feel like we've found in our book club a sort of refuge from some of that - a place that's consistent and familiar and safe.  And for us Moms, as diverse as our beliefs and political views may be, we have a strong mutual respect and fondness for one another as mothers trying to guide our girls to adulthood in as healthy a way as possible.

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I suppose if I were worth my salt, I wouldn't have sat around waiting to be invited to a book club and would have just started one up myself (although I'm especially happy to spend time with this particular group of lovely young girls and their Moms).  I highly recommend it for girls OR boys (my friend in CA is in a mother-son book club), and I don't suppose there's any rule that says it couldn't include Dads.  It would require a more "evolved" Dad than most husbands, I imagine, but it's certainly not out of the question.

A group could also be tailored to any age, but 3rd or 4th grade strikes me as a good time to start - when the kids are reading chapter books and more able to sit still for a meaningful conversation and then go play or do an activity fairly independently.  We actually have The Little Prince on our list for our December meeting (we try to keep it short for the busy holiday season).  Profound ideas can be found in the pages of very small books and in the minds of very young kids.

Starting a club during elementary school also gives the kids a chance to gel as a group before reaching the chaos of the middle school years.  The more allies the better!  While our girls do not necessarily move in the same groups at school and have diverse interests, they share a camaraderie born of book club bonding that is always comfortable and serves them well out there in the middle school jungle.

For older-aged groups in the age of social networking and cell phones, there are a slew of effective tools for communicating book club news.  E-mail has served us well, and we just recently created a private Facebook Group for the Broadneck Bookworms that allows us to post messages, book suggestions, meeting times, etc.  In addition, the girls text one another frequently (sometimes constantly!) which is a helpful reminder about the upcoming book club meeting.  Books are easier to access through technology, too, through, or the even snazzier Kindle (or other e-reader of your choice).  For purists, the local public library continues to do the job very well.

You can find plenty of information online about starting your own book club.  I wasn't around when ours was started, so I can't offer much advice on that front.  Our intrepid leader, Mia, is the brains, and frankly the heart, behind the operation, and she is always prepared with her camera, notecards for each of us to write down an impression of or thought about the current book, a list of book suggestions, and a calendar for planning our next meeting.  It's really a fairly minimal effort with a tremendous payoff (maybe I should ask Mia before making that claim).

Mia actually has a second book club for her 3rd-grade daughter called the Page Flippers (how cute is that).  I entertained the notion ever so briefly of starting up a club with my son, but I had serious doubts about the viability of such an endeavor.  I got enough static about the now defunct piano lessons and taking him to Broadway shows (he will be a well-rounded young man if it kills me, and it might).  I'm not at all sure I would be successful engaging him and a group of his Halo-playing buddies in a book club conversation that involves sitting still and coming up with insightful observations about The Secret Garden.  Clearly it would need to be tailored to a different audience, and I think I would have needed to have started earlier when I had a little more control and energy.  Thankfully, he's turning into a great reader in his own right (kudos to Percy Jackson, Hiccup the Viking, and Alex Rider...)

Whatever the case, if you're so inclined, gather up the bookworms in your circle of friends (or those that need a little nudge to become one) and consider creating a group for yourself.  It's a terrifically valuable social outlet for both the kids and the parents.  And in a fast moving world of sound bites and twitters, I think it's important for kids (and parents) to find opportunities to stop and spend a little time forming and expressing their own thoughtful opinions about what's in front of them.  A book club is just one way to go about it.  You'll have to find your own club, though, because I'm not giving up my spot!


I came across a column this week on Hometown Annapolis (the online Capital) by Eric Hartley about a book controversy at North County High School.  Apparently Aldous Huxley's Brave New World was assigned to a high school class, and a petition has been signed by a group of parents who want the book banned.  This is a book that consistently shows up on the short list of greatest novels of the 20th century.  I'm embarrassed to say that I've never read it, but I certainly will, now.  I might even suggest it for book club in coming years when the girls move up to high school.

I personally believe that we do our kids a disservice by not exposing them to a range of thought provoking, age appropriate material before they head out into their own brave new worlds.  Every kid is different, but the world they will join as an adult one day is the same for everyone - full of unimaginable things for which we can't possibly prepare them on a case by case basis.  I think we owe it to them while under our tutelage to expose them to a variety of ideas and experiences in a controlled setting and teach them how to weigh options and anticipate consquences (no, I'm not talking about buying them a 6-pack and knocking it back with them).  These years are flying by incomprehensibly fast.  We have a very brief window in which to instill just a startup dose of wisdom.  If not by the end of high school, when?

What do you think?  Have you read Brave New World, and would you object to your high schooler reading it?  Do you think shielding our kids from behaviors that we find objectionable is the best way to prevent them from joining in?  Or do we arm them with knowledge - have the hard conversations with them - in the hopes that they will make good decisions for themselves when we're not around to slip the blinders over their eyes?  I'd love to hear your thoughts on the North County controversy and whether you've heard of similar issues here at Broadneck.  Happy reading!


Cindy Hudson said...

I loved reading your story about joining a mother-daughter book club. You very eloquently outlined the reasons I have found so much pleasure in being in two groups, one with each of my daughters, for so many years.

I agree that talking about books is a great way to broach many topics that may otherwise be difficult to bring up. Without a specific time set aside to actually talk about something important, those moments are more likely to slip away for the immediacy of every day tasks.

Your group seems to be running along smoothly, but if you find yourself looking for books or information about authors or ideas for your book club, I hope you'll check out my website,

I've been publishing it for nearly four years, and it contains my own suggestions as well as those from book clubs around the country. I encourage you to send in your own suggestions and contribute to the online conversation there.

As for Brave New World, both of my high school daughters have read it. I would prefer that they read this and other texts while still at home where I can talk to them and give them advice than after they graduate from high school and go off on their own. I agree with your comment that arming them with knowledge so they can make good decisions is crucial to their success as adults.

You just need to look at the list of banned books kept by the American Library Association to know that many books we consider thoughtful and harmless today were once thought of as radical and dangerous to the times they were published.

Christy said...


Thanks so much for your comment! I will forward your website info to my book club cohorts. And thanks for your thoughts on Brave New World. I've downloaded it onto my Kindle. I have to read my Kindle books with my Kindle iPad App these days because my daughter has taken over the actual Kindle. I will check out the banned book list. Thanks again!