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August 28, 2009

Family Bonding Over Books

Posted by webmaster
To encourage her daughter, then in fifth grade, to read more, Denise Neary began a mother/daughter book club. In today's post, she shares what has kept the Washington, D.C.-area group going strong for five years...and counting.

Having trouble getting your child reading? Consider starting a book club.

In 2004, when my daughter Meg was in fifth grade, she and I started a daughter/mother book club. My goal was simple --- Meg didn't read for pleasure, and I wanted her to know that experience. She did love gabbing with her friends, so I thought I would use her interest in talking to create an interest in reading.

If I had to testify in court about the idea, I would have said it was my original thought to have a daughter/mother group --- so imagine my surprise in learning that there was a wonderful book on the subject (The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Shireen Dodson) and some great websites created by other clubs that had apparently had this epiphany without my assistance.

Using all of those great resources to develop a plan, Meg and I invited others to participate. Our deal going in --- the girls would pick the books to read, the girls would lead the discussions, and the discussion leaders would go round-robin. And, as seems to be true for all great book clubs, we would have good snacks.

On May 30, 2004, we held our first meeting. Meg led a discussion of Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. And we fell fairly easily into a pattern --- Sunday afternoon meetings, from 3-5, about ten times a year.

Those fifth graders are now eleventh graders; we have moved from some lovely books geared toward young readers to sophisticated adult themes. The young women in the group are always comfortable --- the Moms are much more likely to be uncomfortable with some of the discussion topics.

It is a gift to be able to talk about complicated social issues among women through the buffer of a book. It takes my breath away to see my daughter and her friends as the smart and engaged young women they are --- and for them to see their Moms, at least on the occasional Sunday, as more than chauffeurs and laundresses.

An example illustrates the point --- we recently read Jodi Picoult's Nineteen Minutes. It struck me, after our lovely and highbrow discussion of the book, that a group of teenagers and their Moms had discussed, calmly and rationally, core issues of sexuality and consequences, and what it means to be a responsible adult. Not a bad Sunday afternoon's effort.

Picking a favorite discussion is like picking a favorite child. I love them all. We have had some repeat authors --- Edward Bloor (Tangerine and Taken), Cornelia Funke (Inkheart and Thieflord), Neil Gaiman (Good Omens and Neverland), Jodi Picoult (My Sister's Keeper and Nineteen Minutes) and Janet Tashjian (The Gospel According to Larry and Vote for Larry) ---but the girls also love introducing the group to someone new. A discussion of one book often brings back the characters from another. (Doesn't that make you think of Jonas in The Giver? That reminds me of the sisters in The Secret Life of Bees.)

Thanks to the group, not only am I on the cutting edge on discussions about vampires and werewolves, I have thought about what it must feel like to be, among other roles in life: a governess; a hostage; an adult minimum wage employee; a Mom making tough choices for a family; a murderer; a murdered rape victim; a princess; a scared teen. I've traveled to Forks, through portals, to scary otherworlds, and to delightful alternative spheres. All the women in the group, the young and the not quite so young, have taken these trips together --- and we couldn't have had better companions.

And in the watch what you wish for category, I now have to surgically remove books from Meg's hands.

I can't wait to see what's next for this awesome group.

---Denise Neary