When my daughters were ten and twelve years old, we started a mother-daughter book club in our homeschool community. We had just moved to a new state and we wanted to make some friends. We found that books naturally brought people together. They also created a source of common ground that we could use to build solid friendships. This concept is not limited to mothers and daughters, but having a mother-daughter book club did allow us to read some feminine favorites (like Anne of Green Gables).
You Like Books?
We began by putting a notice in our homeschool newsletter and personally inviting anyone we had met who might be interested. Several people referred us to their friends. They would say, "You like books? Then you need to meet..." They were right. We did need to meet them! We also met several mothers who wanted to encourage their daughters to read. These daughters became some of our most avid readers. The combination of friends and good books stimulated an interest in reading that they had never known before.
We planned our meetings for one afternoon a month. As is typical of homeschool families, there were a lot of little brothers and sisters. We invited them to come and play upstairs while the book club met. At our first meeting we explained how our book club would work. During the month the mothers and daughters would have the responsibility to read the assigned book. I would lead the discussion the first two meetings, but I asked the students and mothers to consider taking a turn leading a book discussion in the future.
Next we asked the mothers and daughters to make suggestions of books they would like to read as a group. They were invited to tell a little about the book. Seeing students talk enthusiastically about their favorite books was a treat. I wrote the titles on a white board. When it was time to vote, everyone wrote her three favorite choices on a piece of paper. I tallied the votes to create a list of the four books we would read for the first semester. (Later we learned to make sure that at least one mother had read and approved each of the books before announcing the final book list. We also checked our local library to make sure that enough copies were available.)
We also asked each family to sign up for a turn at bringing refreshments. Finally, we discussed the names of other people who might enjoy coming to our book club so that we could invite them.
One interesting question that came up was how to read the books. We decided that we could read them aloud or as individuals. The latter soon became a last resort for busy times, because most families discovered that reading aloud was more fun. One family that read the books together was pleased that a younger brother suddenly developed an interest in listening to longer books. It also gave us a good excuse to schedule time for reading aloud in our school day.
A Typical Mother-Daughter Book Club
We looked forward to getting together each month to discuss our books. Over time we developed the habit of starting with an ice breaker, such as "What is your favorite kind of book?" or "What are your hobbies?" Next the discussion leader would ask several questions to get everyone talking. We would let the discussion flow, and the leader would only interject a new question when one line of thought had been exhausted. We would end with refreshments and more conversation.
Creating Questions That Stimulate Discussion
We found that we needed to "warm up" at the beginning of each meeting. For many girls this was their first time to participate in a group discussion, and there was some natural shyness to overcome. We began with simple questions that didn't require anyone to go out on a limb to answer. The answers might require simple narration or a listing of names or places. Sometimes a simple query sparked discussion, but more often we allowed a rapid exchange of the simpler questions and answers.
After about five simple questions, it was natural to introduce questions that gave the opportunity to discuss deeper issues and opinions. For example, we might try to draw out ways that characters changed, or we might discuss the problems that they faced.
Here are some sample questions that we used with Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little Town on the Prairie. (Note how the questions move from simple to more open-ended questions.)
- What was the surprise in the first chapter?
- Why was the "necessary cat" necessary? What happened to the cat?
- What new thought did Laura have when the Declaration of Independence was read at the Fourth of July?
- Who do you admire most in the book and why?
- What happened when Laura tried to be clever in front of her friends (and wrote the rhyme about the teacher)? What lesson did she learn?
- How do you think you should act when someone like Nellie goads you?
The Mother-Daughter Dynamic
There is something very special about parents and children interacting in a group. In our mother-daughter book club we got to know each other in the context of our family relationships. We also realized that there were ways that mothers could help their daughters build rapport with their new friends. At times mothers helped "prime the pump" for discussion, and then backed off to let the daughters express their views. Perhaps most importantly, mothers modeled skills that helped build friendships for their daughters.
The discussions built up mother-daughter relationships as well. Frequently topics at our book club opened up fruitful avenues of discussion for mothers and daughters when they got home.
Our book club enjoyed reading themed books at holidays, and we usually combined our book club with a party. One December we read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson, and another year we read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. We decorated for Christmas and everyone brought Christmas treats.
For Valentine's Day we developed a tradition of coming to book club dressed as a character from a favorite book. We kept our identities a secret, and each person brought a dozen valentines written from her character. After we passed out the valentines, I read each one aloud and we tried to guess who was dressed as that particular character. Years later the girls from our club said that those valentines gave them one of their best opportunities to appreciate the characters in a book. Many of them still have their valentines from Eilonwy, Elizabeth Bennet, Prince Caspian, and Anne of Green Gables' beloved Miss Stacy.
One Good Book Leads to Another
It was not unusual for a student to enjoy a book so much that she went on to read all the other books the author had written. We also distributed our full list of books that were nominated for the club reading, so that we could independently read these new suggestions. Regularly someone would arrive at our club and announce that she had come across a great book that everyone should read. This stimulated further reading.
Reading and Writing
A popular topic of discussion became, "How could one learn to write a good book like this one?" Sometimes discussion leaders would bring copies of interviews with the author of our book-of-the-month and would read tips from the author about writing. One mother asked the girls to submit a short story or poem, and she published a book of their original writing. This in turn led to a writing club. But that is another story.
What We Learned
During the years we hosted the book club, our daughters grew up into young women. We discussed how people are different and how they are the same. We talked about growing up, caring about others, overcoming obstacles, and learning from our mistakes. We learned that good books make good friends.
A List of Some of Our Favorite Books
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli
The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis
Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
Baby Island by Carol Ryrie Brink
The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski
The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Pope
Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth et al.
The Five Children and It by Edith Nesbit
Daddy Long Legs by J. Webster
Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington
By the Great Horn Spoon by Sid Fleishman
Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
By Crumbs, It's Mine! by Patricia Beatty
Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge
The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain
The Gammage Cup by Carol Kendall
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Redwall by Brian Jaques
Little Britches by Ralph Moody