Once upon a time, after Charlotte wove her web and Laura moved to her little house on the prairie, a bond between girls and books was formed. It began, as many things begin, with a gentle nudge from mothers.
"As avid book lovers ourselves, it seemed only natural to form a book club for our daughters—illuminating the path and all," says Julie Terwelp of Wauwatosa. "When the girls were in 2nd and 3rd grade they were able to read more substantive chapter books and with the promise of a delicious dessert served after the book discussion, the girls were committed."
That’s how the story began for one local mother-daughter book club. Four years, thousands of pages and many tasty treats later, the final chapter ended, and the moms and daughters closed the book on their club last summer.
Julie and her daughter, Katerina, 14, would have loved to have seen it continue, but as the girls got older and schedules conflicted and schoolwork pressed, it became harder and harder to meet.
But the benefits from the book club live on.
"This was a chance for her to connect with girls her own age," says Julie, "and maybe read books she wouldn’t normally read."
Katerina discovered new genres and new series. The club inspired others to read more. For a couple of younger girls who read above their grade level, it was an opportunity to read and discuss more challenging books.
It was also an opportunity for girls who didn’t know each other very well—or at all—to bond over a common interest. This isn’t a story about a girl and her besties getting together. The club members found each other through the mom grapevine. Someone knew someone who also knew someone who wanted her daughter to read more.
"It was kind of like a church group," says Julie. "You’re let in for a reason, but you don’t necessarily know everyone."
And even though the girls had different personalities, they all got along.
"They became comfortable with the girls in the club. They didn’t have to be best friends, but they could enjoy each other’s company."
Katerina says that’s what she misses most about the club—just hanging out with the girls. "After the discussions we would run around, play games, play hide and seek. It was fun."
Julie wonders if maybe it was better that they didn’t all go to the same school or were in the same grade. There was no drama, there were no fights. "I think it gave them the opportunity to escape some of the social pressure they might experience at school."
The mother-daughter book club met once a month in each other’s homes. "We found that Sunday evenings during the school year were convenient for the majority of us," says Julie, "and a glass of wine with the other moms turned out to be a great way to relax after a busy weekend."
When hosting, the girls were responsible for choosing which book to read (with mom’s input) and preparing several subjective questions about the book. During the discussion, all the girls were given a chance to answer the questions.
"I think the girls enjoyed hearing each other’s opinions," says Julie. "They spent a lot of time talking about characters and associating with them. They would talk about which characters they liked or didn’t like and why. So maybe that helped them a little to understand other people."
Julie says the group was a confidence builder for some of the girls. “It was a safe environment because they were sharing their opinions and nobody put down their opinions.” The presence of the moms might have contributed to that safe feeling, too, she says.
Lori Day, author and book club veteran, would agree. “Mother-daughter book clubs are not only a vehicle for sharing the enjoyment of reading, but they also act as small villages where women can collectively support girls and model healthy femininity for them.”
In her book, Her Next Chapter, Day takes the mother-daughter book club to the next level. She shows mothers how to form a club that intentionally aims to prepare their daughters for the challenges facing them today. “The goal is to raise girls to become confident young women in a culture that makes many girls and women feel insecure and powerless about their looks and abilities and future roles.”
Each chapter addresses an issue such as the sexualization of girlhood, negative body image, mean girls and bullying. As a mother and an educational psychologist, Day provides anecdotes and analysis about each topic. She also recommends books, videos, discussion questions and fun activities for the book club to do together. She provides tips for moms to help their daughters when facing obstacles and challenges.
With this type of club, Day says it’s crucial to choose mothers who are socially compatible and who share common values. “Relationships between young girls can change at any moment,” she says, “so the relationships between the moms must be the glue that holds the club together over time.”
Day says mother-daughter book clubs are not only a way for girls to find their inner voices, but for mothers to do the same. The moms become trusted allies who help each other navigate a culture that is not always supportive of their parenting.
The purpose to empower might be the motivation that keeps some mother-daughter book clubs from falling apart. It provides a larger mission, other than the goal of reading more books.
But Moms take note: “Having issues to think about would be helpful,” says Katerina, “but I don’t know that my club would have liked that. They would be more like, “Let’s have fun!”
Day says you do not want to make this seem like added work for the girls. Whatever kind of book club you create, Moms, don’t forget the fun.
Question for parents: What about a mother-son or father-son book club? Would this interest your boy?
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