Nearly nine years ago when I started my first book club with my oldest daughter, we weren’t worried about finding enough good books that would entertain us both. For years I had been reading classics out loud to both of my daughters. Charlotte’s Web and other E.B. White books were our favorites, as were The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum and Mrs. Piggle Wiggle by Betty MacDonald. But when we began to read as part of a group we started to look at the books we read in a new light. Suddenly it became important for us to choose books that moms and daughters would both enjoy reading and would give us things to talk about too.
We also realized that a lot of books geared to children were either too heavy or too light on the issues for our group taste. Like Goldilocks and her search for the just-right porridge, we wanted just-right books. We were not alone in our quest. While there are no figures to pin down the exact number of mother-daughter book clubs in the U.S., all signs point to their growing trend. New groups are forming in libraries and meeting in private homes. They are also gathering in bookstores and coffee shops. These clubs are all different in many ways, but they all have one common factor: two generations of readers who want to be entertained and engaged. Fortunately, book clubs have more than the classics to choose from, as there appears to be no shortage of authors currently penning new works that appeal to a wide age range.
What makes a book good for all ages? The best books for readers who range from elementary school students to moms and grandmas will have meaning on more than one level. This means the girls will be able to grasp parts of the story that resonate with them based on their ages, while the moms may be able to pick up deeper currents at work. For instance, when my daughter’s group read Millions, by Frank Cottrell Boyce, the girls identified with young Damien, who was trying to find his way in the world after his mother died. The moms could see Damien’s situation from a parent’s perspective, and we could also understand Damien’s dad’s struggle.
Timeless themes are interesting to most everyone. Friendship, family relationships, honor, self-reliance, moral dilemmas, and love are some of the issues most of us deal with at some point in our lives. It can be helpful to see how characters in a book deal with those same issues and then talk about them in a group. When my younger daughter’s book club read Bloomability by Sharon Creech, we were able to talk about a child’s fear of abandonment, making new friends, and finding self-confidence and independence.
Books with a range of issues are also more likely to appeal to the multiple personality types that usually exist among the younger and older generations in a group. And to some extent, disagreement about the issues is what makes for a lively discussion. If everyone in the book club has the same opinion of what they read, there’s nothing to talk about. This happened to us when we read Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. We all generally liked it, but after the girls got through saying “Edward is the perfect boy,” and giving details about how they thought he was perfect, there was nothing left to discuss. Even though the moms wanted to talk about the dangers of giving up everything you know in life for a boy, the girls were not engaged in that discussion.
What else are mother-daughter book clubs looking for? When possible, they want to connect with the authors of the books they read. In my clubs, we’ve invited authors who live nearby to our meetings, and we’ve visited them at bookstore readings. Other clubs I know of connect through Skype, phone conference calls, and email. Club members love talking with authors, because they get insight into the characters and plot of the book. The advantage to authors? Feedback on how readers interpret what they wrote and ideas for the future. Authors may also gain loyal readers who are willing to pick up anything new that they write. I know we’ll continue to anticipate and buy new works from Gennifer Choldenko, Zlata Filipovic, Markus Zusak and Laura Whitcomb because we connected with them personally in our book clubs.
Authors looking to interact with mother-daughter book clubs can find them through local libraries and bookstores. They can also let book bloggers and others reviewing their books know they are willing to connect with groups. Personal websites are another way to encourage readers to get in touch. Book group members wanting to meet authors can read local news listing authors’ bookstore appearances, and they can often get in touch with authors directly through their websites.
The symbiotic relationship between mother-daughter book club members and writers has the potential to grow in the years to come. Both benefit when they connect over great books.
Cindy Hudson is the author of Book by Book: The Complete Guide to Creating Mother-Daughter Book Clubs (Seal Press, October 2009). She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and two daughters. Visit her online at www.MotherDaughterBookClub.com and www.MotherDaughterBookClub.wordpress.com.