How to start a mother-daughter book club: EW senior editor Tina Jordan offers tips for a rewarding endeavor

By Tina Jordan
April 10, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT

Tips for starting a mother-daughter book club

When my shy, quiet daughter Anna Belle — a voracious reader — was in fifth grade, I chanced upon a paperback called The Mother-Daughter Book Club and was instantly hooked. It sounded like a great way to get her and her friends to talk about the issues they were dealing with through a fun, lively discussion of books. And now, a year later, it turns out I wasn’t wrong: All five girls in the club, now middle-schoolers, really open up when we’re together, talking candidly about everything from peer pressure to racism to the nature of friendship. I’m continually surprised at how they rise to the challenge of difficult books, tackling them with real zeal (while, I must admit, some of the moms do some last-minute skimming!). The whole thing has been such a success, in fact, that we’ve spawned at least two other clubs.

Here’s what I’ve told other moms about what we’ve learned over the last year:

Limit your numbers. The author of The Mother-Daughter Book Club, Shireen Dodson, is a fan of big groups, but we’ve succeeded with five (all so talky that we actually wouldn’t want another). Having only five makes it easier to schedule meeting times, too. Also, for the club to really work, the girls need to read on roughly the same level.

Once a month is too much. Schoolwork is so demanding these days that it makes sense to meet less frequently — once every 6 to 8 weeks. The club should be fun, not a burden. To make things easy, we take turns hosting. At one meeting, we had a real afternoon tea; at another, a pizza dinner. Last time, at our house, my daughter wanted to make a dessert table, complete with cream puffs. (Unfortunately our dachshund almost stole the show when she snatched one off someone’s plate.)

Moms: Know when to butt out! It’s easy for well-meaning moms to want to jump in and direct the discussion — but it’s better to let the girls do it. In our club, the girl who hosts also writes a dozen or so questions out beforehand. The moms talk, of course, and sometimes suggest ideas or pose questions, but in general let the daughters do everything else.

Choose your books carefully. We started out ”easy” — the new Harry Potter book, an old Elizabeth Enright novel — but, under the gentle guidance of the moms, graduated to more complex fare pretty quickly: House of the Scorpion, Inkspell, To Kill a Mockingbird, Fish. The girls have brought their wildly different tastes to the club, and that’s been nice. As my daughter says, ”I like reading books I might not have picked up myself.” The Mother-Daughter Book Club has some good suggestions for titles. We’ve also gotten ideas from our local library and from our kids’ teachers. I must admit, the moms had a quick private discussion before okaying To Kill a Mockingbird; we worried that it might be too difficult on some levels for 11-year-olds. But they surprised us.

Will our group stay together as the girls — teetering on the brink of adolescence — get older? I’m willing to bet we will.

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