Book Review: A Great Book About Books

April 27, 2007


There’s a new addition to my reference shelf that’s been really helpful when I or my daughters want to look for a new book to read. It’s called 500 Great Books for TEENS by Anita Silvey. I love the easy way books are categorized here. Age recommendations come right under the book title so I can easily see that The Whale Rider is best for 12–14 year olds while Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods is probably more suited to older teens.

And the categories are great! I can look for humorous books, classics, mysteries and thrillers, war and conflict books and many more classifications that will help suit the mood for the type of book my daughters and I are looking for.

Silvey’s done a nice job, too, with the extras at the end. I can look up books that take place in certain states or countries or at a certain historical times. My daughters and I are actually psyched about checking off the books on the lists we’ve already read then adding more as we read more.

I haven’t looked at Silvey’s book for younger kids called 100 Best Books for Children, but if it’s anything like this one, I expect it to be a great resource for your club.

New List—Favorite Authors

April 26, 2007

Favorite authors are those who inspire you to read everything they’ve written. You anxiously await new works they publish and decide you want to own their books permanently in your personal library.

Often, books we read in our book clubs don’t live up to our expectations, so finding one that inspires us to read more by the author is exciting. With that in mind, I’ve created a new list of Favorite Authors for mother daughter book clubs to explore.

And here’s an idea for your meeting: have each mother daughter team pick a different book by the same author to read and see if your discussion brings insight about the writer as well as what he’s written. Or split the group in two and read two books by the same author. Instead of focusing discussion on characters, you can talk about messages and themes in the books and delve a little more deeply into what you think the author is trying to say with his work.

Here’s a list of some of our favorite authors and books they’ve written to get you started:

  • Richard Peck: A Long Way from Chicago, A Year Down Yonder, Fair Weather, The Teacher’s Funeral
  • Sharon Creech: Bloomability, Chasing Redbird, Granny Torrelli Makes Soup
  • Kate DiCamillo: Because of Winn Dixie, The Tale of Despereaux
  • Frank Cottrell Boyce: Millions, Framed, Cosmic
  • Cornelia Funke: The Thief Lord, Inkheart, Inkspell, Dragon Rider
  • Roald Dahl: Boy, Going Solo, Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, The BFG, Fantastic Mr. Fox
  • Paula Danziger: P.S. Longer Letter Later, Remember Me to Harold Square
  • Meg Cabot: The Princess Diaries series
  • Susan Fletcher: Alphabet of Dreams, Shadow Spinner, Walk Across the Sea, Dragon Chronicles series
  • Jennifer Holm: Our Only May Amelia, Boston Jane

Check the reviews category here to read more about many of these books. And don’t forget to send in your comments so I can add your favorite authors to the list.

Structuring A Mother-Daughter Book Club Meeting

April 20, 2007

By chance, both of my book clubs with my daughters were scheduled for the same week recently. Typically I don’t like several evening events scheduled for the same week, but this provoked just the opposite reaction in me. I was really looking forward to two evenings of fun during the week without the worries of events I “had to” attend.

I think that’s because book club is about so much more than the books. Both of my groups follow a similar format. We start off with pure socializing time where the girls head off for a play room and the moms congregate in the kitchen. For the mom’s that usually means conversation time about what our daughter’s are experiencing at home or school and to get advice from the others in our group. We also talk about our work and volunteering jobs as well as family issues. Over the years we’ve supported each other when one of us has gone through breast cancer treatment, the death of a parent or other life struggles.

After social time comes dinner and more socializing. We’re still in separate groups of girls and moms, and I find this is when we start to share ideas about the book we read with our peer groups; usually it’s something the moms don’t want their daughters to hear and vice versa. It’s a way we have of taking the pulse of what others thought before we settle into our group discussion.

When the group finally gets together, we sit in a circle, but we don’t necessarily voice our opinions by taking turns. The hostesses usually lead the discussion by starting off with a  question or two, and then one topic often leads into another. For instance, our recent discussion on The Crucible started with the beliefs of early American settlers, and several girls expressed amazement that people then so readily believed charges of witchcraft. But we quickly morphed into talk about how “witch hunts” can happen in general, and several people contributed fairly recent examples. When we modernized the idea, it was easier for everyone to see how a witch hunt mentality can take hold of even sensible people.

Interaction between group members is what makes this part so much fun. One idea leads to another leads to another. We usually say goodnight reluctantly, all of us aware that the alarm rings early in the morning.

Do you have things that you find work particularly well for your group or a structure you’d like to share? I’d love to see your comments about your club.

Cindy Hudson, author of Book by Book: The Complete Guide to Creating Mother-Daughter Book Clubs. Photo by David Kinder

Book Review: Stolen Voices,edited by Zlata Filipovic and Melanie Challenger

April 13, 2007


My seventh-grade daughter, Catherine, and I read this collection of war diaries from World War I to Iraq for our book club. We read it aloud together, and I’m glad we did. It gave us a chance to talk about the historical times each of the wars was set in and discuss the difficulties each of the diarists experienced. Particularly interesting were the views expressed by young people writing in Israel, Palestine and Iraq, since those conflicts are current events.

During our group discussion we sat in a circle and each of the girls and moms talked about the diary that lingered in their minds the most. Not surprisingly many of us chose Inge, a Jewish girl sent from Austria with her sister to stay with an English family during World War II. Since the girls are the same age Inge was when she was writing, the anguish she experienced at leaving her parents and her home resonated particularly with us.

I worried that the subject matter would be too intense for middle school girls, because some of the descriptions are particularly strong. And not all the diarists survive. But during our discussion it was quite clear that the girls had learned a lot from reading the book, and they highly recommended it for other girls their age. In fact, one of our members had not read Stolen Voices before our meeting, but said she couldn’t wait to start after hearing the rest of us talk about it.

I think Stolen Voices is an important book for people of all ages, but it’s especially important for the young. And I think it’s a great book to read with a group.

The diary of Zlata Filipovic, one of the editors, is also included in the collection. A line from one of her entries sums up the sentiment that was a common thread among many of the diarists, “I simply don’t understand it. Of course, I’m ‘young’ and politics are conducted by ‘grown-ups.’ But I think we ‘young’ would do it better. We certainly wouldn’t have chosen war….”

Click here to read an interview with Filipovic.

Interview with Frank Cottrell Boyce

April 11, 2007


Frank Cottrell Boyce is the author of two books—Millions and Framed—that are great mother-daughter book club reads because their appeal spans the age groups. I saw the movie Millions with my family before I read the book, and we all fell in love with this wonderful film told through the voice of Damian, an engaging fourth-grade boy trying to find his way after the death of his mother. When my daughters and I spotted Framed on a library display shelf and noticed it was by the same author, we immediately picked up both books and chose them for each of our book clubs. It turned out to be a great decision. The three of us thoroughly enjoyed reading and discussing both books, and we had interesting discussions on them at our book club meetings.

Framed is on my list of Books to Make You Laugh Out Loud. We laughed a lot in Millions, too, but it didn’t make the list. I think that’s because it would feel like a betrayal to the main character, Damian, who was very serious in his innocence.

I recently interviewed Boyce by e-mail for and came to appreciate this author even more. And now I know that I have another movie and a new book from his pen to look forward to soon, when Cottrell’s next book, Cosmic, is published and Framed comes out on film. Here’s an excerpt from the interview. For the complete text click here.

The main characters in both Millions and Framed are young boys. Why is that?

FCB: Oohhh. I’m not sure really. In Millions it just worked out that way—it felt like a story about brothers. Then when I started getting letters and messages from people a huge number said the same thing—i.e. “my little boy would never read books but he read this one.” There is a problem in England about getting boys to read so I suppose in Framed I consciously decided to write something that boys would like but that wasn’t necessarily car chases and guns.

Are you planning anything that will feature girls as main characters?

FCB: Well I think Minnie is one of the best characters in Framed—she’s certainly taking up a lot of room in the screenplay. And there’s a very vibrant girl called Florida Digby in my new bookCosmic.

Do you talk to your children about ideas for your books?

FCB: Yes. But they’re very harsh. I read my new book to them at Christmas and they hated it so much I had to start again. My ten-year-old son loves Millions and can more or less recite the first chapter.

Do you base your characters on people in your life?

FCB: Not consciously but afterwards I recognize certain things about them. For instance Dylan is lonely for male company and my ten year old is just the same. He has three brothers but two of them are much older and one of them is a lot younger. So he has no one to play football with except me. So I guess there’s a lot of Dylan in him. Also because he has older brothers and sisters, he has a big vocabulary that he doesn’t necessarily understand. So I think a lot of Anthony’s talk about mortgages and tax relief etc. comes from that.

I understand that Framed is being made into a movie. Did you write the screenplay and when can we expect to see it?

FCB: I’m writing the screenplay and hoping it will be shot next Spring for broadcast the following Christmas.

Who would you recommend read your books?

FCB: Anyone and everyone! I think because the books are narrated by children, adults read them differently. I think adults find them funnier and children find them more moving.

What’s the best part of being an author?

FCB: Being able to work in bed. And also reading to children in schools.

What’s your next project?

FCB: I’m working on the films of Framed and of Terry Pratchett’s Truckers. And I’m finishing my next book (Cosmic)

Millions: Read the Book, Watch the Movie

April 3, 2007


My daughter, Madeleine, and I decided to try something different the last time we picked a book for her mother daughter book club. We chose to read Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce, which is also available to watch as a movie.

The girls are all in high school, and it’s sometimes a challenge for them to read books for pleasure, because they have so much reading homework for their classes. We thought they would look forward to watching a movie together and if one or two girls hadn’t found time to read the book they could still participate in the conversation.

We moved our meeting night to Sunday evening so we could gather earlier than usual and spend more time together. After dinner we settled in to have dessert and watch the movie, and when it was over we were able to talk about ways the book and the movie were different. We talked about changes we liked or disliked, and how the pictures of the characters we formed in our minds while reading lived up to the characters on screen.

If you’re not familiar with the story, Millions is about a boy named Damian who believes a bag of money that drops from the sky onto his playhouse came from God. He wants to give it to the poor, but his brother Anthony wants to invest it in real estate. The boys’ mother has recently died, and they and their father are adjusting to life without her. Millions blends humor, mystery, adventure and heart-warming moments all into one beautiful little book. And the movie is a wonderful adaption, probably in no small part because Boyce was the author of both.

Our blended book/movie talk was a nice break from our regular routine, and Millions was a good choice for both reading and watching. School Library Journal recommends it for 4th—8th grade, but I think it’s a story that anyone can love.