Finding Time to Read

October 30, 2007

“When do you find time to read?” I hear the question all the time from moms and dads, but rarely from kids. Kids who like to read seem to be good at finding time to read even when they’re staring down several hours of homework and sports practice in the evenings after school. It seems to help them relax or take a break when they’re dealing with other challenging mental issues.

In some ways I think of reading as “massage for the mind,” which means a way to completely and totally relax and rejuvenate my mind so I can go back to handling the million little details that crowd my day. When I’m reading I’m not thinking about anything but the words in front of me, and that total concentration helps me to tackle the other issues with more energy when I get back to work.

So when do I read? In the morning with my daughter before she catches the school bus. In the afternoon with my older daughter when she gets home from school. At lunch, while I munch on a sandwich. During my daughter’s piano lesson. While I’m in the car waiting to pick one of my daughters up from an after school activity. Before bed. Since I read a little bit at different times of the day, I also find myself thinking about characters from a fiction book or real issues from a nonfiction book as I go through other mundane tasks like doing the laundry or vacuuming the carpet. And that helps me process what I’m reading better.

I can’t imagine having a day with nothing to read. For me, it would be harder, not easier, to get everything done without knowing there’s a book waiting nearby.

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Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

October 25, 2007

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When my oldest daughter, Madeleine, was in fifth grade, we read Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli in our mother-daughter book club. The girls all liked it, but they couldn’t really identify well with the issues brought up in the book: What does it mean to be popular in school, can you find friends who accept you for who you are even when you’re different from the mainstream, are you strong enough to go against the popular mindset by befriending someone who is different?

The moms on the other hand, got the issues exactly.  We remembered all too well the days of junior high and high school when you’re not only trying to determine who you are, but also realizing that who you choose to hang out with is a reflection of that. We thought the book was excellently done, and that we had maybe read it when our girls were too young.

I’ve been thinking about that lately because my youngest daughter, Catherine, is reading Stargirl now. She’s in eighth grade, and she’s really enjoying it. The things she’s reading about are resonating with her, because she’s seen similar situations happen with kids in middle school.

Amazon.com recommends this book for ages 10 – 14, but I’m more inclined to agree with the age recommendation by Publisher’s Weekly, which is 12 and up. It’s perfect for a mother-daughter book group because the adults will appreciate Spinelli’s excellent writing as well as identify what he’s writing about, and girls in middle school and older will be able to make correlations between situations in the book and things they deal with in their own social and school lives.

I’m looking forward to discussing Stargirl with Catherine when she’s done reading it, and we’re both looking forward to reading the sequel, Love, Stargirl.


Author’s Website—Sharon Creech

October 23, 2007

My mother-daughter book clubs have read two of Sharon Creech’s books: Bloomability and Granny Torrelli Makes Soup. We had great discussions about both books, and we also had fun coming up with food ideas for our meetings.

My daughters and I both like Sharon’s writing so much, we’ve also read several book on our own, including Chasing Redbird, Walk Two Moons, and The WandererRuby Holler.

Sharon has a great Web site with information about her books that would be helpful background if you’re reading one of them for your book club. She also includes teaching guides for Bloomability and Chasing Redbird that may add to your discussions.

Check out Sharon’s site at www.sharoncreech.com.


Interview with Gennifer Choldenko

October 18, 2007

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Gennifer Choldenko, whose latest book If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period was released last month, spoke with me recently during a phone interview. I posted the full interview on MotherDaughterBookClub.com today. Here are a few excerpts:

Tell me about If a Tree Falls During Lunch Period.

GC: I had a lot of fun working on this book. My voice is naturally contemporary. It’s more of a challenge to get it to work in a historical setting.

There are a lot of issues in this book. You’re writing about classism and racism along with typical middle school issues of being popular and going through puberty. How did you decide to write about these things?

GC: I think a lot of things came into play in this book. Classism bugs me, and yet I see it all around. Also, when I was kid I was bused from a predominantly white school to a predominantly African American junior high. All of a sudden I felt like I was the color of my skin wherever I went, and I felt like somehow I had to be representative of that. Or else people judged me based on skin color before they knew me. I had never experienced anything like that. I had never thought about the color of my skin. So it made a huge impression and I think that sort of seeped into this book also.

I struggled with getting the voices of Kirsten and Walk right. It was scary to create a character of a different race, because I felt like I was going to open myself up to criticism. But I also felt like not doing it was wrong. So I had to do the right thing for the book even if I didn’t feel like other people would necessarily agree with me on that.

I understand you’re in a Mother Daughter Book Club with your daughter?

Yes. I’ve really enjoyed it and I hope we continue on for many years. I think it will be fun as the kids grow and change and become more sophisticated and probably interact with books in a different way. My daughter is a voracious reader, but she doesn’t speak up much in the book group. She always looks forward to our meetings, and if for some reason I have to miss one she’s really unhappy about it. That’s the best indication that it means something to her.

For more information on Gennifer, check out her Web site, www.choldenko.com.


Games Can Keep Mother-Daughter Book Clubs Discussion Moving Along

October 16, 2007

A reader from Milwaukee, Wisconsin recently sent in a few ideas for games to play during a meeting. Here’s what she had to say:

“In addition to the discussion, some of our meetings ‘pit’ mothers against daughters in games quizzing us on the book—we’ve played Jeopardy, Deal or No Deal and others. It provides a little change to the agenda. We have a short game and then discuss the book.”

What great ideas to get lively discussions going. Sometimes the books my club members have liked the most have generated the least discussion, because we couldn’t think of anything to say beyond, “I really liked everything about this book.” Situations like this would really benefit from a game that brought out different aspects of the book that the group could then talk about.

Here are a few book recommendations from the group in Milwaukee for 7th – 8th graders:

Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pies by Jordan Sonnenblick
Chinese Cinderella: The True Story of an Unwanted Daughter
by Adeline Yen Mah
Pobby and Dingan by Ben Rice (short but impactful)


A Reading with Gennifer Choldenko

October 12, 2007

My daughter, Catherine, and I went to see Gennifer Choldenko when she spoke at Powell’s Books in Portland on Monday. She gave a wonderful presentation, and she talked about how she writes her books as well as gave details about Al Capone Does My Shirts and her new book, If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period. She also read the first chapter of the latter book.

Three of the six girls in our group made it to the reading. They loved it! They got to meet one of their favorite authors and have her sign copies of their books. They asked questions, and they got to know a little bit about the person who created the story they had read and loved so much.

It was interesting to hear Gennifer say that she writes about middle school, because she remembers those years so vividly.  “Anything can happen, because everything is changing,” she said. “I give my characters a lot to deal with because life is scary sometimes.”

Indeed. Here’s a group photo we took that night:

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Attending an author appearance makes a great outing for your group. Check listings in your local paper, or look for flyers at your favorite bookstore to find out about upcoming appearances. You can also check the author’s Web site, which often lists places where she will be talking.


Spice up Your Book Club Meetings by Inviting in an Expert

October 7, 2007

Have you ever considered bringing an outside expert into your mother-daughter book club meeting? Inviting a guest can energize your group and get everyone excited about your upcoming gathering, but how do you decide whom to invite?

The author is the most obvious answer, and with just a little research you can probably find the author of a children’s or young adult book who lives near you or may be traveling in your direction. Some authors even say they are willing to talk to Mother Daughter Book Clubs by phone. Contact local writer’s organizations to check for authors who live nearby.

But you can also bring in others who may also enhance the reading experience. For instance, if you read a book on historical fiction like Our Only May Amelia by Jennifer Holm, you could ask someone from your local historical society to join you for the discussion. She could possibly even bring along pioneer tools or other implements from the time period that can help bring history to life.

Youth librarians are usually very good at helping people dig to get a greater understanding of what they’ve read. Hold a special meeting at the library to tap into the resources there if you regularly meet at home.

With just a little thought, you can probably come up with someone to invite as a guest for most books that you read.  It’s just a question of deciding when your group may need a little boost or would enjoy the change of pace that a guest can bring to your meeting.

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