Try This Game at Your Next Mother-Daughter Book Club Meeting

January 30, 2009

Whether your mother-daughter book club has been meeting for years or if it’s just getting started, you can probably have fun with a get to know you game. Sometimes, the people we think we know best surprise us the most with answers to a series of questions. Here’s how to play:

Mix moms and daughters in pairs and have them interview each other. Each can spend about five minutes finding out favorites of the other: favorite color, movie, book, food, dessert, etc. Other questions could include: Where were you born? What is your middle name? How many houses have you lived in? What was the address of your first house? What would others be surprised to learn about you? Then you can take turns introducing each other to the rest of the group.

Book Review: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

January 28, 2009


Readers who also receive my newsletter will know how much I like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, as I reviewed it in this month’s newsletter and recommended it as a gift in December. Here’s the review for blog readers not signed up for my quarterly newsletter. Here’s the review:

Arnold Spirit is a freshman at a high school on the Spokane Indian reservation in northwest Washington. All his life he’s been picked on because he looks strange: his head is large because he was born with hydrocephalus, he has seizures, too many teeth and he wears thick glasses. But Arnold is very smart, and he likes drawing. When a teacher counsels him to find hope in the form of attending a white high school off the reservation, Arnold makes a bold move toward a future he didn’t think was possible.

Through Arnold’s eyes we see the problems faced by many on modern Indian reservations: alcoholism, poverty, lack of opportunity and despair. Yet, we also find acceptance of the shortcomings among those we call family and a way to follow your dreams without denigrating those you leave behind.

Arnold’s story is for anyone who chooses to follow a different path than the one clearly laid out before him. Issues of race, friendship, love and community should provide great discussion for mother-daughter book club members.

After reading this book I look forward to discovering other titles by Sherman Alexie, including The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Reservation Blues, and Flight: A Novel.

Book Club Meeting: Reading Jane Austen Books

January 27, 2009

Last week Madeleine and I hosted our mother-daughter book club for the last time with the group as it is! As our daughters are graduating from high school in a few months, after June we won’t be having regular meetings the way we have for the last eight years. Happily the moms all vowed to keep our book club going with the older generation, but it won’t be the same without our daughters at the meetings.

We had a great time catching up; most of us had not seen each other since before Christmas. I cooked a pot roast and added turnips, parsnips, potatoes and carrot. It was easy to accommodate our vegetarian member with a couple of baked potatoes and toppings. Such great comfort food for cold winter meetings.

We ate gingerbread cream cheese cupcakes for desert and talked about Jane and her times. Since we had paired up to chose different Jane Austen books, we talked a little first about her life in general. We learned that although she wrote Northanger Abby and Persuasion before Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion was published after the other two and Northanger Abby was published after her death. Mansfield Park, a sober work, may have reflected her own sober feelings of being unmarried and in her 30s during the English society of her time.

Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice were the favorites of the group. I read Mansfield Park and Northanger Abby, then I picked up Emma. I had so much fun reading it I’m looking forward to revisiting the movie with Gwyneth Paltrow again.

Next up, our group is reading Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. I don’t expect it to be funny, based on the movie trailer, but I hear it’s a very well written book and I’m looking forward to reading it.

Our Next Book Club Choice—Revolutionary Road, the Movie Opens Today

January 23, 2009

Madeleine and I will be reading Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates for our book club next month. While we have no set date to see the movie that opens today as a group, we would like to make it a book/movie combo experience. Just last year that wouldn’t have been possible, since the movie is rated R, but this year all our daughters are 17 and 18.

Here’s the link to the movie’s official Web site where you can watch a trailer and find other information:

I’ve heard wonderful things about Richard Yates’s novels, and I look forward to discovering this new author for me.

Activities to Go with Books—Suggestions for Mother-Daughter Book Clubs

January 21, 2009

Mother-daughter book club mom Tamie Osterloh from Council Bluffs, Iowa, recently wrote in to share ideas for activities her group has paired with books they have read. Tamie’s club started just two years ago this month, and they have been on the go since. Here are some of the books they have read along with activities they’ve done to go along with the book:

  • Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer—we went to the rink and went roller skating together.
  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett—we visited the botanical garden in town.
  • Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt—we went on a nature hike and had a sunset picnic together.
  • Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists–Mary Cassatt by Mike Venezia—we visited the art museum in town to see one of Mary’s paintings.
  • Hatchet by Gary Paulsen—together we met for a bike ride on the bike trail close to our house (which is a converted rail road line and isolated).
  • Yankee Doodle Gals by Amy Nathan and Eileen Collins—we toured the Strategic Air Command (SAC) museum and the girls got to ride on a flight simulator.
  • Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates by Mary Dodge—we all plan to meet at the end of this month to ice skate together.

Thanks Tamie for sending in your great suggestions.

Book Review: The Book of Nonsense by David Michael Slater

January 19, 2009


The Book of Nonsense by David Michael Slater is a treat for mystery lovers, magic lovers and just general book lovers. Daphna and her twin Dexter are as different as twins can be. Daphna loves books and volunteers reading at the local retirement home. Dex skips school and doesn’t want to be anywhere near a bookstore. This puts Dex at odds with his father too, who finds and sells rare books.

But both twins are put out by their dad’s (Milton) latest scouting trip, which kept him away from home for six weeks in the summer. Their mother died when they were young, and they are cared for by her best friend. The mystery really starts when the dad returns home the day before the twins’ 13th birthday, and Daphna takes him to see the labrynthine bookstore she has discovered over the summer. Milton hopes to sell a strange book he has discovered, and when Milton shows his book to the old man who owns the store, Daphna hides behind a stack of books to watch what happens. She is surprised to see that her dad doesn’t negotiate at all. In fact, he gives the book away after agreeing that Daphna herself will show up the next day to work as the old man’s assistant.

Why did her father give away a book he wanted to sell? Why did he agree for her to work as an assistant, starting on her birthday? What is the significance of this book of nonsense that her father found?

Readers will follow the twins as they overcome their differences and work to solve the mystery, which leads back to their mother’s past and threatens their future. My daughter Catherine picked this book up the day it came in and didn’t put it down until she finished it. The mystery kept her turning the pages. And while there is some violence towards the end of the story, it should be appropriate for readers aged 10 and above.

Book Review: Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry

January 16, 2009


Eleven-year-old Ignatius is the youngest of five sons, which is why everyone just calls him Brother. Growing up on a ranch in slightly populated Malhuer County, Oregon, Brother feels he has always been overshadowed by his older more capable brothers, who have always been around to do the hard work of ranching along with his dad and grandfather. But now his dad is leaving, his military reserve unit called to serve 14 months in Iraq, and the older sons are either away at boarding school, college or in the military as well. Brother will have to work with his grandparents to make the ranch run smoothly while his dad is gone.

Brother works hard at the ranch, but he’s not sure that ranching will be his life’s calling. He has always had a tender heart for animals that die, and working to keep things together will test him in ways he can’t imagine. Yet he’s determined to show everyone in the family that he can be counted on to hold things together while they are gone.

Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry reveals the heart of today’s ranching communities and the values that keep those communities together: the importance of family, the church, love of and service to our country, and neighbors pulling together during times of crisis. Along the way Brother finds out what’s most important to him, and how to find his own path while honoring his family members’ commitments.

Even for those unconnected to the land, the story will resonate with it’s portrait of a boy working to go where his heart tells him. The story has appeal for both middle-grade readers in fourth grade and up, as well as adults.

Book Review: Playing War by Kathy Beckwith, illustrated by Lea Lyon

January 14, 2009


When I was young, I often played war in the back yard with my cousins. We made forts out of cardboard and collected hard, pea-sized berries from the Chinaball tree in our yard. Each side pelted the other until our supply of berries ran out. Then we called a truce, collected the ammunition that had fallen between forts, and started again.

I was reminded of my old pastime when I read Playing War, written by Kathy Beckwith and illustrated by Lea Lyon. It’s summer and the children in the book are bored with playing basketball, lobbing water balloons and riding bikes. They decide to play war and divide into soldiers and enemies, then collect pinecones and sticks to use for ammunition.

But their game changes when one of the friends, Sameer, talks about the real war that kids find in his homeland, and how it affects their lives. Playing War is a picture book intended for elementary school readers. It exposes young readers to current events in an age-appropriate way, and it provides an entrée to talk about some of the issues going on in many parts of the world where children are enlisted as soldiers, or their families are affected by fighting. Playing War is a good read-aloud book appropriate for younger girls in mother-daughter book clubs.

Book club Meeting and Book Review: Ireland by Frank Delaney

January 12, 2009


Last night Catherine and I went to our mother-daughter book club meeting at Show-Ling and Jaeda’s house. We had all read Ireland, by Frank Delaney. At 560 pages it weighed in (literally) as more than the books we usually read, but we’ve been knowing our book choice since early November so we had a bit of time to read it.

Show-Ling made cabbage soup and baked potatoes with toppings as an Irish-themed-sort of dinner. Then we had yummy homemade apple pie for dessert. We all had so much to catch up on since we hadn’t seen each other for nearly two months that it was hard to break away and talk about the book.

Jaeda had a list of questions she wanted us all to answer during the discussion, and we went around in a circle talking about the two story lines that appear in Ireland: that of the storyteller’s tales of Irish history, and that of Ronan’s own story.

Most of us liked learning more about the history of Ireland. And I think a lot of us would love to be able to hear those tales as told through a storyteller like the one in the book. Listening to Ireland as an audiobook might enhance its enjoyment.

While many of were enchanted with Ronan’s story, we were less forgiving of how the novel progressed along those lines. We did discuss how Ronan makes a somewhat classical heroe’s journey throughout the novel, moving from childhood to adulthood along the way. But we didn’t like the secrecy that surrounded so much of his life and circumstances. I won’t spoil the plot with more details, as the readers know all along that something mysterious is happening in the background as Ronan searches for the storyteller through so many years.

All in all I would rate Ireland a good novel for readers in high school and older, but I don’t recommend it for a mother-daughter book club. While clubs can tackle longer choices, they don’t work in most situations, when clubs are meeting monthly or even every six weeks.

Interview with Tatiana de Rosnay, Author of Sarah’s Key

January 9, 2009

Not long ago I reviewed Sarah’s Key, a novel set in France during two time periods—World War II and today. I had the opportunity to connect by email with the author of Sarah’s Key, Tatiana de Rosnay, and ask her a few questions about her background, about her book, and what she’s working on now. Here’s the book review, followed by the interview:


Set in both 1942 and modern times, Sarah’s Key is a mystery as well as a heartbreaking look at the round up and deportation of Jewish families from Paris to Auschwitz in what became known as the Vel d’Hiv for the place the families gathered—the Vélodrome d’Hiver, or winter velodrome.

Ten-year-old Sarah Starzynski is sleeping when the Paris police bang on her apartment door.  Her family had heard of Jews being rounded up, but only the men. So Sarah’s father was hidden in the basement, thinking his family was safe. But the police came for everyone this night. Sarah’s four-year-old brother, Michel, stubbornly refused to go and insisted on hiding in a secret cupboard before the police saw him. Sarah locked Michel in and promised to come back when she returned.

Sixty years later, Julia Jarmond, an American journalist living in Paris, investigates the story of the Vel d’Hiv and uncovers Sarah’s story when she finds out that her husband’s family moved into Sarah’s apartment after her family left. She is determined to find what happened to Sarah and Michel, in the process uncovering family secrets that some think would be best to leave buried.

Gripping and emotional, this fast-paced book brings to life Paris in the 1940s and in modern times. It takes a frank look at a nation and a people who for so long would not come to grips with its complicity in sending its own citizens to die in Nazi concentration camps. It also follows Julia as she delves deeper into the story while confronting conflicts of her own with her husband and his family. I recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 14 and up.

Interview with Tatiana de Rosnay


How did you decide to become a writer?

TR: I was 11 years old and had just read Anne Frank’s diary, was terribly moved by it, and decided to start my own diary. Then I read The Young Visitors by Daisy Ashford, who had published her first book at nine years old. I found it most inspiring, so I wrote a 90-paged novel for my mother’s birthday on a school note book. It was called “A girl named Carrie,” the story of a poor little rich girl in 19th century London. My mother was thankfully very enthusiastic. And so I decided to pursue the experience, and every year, I wrote a novel for my family and kept writing my diary. But I didn’t seek publication until my late twenties.

Can you tell us a little about your background and where you live?

TR: My father is French, of Russian descent and my mother is British. I was born in France, and raised in the USA where my father taught at MIT in Boston as a scientist. I then went to high school in Paris, and then on to college in England. I now live in Paris with my husband and children.

There are many stories about the Holocaust. What makes Sarah’s Key different?

TR: Maybe the fact that there are two voices in the book, a voice from the past and a voice from the present is what makes it different.

When did you become familiar with the round up of Jews in Paris, referred to as the Vel d’Hiv?

TR: Like most French school children of my generation, I was not taught about this event at school, during the 70’s. I heard about it for the first time through President Chirac’s speech in 1995. He was the first French president to publicly acknowledge the role of the French police during the Vel d’Hiv round-up.

What made you want to write about it?

TR: I was appalled by what I discovered concerning the roundup, especially about what happened to those 4,000 Jewish children, and I knew I had to write about it. I needed to write about it. But I also knew it could not be a historical novel—I am not a historian—it had to have a more contemporary feel to it. And that’s how I imagined Julia’s story taking place today, linked to Sarah’s, back in the 40’s.

What other kind of research did you conduct before writing your story?

TR: Writing Sarah’s Key took me to Drancy and Beaune La Rolande, places around Paris which have a dreaded past that cannot be forgotten despite time going by. My visits there were poignant and memorable. I read everything I could concerning the round-up and I met Vel d’Hiv survivors, other unforgettable moments.

How long did it take you to write Sarah’s Key?

TR: It took me two years, including my research.

Why did you decide to tell this story in two eras-Paris during World War II and in modern times?

TR: The idea for the book came to me that way: linking two stories. Sarah’s story, seen through the eyes of a little Parisian girl forced to wear a yellow star and whose life dramatically changed in July 1942. And then Julia’s story, today, an American married to a French man. Because she is commissioned by her magazine to write about the Vel d’Hiv’s anniversary, she plunges into the horror of July ’42. That way, through Julia’s modern story, I could reveal the taboos and scars that the Vel d’Hiv has left in France, sixty years later.

I understand people affected by the Holocaust have been touched by your book. Would you please share a story or two about that?

TR: I met  several Vel d’Hiv survivors who had read my book. They are in their 70s and 80s, but when I look at them, I see the children they used to be. Suzy C. is my neighbor, she lives directly above me. She moved in a couple of years ago, just as I was finishing the book. She is in her 80’s, a wonderful, chirpy, small, round woman, with bright blue eyes. Her husband Maurice is also the most fantastic old gentleman. One day, just before Sarah’s Key was due to be published in France, I meet Suzy in a shop on our street and we have a little chat. She asks me what my new book is about, and I tell her. All of a sudden, her face goes very pale. She stops smiling. She puts a hand on my arm. We are in a noisy shop, but it seems to have become very silent. She says “Tatiana, on July 16th 1942 I was your daughter’s age. The French police came to our home at dawn. They took our mother but they wouldn’t take me or my sister. We begged to be taken with mother; we had no idea where they were going, what was going to happen. But they wouldn’t hear of it. They shoved us away and ordered us to take off our stars. We didn’t know it yet, but that day, they saved our lives. Our mother never came back and after the war, we found out she had been exterminated at Auschwitz.” Later on, Suzy read my book. I was nervous about how she was going to react. But when I knocked on her door, she opened and just took me into her arms. Tears were running down her face. “Tatiana, thank you for writing this book. France needs to remember. The youngest generations need to know.”

You have a teenaged daughter. How did you talk to her about Sarah’s Key?

TR: When I started to write Sarah’s Key, my daughter was 11 years old, so technically she wasn’t a teenager yet! I told her and my son, who is two years older than she, all about this book; they were very much involved in its writing process. I took them to Beaune la Rolande, explained all I knew about the round-up. I guess both of them grew up with this book. This book is part of their lives !

Can you share with us what you’re working on now?

TR: I have just finished Boomerang, which will be published in France in April 2009. Not quite sure yet about the US publication date! It’s a love story with a dark twist. My hero is a 40-year-old man, Antoine, who will have to deal with a heavy family secret coming back like a boomerang. But in the middle of confusion and pain, he will fall in love. I’ve never written about love before, it was quite a wonderful experience!

Right now, I am now researching my new book, which takes place in 19th century Paris…

What else would you like readers of Mother Daughter Book to know?

TR: Just how happy I am to have been picked by this book club as I had heard about it during my US tour !  What’s more, if you want to contact me about Sarah’s Key, and if you would like me to call in to your book club and answer a few questions, please contact me on my brand new website at the book-club page :

I’d be very happy to hear from you and your book club!

All best from France,
Tatiana de Rosnay