Book Review: Women Making America by Heidi Hemming and Julie Hemming Savage

May 26, 2009

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I’ve been reading a book called Women Making America by Heidi Hemming and Julie Hemming Savage and I think many of you would find it both interesting and useful. First, it’s a great resource for finding information and ideas when your daughter is assigned an essay to write about a woman she admires or about an historical figure The book is organized so well you can open to any page and find some historical tidbit that you may want to follow up on.

Second, it’s the perfect guide to have when your daughter starts to realize that not many women are featured in her school history book. This may happen early in her school years, but it will certainly happen by the time she is in middle school or high school. Even better, don’t wait until your daughter questions it on her own; buy a copy and keep it out on your family room coffee table. Pique her interest by opening to any page and reading one of the boxed facts like this one from the New Ways of Living 1865—1890 section: “Employers justified paying women less by hiring them only for unskilled positions. This was impossible in the case of cigar makers from Bohemia. Women were the experts. A war in Europe led thousands to immigrate to America in the 1870s. Arriving with their own tools, these skilled workers quickly earned enough money for their husbands and children to join them.”

Women Making America is organized by era. There are nine chapters, and each covers several decades in American history. Each chapter also highlights different topics, such as health, paid work, at home, education, beauty, amusements and the arts. Sidebars on every page offer little bits of information in pull-out boxes.

There are several historical illustrations and photos on each page, and most of them are fascinating pieces of history that make you want to find out more. Women Making America is a resource you will want to have around for years to come. I highly recommend it for homes with daughters of any age.


Young Reader’s Choice Awards Are Here

May 21, 2009

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The winners for this year’s Young Reader’s Choice Awards have been announced. This year the votes went to Kate DiCamillo’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, and Stephenie Meyer’s New Moon.

The Young Reader’s Choice Awards are interesting for several reasons. The nominated books all have to have been in publication for three years, the nominees are submitted by students, librarians and parents who live in the Pacific Northwest, and only 4th–12th grade students living in the Pacific Northwest can vote.

I have not read any of the winners this year, and I’m a bit confused that New Moon won since the rules state that sequels in a series can’t be nominated. It may be that the rule has been updated but not changed on the Web site.

I look forward to putting the winners as well as other nominees on my reading list this summer. Find the complete list of nominees for this year and winners and nominees in past years at the Young Reader’s Choice Awards Web site.


Book Review: Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning; Interview with Author Danette Haworth

May 20, 2009

I feel fortunate to have been introduced to Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning by Danette Haworth. This delightful book is great for mother-daughter book clubs, and it makes a good summer book for readers on their own.

Danette is graciously stopping by Mother Daughter Book Club as part of her blog tour with WOW! (Women on Writing) to answer a few questions. My review of Violet Raines follows the interview. I can’t wait to read more from this exciting debut author.

Danette Haworth

I believe this is your first book of fiction, what kind of writing have you done before?

DH: The first time I ever got paid for writing was during my tenure as a technical writer.  Technical writing is any sort of writing that involves instructions or documentation. That might sound a bit dry, but I worked for an agency that employed scientists and military engineers, and I found their work very creative!

How did you come to write this story?

DH: I originally sat down to write an adult book, but Violet pushed her way in and took things over! Then I wrote the story in alternating chapters, with Lottie having a view on what was going on. After completing the rough draft, I put the manuscript down for a couple of weeks and when I picked it back up, I knew the whole story belonged to Violet. I stripped Lottie’s chapters out and rewrote everything from Violet’s perspective.

I love both Violet and Lottie, and I’m glad I wrote those chapters for Lottie. She has a quiet wisdom that comes from being the oldest of four girls and acting as her mom’s stand-in when her mother is working at the farmer’s co-op. She’s the perfect best friend for Violet, who has no brothers and sisters and spends a lot of time stirring up her own activities because her mom’s at work. Violet loves to fold herself into Lottie’s family—even helping out with chores—and they love her too.

Violet is worried about losing her best friend to a new girl in town and conflicted by her feelings for Eddie, who may be growing into something more than her long-time buddy. How do you see Violet changing throughout the book?

DH: I see Violet changing in that her perspective of friendship broadens a little (just a little!) by the end of the book. She realizes that although friendships change over the course of time, the closeness never has to change. And those feelings for Eddie, whew! They’re just a whisper right now; that’s about as much as Violet can handle. But Eddie is a gracious boy and their friendship is precious to both of them.

What are some of the biggest issues you see for girls dealing with real-life situations such as these?

DH: For every girl who’s excited about boys and bras, there’s another girl hunching her shoulders to hide the changes in herself. Adolescence can be a weird, mixed-up time, especially for girls, whose changes can be viewed by anybody. Very well do I remember the days of boys snapping my bra strap or of asking a friend to walk behind me and check—just in case!

Having to worry about these gender-defining issues when you still play hopscotch is mind boggling! It’s a tremendous load for young girls to carry. That’s why it’s so important for girls to have a strong support system: good relationship with Mom, at least one true best friend, and a group of girls with whom she feels good with. Reports have come out over the years telling us that, generally speaking, self-esteem in girls plummets with the onset of puberty. Sports are highly recommended and you’ll see many, many articles stating girls involved in sports experience higher self esteem and lower incidence of drug use and sexual activity. I think this is because sports make us more aware of our bodies and how strong we are, what we’re capable of—that we are powerful. Also, sports give us one more group of people to identify ourselves with, and that would probably be true of any club a girl might be in, art club, tennis, band, etc.

Between the lightning storms, alligators, spiders and other bugs, nature is almost as much of a character in Violet Raines as the kids in the story. What role do you see her play in the book?

DH: Nature is a good friend to Violet. She sees the woods as a busy place; she notices things like dragonflies and lovebugs. To her, these things are not nuisances, they’re a population sector. Lightning is more than part of a rainstorm—it’s a spectacular light show that she watches and scores, ten being the very best kind of strike. Nature is, for Violet, a kind presence, even after the big lightning strike. Part of this might be Violet’s close relationship to God; she feels loved by God, so she naturally feels loved in his creation.

Despite all the scary things they encounter outdoors, Violet and her friends have a lot of fun exploring their neighborhood. What advantages do you see for kids who spend time discovering the world around them first hand?

DH: As a former kid who’d disappear for hours in the woods, I can tell you the biggest advantage in this kind of exploration is the independence. With no one telling you how to interpret what you encounter, your imagination is free. Boundless! You create your own games, make your own rules, and negotiate with your peers rather than going through a parental mediator. It makes you altogether stronger.

You’ve lived in many different places, what do you like most about living in Florida?

DH: I love that I can look outside anytime of year and be greeted with sunshine.

Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on now, and will we see more of Violet?

DH: I’m in revision with The Hotel of Blueberry Goodness (Walker 2010), in which a girl who lives in a hotel meets an eclectic group of friends, including a teenage runaway. My third book, Me and Jack (Walker 2011), is set in the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania and features a boy, the dog he adopts, and the unfriendly residents of the town to which they move.

Is there anything else you would like to say to readers of Mother Daughter Book Club?

DH: I hope you enjoy Violet Raines!

VIOLET-RAINES

Violet’s hometown of Mitchell Hammock, Florida, is a dangerous place full of alligators, coral snakes and lightening striking all over. But it’s also a place of adventure where net bridges swing over creeks, hollowed-out trees turn into secret hiding places, and kids feel safe exploring it all with friends.

Beneath the adventure lies a predictable routine for Violet. She goes to church on Sundays, helps her best-friend and next-door neighbor Lottie with a weekly fish fry afterwards, and explores the woods around her home with her other friend Eddie. She’s an only child who is on her own often while her mama works at the local bakery, but she’s never lonely.

When Melissa moves to town from the Northern city of Detroit, Violet’s predictable summer before junior high is suddenly anything but. Melissa likes make up and soap operas, and she writes to movie stars. Lottie takes to her immediately, and Violet fears Melissa is trying to steal her best friend. She’s also worried about changes in her body, talk of bras and her own feelings for Eddie.

While Violet works through her conflicted feelings, she finds a way to open up her world without giving up who she truly is. Mother-daughter book clubs will find Violet’s fresh voice a delightful opening to talk about issues of friendship and growing up. I highly recommend Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning by Danette Haworth for groups with girls aged nine to twelve. Find a reading group guide and more information at the author’s Web site, violetraines.com.


Interview with Carol Lynch Williams, Author of The Chosen One

May 12, 2009

Yesterday I  ran a review for The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams. Here, author Williams talks about what drew her to the subject of polygamous groups, how she researched the topic, and the transformative power of books.

CarolLynchWilliams

Tell us a little bit about how you came to be a writer.

CLW: I’ve always wanted to write. At quite a young age I started playing with words. My mom went to college to be an English teacher and I remember her writing novels herself (she never published any of her novels, but man, did she ever write!). I wrote all through elementary school—and told lots of imagination-type stories to and with my friends. I wrote letters with one of my best friends that we made into mini epics! In high school, one of my best friends and I gave each other writing assignments during lunch (an example is “You are a tennis shoe. Tell about your day.”). And when I was 16, I started the stories that wound up in my first book, Kelly and Me.

How did you become interested in the topic of polygamous groups?

CLW: Long ago I heard about a girl who had run from her home because she didn’t want to marry a much-older family member. The moment I heard that story I was like, I’ll write a book about that some day. But the story stayed just a kernel of an idea for many, many years. This was a tough book to write. It needed time to germinate.

What kind of research did you conduct to learn more about those groups before you wrote The Chosen One?

CLW: Well, the group that I write about, The Chosen Ones, are fictitious. I made that place up, the people, everyone. I based it in some fact. There are some polygamous groups that say the more severe polygamists (the ones marrying younger girls) give polygamy a bad name. (I’m just saying what I’ve read!)

I did a huge amount of research before I started writing and during the time I was writing. There are many different kinds of polygamous groups in the USA and in Canada and Mexico, and of course, around the world. So while this book is grounded in fact, it is still fiction. Some of this abuse is real-life. Some is from my imagination. Patrick’s story is made up. The dunking in ice water? I heard from another writer who interviewed someone who was a polygamist, that type of discipline is true of some groups (children are to be seen and not heard.).

In your book, you write about both good and bad aspects of being part of a multi-family society. What are your personal views on the topic?

CLW: I prefer to stay in the kind of family that is more traditional. Polygamy is NOT the way of life for me.

The mobile library is very important in Kyra’s life for many reasons. Did a mobile library have an influence on you when you were young? If so, in what way?

CLW: No, but I have always loved the library. I’ve spent a lot of time in libraries over the years. I can’t hardly seem to get out of one without a pile of books. In fact, when I head to the library, I make sure I have plenty of daughters around to help me carry out the stacks of books! We’re getting ready to move and that means I am getting a new library card (right after I have the electricity turned on at the house!).

Kyra’s world is transformed when she begins to read books that are banned from her compound. Do you believe in the transformative power of books even for someone who is not shut off from the wider world?

CLW: Oh absolutely! People read for a number of reasons. Just for the pleasure, of course. Or to learn something new. Or because a book has been talked about. But studies show that kids read for other reasons, too. One is to experience something that they could not without a book—like being a wizard, for example. Or if the reader comes from a good, strong home, they might read a dark, edgy book because they want to see the way others live. Also, kids might read because they, themselves, are going through hard times. A book might show them how a protagonist has survived what the reader is going through. Books change people’s lives. I believe in reading and I encourage my kids to read just about everything that is out there.

Kyra is only thirteen years old, and she knows if she rejects what she feels is wrong, she could lose her family. Where does she get the courage to consider acting with such dire consequences?

CLW: I think Kyra gets this courage from something that is inside her. But this something has been facilitated by parents and siblings who love her and the idea that outside her world there is freedom. That thought of freedom seems right to Kyra. Somehow, Kyra is one of those people who comes with the courage to be different—and to stand up for what she believes is right.

Is there anything else you would like to say to readers of MotherDaugtherBookClub.com?

CLW: Have fun reading as Moms and Daughters! Sheesh, what a cool thing to do. I still read out loud to my girls. We read at night before bed. What a cool time to be together. As a mom I love the time my girls and I spend discussing books we’ve read. You all are luckies!


Book Review and Giveaway: The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams

May 11, 2009

Contest Closed!

Special Giveaway Offer! Fifty copies of The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams to go to readers of Mother Daughter Book Club!

That’s right 50 copies to the first 50 people to send in their name and mailing address to me at info@motherdauhghterbookclub.com. The Chosen One has received much advance praise from writers such as Meg Cabot, Deb Caletti and Gregory McGuire. Along with my review, I’m featuring an interview with author Carol Lynch Williams. So read on to find out about this compelling book for young adults, then send in your name to receive your own copy from St. Martin’s Griffin publishing.

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Book Review: The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams

Kyra is a normal teen in many ways. She likes to read, she helps out with her family, and she has a crush on a boy who lives just down the street. Unlike most teens, Kyra lives in a polygamous society where she is forbidden to read books from outside the compound, she has three mothers and many siblings, and she has just been informed that she will become the seventh wife of her 60-year-old uncle.

Only thirteen years old, Kyra must decide if she will defy the Prophet and go against everything she has grown up to believe, or if she will take her place in her society where personal choice is frowned upon and the Prophet rules the lives of all his followers.

The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams provides a fascinating glimpse into life inside a secretive sect that keeps its members under control in part by limiting their knowledge of the outside world. From Kyra’s perspective we see the unwelcome aspects of this community, which include unquestioning adherence to a Prophet you suspect is motivated more by earthly concerns than heavenly ones. But we also see the benefits to be had by living in a close community with many adults and children around to provide love and support.

Kyra questions the decision made for her in part because she has been secretly and quietly rebelling all along. She wanders outside the compound frequently, and she regularly visits a mobile library she discovered parked by the side of the road on one of her wandering days. Reading has opened her mind to the possibility of living in a world very different from her own, but can she live in a place that does not include everyone she loves? And like most girls her age, she does love her father and mothers, who are ineffectual at resisting the Prophet’s will.

The Chosen One will keep you turning pages as you follow Kyra through her dilemma into a surprising ending. I recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 14 and up.


Winners in the Because I Love Her Giveaway

May 11, 2009

Commenters Emily and Jennifer were each chosen in a random drawing to receive a copy of Because I Love Her, edited by Andrea N. Richesin. The many heartfelt comments that were written show even more this complicated relationship between mothers and daughters that affects each of us throughout our lives.

I was so happy that my mom even commented. Just six months ago she got her first computer and has been learning new things all the time. I live in Oregon and she lives in Louisiana, and while we talk on the phone several times a week, adding the online contact has allowed us to touch base on smaller issues all the time. I feel closer to her because of it. She says she’s proud of me, and I say I’m proud of her. (And yes mama, I am buying a copy of Because I Love Her to send off to you today!)

Thanks to everyone who commented, and thanks for reading Mother Daughter Book Club.


Book Review and Giveaway of Because I Love Her, Edited by Andrea Richesin

May 8, 2009

Book giveaway closed; check this blog post for the winners and thanks for commenting.

In honor of Mother’s Day on Sunday, I have two copies to give away of this great new anthology about mothers and daughters called Because I Love Her, edited by Andrea Richesin. To enter, please check out my review and interview with the editor, then leave a comment at the end of this post by the end of the day Saturday telling us something you love about your mother or your daughter.

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The mother-daughter bond is complex. As daughters, we may strive to be more like our mothers, or we may cast off both the implicit and explicit things our mothers taught us. As mothers, we may want different things for our daughters than we had growing up, and we may celebrate the diversity to be had through generations of women passing down their wisdom. No matter our relationships with our mothers, they almost always leave a gaping hole in our hearts when they are gone.

In her new anthology, Because I Love Her, editor Andrea N. Richesin weaves together a collection of essays by women writers who explore that mother-daughter relationship in all its complexities. The writers candidly talk about the effect their mothers had on their lives as well as their own hopes and aspirations for their daughters. They celebrate the emotional highs and lows that come from such intimate knowledge of each other—knowledge than can help to build us up or tear us down.

The collection includes essays written by well-known authors, such at Jacquelyn Mitchard, Joyce Maynard, Susan Wiggs and Karen Karbo., as well as emerging voices.

Because I Love Her may be most appropriate for a mother-daughter book club with daughters who are in high school, but even more, I think it’s a wonderful anthology to keep in your permanent library. I imagine pulling it off the shelf every few months to reread an essay or two.  I plan to give a copy to my mother for Mother’s Day, and I’m also putting it on my gift list for many of my female friends. I highly recommend it.

Editor Nicki Richesin generously shared her time answering a few questions for readers at Mother Daughter Book Club. Here’s the interview:

NickiRichesin

How did you decide to put together an anthology of women writing about their mothers and daughters?

NR: After I had my daughter, I wanted to create a book about mothers and daughters and this fascinating, complicated relationship they share. I think after her birth, I finally recognized for the first time what it means to be a mother. A mother’s love means devotion, selflessness, sacrifice and of course, so much more. So I decided to ask my contributors “What would you tell your mother or daughter if you could tell her anything?” They’re so many things we’re not willing to say out loud or confess to ourselves. I thought wouldn’t it be freeing to finally confess them. For some of the contributors, it’s too late. Their mothers have passed away and they missed their chance. For them, writing their essays was really an opportunity to finally express how they felt about their mothers.

What were you looking for when seeking women to contribute essays?

NR: The short answer is: talent and the courage to share their private lives. I was lucky to have a network of writers to draw from in my first anthology THE MAY QUEEN. I approached a number of writers I had long admired and wanted to include in TMQ like Anne Marie Feld (I devotedly read her journal on Babycenter.com each week when I was pregnant with my own daughter) Tara Bray Smith (I adored her memoir West of Then) Katrina Onstad (I was a fan of her writing in the National Post) and Kaui Hart Hemmings (I gobbled up her short story collection and thought The Descendents was absolutely brilliant).
I was excited to feature new talents like Katherine Center and Lucia Orth. I also enjoyed working with heavyweights like Jacquelyn Mitchard, Karen Joy Fowler, and Susan Wiggs. It was very humbling and inspiring to work with all of the writers.

What would you say makes this collection of essays stand out?

NR: All of the contributors were incredibly brave in exposing intimate details from their personal lives. Although it wasn’t easy, and for some it was actually quite painful, they courageously share the truth of their own experiences. I think this anthology is a tribute to how difficult it can be to accept the ones we love the most. The thread that runs throughout the collection is this idea that despite our mothers’ best efforts- whatever they had to deal with- we remain hopeful for them, for our daughters, and ourselves.

There are so many aspects of mother-daughter relationships covered in Because I Love Her. Were you surprised that each writer had such a different perspective on the topic?

NR: Not at all. In fact, I had hoped to provide a vast array of perspectives. I would have been very disappointed if they had shared the same experiences. I wouldn’t say the content has surprised me, but the public’s reaction has floored me. Although I knew the writings are powerful, I was amazed by the audience’s response at our recent readings. I found it touching they were so deeply moved in this way by their work. One woman bravely shared how the anthology resonated with her. She confessed that her mother had been an alcoholic and she still felt trapped in her sixteen-year-old relationship with her- angry and confused. She broke down weeping with the memory of wanting so desperately to love her mother and it just proved once again how powerful this connection can truly be.

What are you most happy about in the way the collection came together?

NR: I’ve been absolutely thrilled by our readers’ response to the work and how moved they’ve been by it. It has been a great honor to work with such amazing writers and come to know a few of them personally. I really wanted to create a collection that showed the true nature of the mother-daughter bond and I think, in the end, I achieved that goal. I hope the book accomplishes two things. 1.) I hope women will discover who their mothers truly are and 2.) It will open a dialogue between mothers and daughters, especially estranged ones.

I understand you’re working on a father-daughter anthology. Can you tell us a bit about that and when we can expect to see it in print?

NR: WHAT I WOULD TELL HER: 30 MALE WRITERS ON THE FATHER-DAUGHTER RELATIONSHIP will be available May 2010, just in time for Father’s Day. I’ve been overwhelmed by the powerful writing I have read thus far. This father-daughter connection is so important to little girls in forming their own identities and of course, it sets the standard for all of their relationships with men going forward. I have seen this with my own daughter- how much she looks to my husband for guidance. In my mind, fathers are the most important men in their daughters’ lives. I think fathers feel a strong need to protect and defend their daughters- a warrior impulse, maybe. Men also worship their daughters in a very sweet and tender way.

Is there anything else you would like to share with readers of Mother-Daughter Book Club?

NR: When we did events in the San Francisco bay area, I saw firsthand how deeply this book has moved the readers. We’ve had readings, in which women were weeping and had to pass around a box of Kleenex. This is a stirring topic and can bring up unresolved issues for women. It can make them face their regrets, but also offers redemption. We all love our mothers, no matter what pressures they faced, we can forgive them and honor them this Mother’s Day. Thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts on the anthology with your readers!

Nicki Richesin is the editor of four anthologies, Because I Love Her: 34 Women Writers Reflect on the Mother-Daughter Bond; What I Would Tell Her: 30 Male Writers on the Father-Daughter Relationship (May 2010); the forthcoming Crush: Real-life Tales of First Love Gone Wrong by our Best Young Adult Novelists; and The May Queen: Women on Life, Work, and Pulling it all Together in your Thirties. Her anthologies have been excerpted and praised in The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Redbook, Parenting, Cosmopolitan, Bust, Daily Candy, and Babble. She lives with her husband and daughter in northern California. For more about Nicki and her anthologies, visit www.nickirichesin.com.