Invite an Expert to Your Mother-Daughter Book Club Meeting

March 1, 2010

Have you ever thought of inviting someone other than the author of the book you read to your book club meeting? When you think about the topics covered in your book and who may be able to give you more information about them, you open up a world of possibilities for guests to invite. For instance, when the members of a mother-daughter book club near Chicago read the book Hoot by Carl Hiaasen, they invited a naturalist from a nearby forest preserve to attend their discussion. He brought a real, live owl, and was able to talk about owl habits and habitats.

Why would you want to bring in an expert? One reason is to learn more about a topic you found interesting when reading your book. It’s also a way to liven up your normal routine every now and then as well as keep your book club meetings dynamic. And there are typically many more experts to be found who can address a topic from your book than there are authors you can get in touch with.

A club in Arizona found that to be true when they read The New York Stories of Edith Wharton. Wharton died in 1937, but her words continue to inspire readers in many ways. The book club moms and girls took a topic from the book, formal manners popular in the late 1800s, and turned it into an opportunity to invite someone to their meeting who was an expert on manners. At their group meeting the girls and moms organized a formal tea party, and their guest had them play games that helped them learn manners, including how to set a formal table and how to introduce one another properly. Everyone in the group loved the meeting, and it brought more depth to the stories they had read.

Here are a few ideas for other book/expert match ups to help you get started on your own brainstorming exercise:

  • Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce—the curator of a local art museum
  • Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George—someone who can teach wilderness survival skills
  • Red Scarf Girl by Ji-Li Jiang—a history teacher who can talk about China’s Cultural Revolution

More ideas for how to find experts and invite them to your meetings can be found in Book by Book: The Complete Guide to Creating Mother-Daughter Book Clubs.

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

Booklist Online’s Ideas for How to Use Book Reviews in Your Book Club

February 4, 2010

Booklist is a great source for finding reviews on all kinds of books. The magazine publishes a blog called Book Group Buzz that’s worth checking out occasionally to see what they are recommending. Recently, I cam across this post on how to use book reviews in your book club.

To this list I’ll add my thoughts. When I’m looking for a book to recommend to any of my reading groups (both mother-daughter book clubs and a discussion group I’m in with my husband), I get recommendations from book store personnel or librarians. I look at book reviews in magazines and newspapers. Then I start to look for reviews online. I post my own reviews to several sites in addition to printing them here. Those are the sites I also check out:,,,, and I look for the best reviews and the worst. The best help me get a feeling for what the book is about. The worst reviews help me see what people don’t like about it. Even if there are lots of negative reviews, it doesn’t mean I won’t choose that book. It depends on what the reviewer says about why he didn’t like it.

I can easily see how Booklist’s suggestions for using reviews to help your book club choose a book and discuss it can be helpful.

Resource for Book Clubs—Lit Lovers Website and Blog

January 27, 2010

I’ve recently discovered the LitLovers website and blog, and I have found both to have lots of helpful information for book clubs. Today, for instance, the conversation is titled Old Wine in New Bottles and it’s about sequels or prequels to classics written by new authors. While the books in this post are mostly for adults or those in high school, in general there are lots of good ideas about book club activities, food and more. I’m adding a permanent link to my blog here and plan to visit frequently.

Book Review: Dear Pen Pal by Heather Vogel Frederick

October 20, 2009

Dear Pen Pal

Emma, Jess, Megan and Cassidy are back for another year of reading in their mother-daughter book club in Heather Vogel Frederick’s new book, Dear Pen Pal. Cracking this third book in the mother-daughter book club series is like reconnecting with old friends. The girls are in eighth grade this year, and they’ve learned a lot about friendship and family relationships.

In their ever-evolving lives, as it is with most of us, just when they figure out how to handle one challenge, another pops up. This time the challenges include dealing with a mean-spirited boarding school roommate, changing family dynamics when new family members move in and others move out, and navigating relationships with boys.

The girls are reading Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster, and Frederick once again seamlessly weaves in storylines that somewhat match those of Webster’s classic. The girls and moms learn fun facts about Jean Webster as they gather for book club discussions. The book club members also connect with a pen pal club in Gopher Hole, Wyoming, and it’s fun to read little snippets about the lives of these new girls and their moms through their letters.

I can’t wait to see what the whole gang will be up to in the fourth book of the series when the girls start high school. I highly recommend this whole series for members of mother-daughter book clubs with girls who are 9 to 13.

P.S.—Reading Dear Pen Pal got me to thinking that real life mother-daughter book clubs may enjoy connecting with pen pals too. It seems like a fun way to learn about girls and moms in a different part of the country. So I’ve started a pen pal registry at Mother Daughter Book, where club members can sign up if they wish to meet members of another club.

See the website page or my previous blog posting for all the details. You can also read what Heather Vogel Frederick has to say on the topic at her blog.

Sage Cohen, Author of Writing the Life Poetic, Talks About Poetry

April 17, 2009

My friend Sage Cohen is celebrating the release of her new book Writing the Life Poetic and she’s blogging about poetry to help celebrate National Poetry Month. It’s a great time for a mother-daughter book club to consider choosing poetry to focus on for a whole month, even if that month is sometime down the road. Here’s a Q and A with Sage on the role of poetry in our lives.


Q&A with Sage Cohen, Author of
Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry

How does poetry make the world a better place to live?

SC: I think poetry fills the gap left by the so-called objective truth that dominates our media, science and legislation. Many of us want to comprehend and communicate the complexity of human experience on a deeper, more soulful level. Poetry gives us a shared language that is more subtle, more human, and—at its best—more universally “true” than we are capable of achieving with just the facts.

How has integrating the reading and writing of poetry into your life impacted you?

SC: I will risk sounding melodramatic in saying that poetry saved my life. I stumbled into a writing practice at an extremely vulnerable time in my early teenage years. Poetry gave me then, as it does today, a way of giving voice to feelings and ideas that felt too risky and complicated to speak out loud. There was a kind of alchemy in writing through such vulnerabilities…by welcoming them in language, I was able to transform the energies of fear, pain and loneliness into a kind of friendly camaraderie with myself. In a way, I wrote myself into a trust that I belonged in this world.

Do people need an advanced degree in creative writing in order to write poetry?

SC: Absolutely not! Sure, poetry has its place in the classroom; but no one needs an advanced degree in creative writing to reap its rewards. What most people need is simply a proper initiation. I wrote Writing the Life Poetic to offer such an initiation. My goal was that everyone who reads it come away with a sense of how to tune into the world around them through a poetic lens. Once this way of perceiving is awakened, anything is possible!

Why did you write Writing the Life Poetic?

SC: While working with writers for the past fifteen years, I have observed that even the most creative people fear that they don’t have what it takes to write and read poetry. I wrote Writing the Life Poetic to put poetry back into the hands of the people––not because they are aspiring to become the poet laureate of the United States––but because poetry is one of the great pleasures in life.”

Who is Writing the Life Poetic written for?

SC: Practicing poets, aspiring poets, and teachers of writing in a variety of settings can use Writing the Life Poetic to write, read, and enjoy poems; it works equally well as a self-study companion or as a classroom guide. Both practical and inspirational, it will leave readers with a greater appreciation for the poetry they read and a greater sense of possibility for the poetry they write.

What sets Writing the Life Poetic apart from other poetry how-to books?

SC: The craft of poetry has been well documented in a variety of books that offer a valuable service to serious writers striving to become competent poets. Now it’s time for a poetry book that does more than lecture from the front of the classroom. Writing the Life Poetic was written to be a contagiously fun adventure in writing. Through an entertaining mix of insights, exercises, expert guidance and encouragement, I hope to get readers excited about the possibilities of poetry––and engaged in a creative practice. Leonard Cohen says: “Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.” My goal is that Writing the Life Poetic be the flame fueling the life well lived.

Is it true that your book and your baby were conceived and birthed at the same time? What did you learn from this process?

SC: Yes, I often refer to my son Theo and Writing the Life Poetic as my multi-media twins! I found out I was pregnant with Theo about two months into the writing of the book and I was making final edits to the book in layout two weeks after he was born. It was fascinating to have two of the most potent creative processes I’ve ever experienced happening in tandem. What I learned is a great respect for the birthing journey; it is one that has completely rewritten me along the way.

I am writing a monthly column this year for The Writer Mama zine titled “The Articulate Conception” which chronicles my journey of becoming an author and a mom. Through the course of ten essays, I am exploring this double-whammy birth trajectory–from the twinkle in my eye to the bags under my eyes. The first column is available here:

What makes a poem a poem?

SC: This is one of my favorite questions! I’ve answered it in my book, but it’s a question that I’m answering anew every day. And that’s what I love about poetry. It’s a realm where invention is not limited entirely by definition; there is room enough for the endless possibilities of the human. Every time we try to draw a line around what a poem is, something spills over into the next frame, shifting the point of view and demanding new names: olive, token, flax, daffodil. A poem is all of these, or none of them, depending on the quality of light and how the blade in the next room stirs the night.

What do you think people’s greatest misperceptions are about poetry?

SC: I think the three greatest stereotypes about the writing of poetry are:

1.    That one has to be a starving artist or deeply miserable to write great poetry.
2.    That reading and writing poetry are available only to an elite inner circle that shares secret, insider knowledge about the making of poems.
3.    That poetry does not fund prosperity.

I hope very much that Writing the Life Poetic helps offer alternatives to some of these attitudes and perceptions.

Why is National Poetry Month (April) a great time to read and write poetry?

SC: Every month is a great time to read and write poetry! But National Poetry Month is special because there are a number of inspiring opportunities to read and write in virtual tandem with poets everywhere, which creates a feeling of momentum and community. On my blog, I have a brief list of some fun ways to plug into the fun.

I’d love to conclude with a poem of yours. Would you be willing to share one?

SC: Of course! Happy to!

Leaving Buckhorn Springs
By Sage Cohen

The farmland was an orchestra,
its ochres holding a baritone below
the soft bells of farmhouses,
altos of shadowed hills,
violins grieving the late
afternoon light. When I saw
the horses, glazed over with rain,
the battered old motorcycle parked
beside them, I pulled my car over
and silenced it on the gravel.
The rain and I were diamonds
displacing appetite with mystery.
As the horses turned toward me,
the centuries poured through
their powerful necks and my body
was the drum receiving the pulse
of history. The skin between me
and the world became the rhythm
of the rain keeping time with the sky
and into the music walked
the smallest of the horses. We stood
for many measures considering
each other, his eyes the quarter notes
of my heart’s staccato.  This symphony
of privacy and silence: this wildness
that the fence between us could not divide.

About Sage Cohen

Sage Cohen is the author of Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry (Writers Digest Books, 2009) and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World. An award-winning poet, she writes four monthly columns about the craft and business of writing and serves as Poetry Editor for VoiceCatcher 4. Sage co-curates a monthly reading series at Barnes & Noble and teaches the online class Poetry for the People. To learn more, visit Drop by and join in the conversation about living and writing a poetic life at!


Sage and her son, Theo

Add a Little Poetry to Your Mother-Daughter Book Club Meetings

April 8, 2009

April is National Poetry Month, and it’s a good time for mother-daughter book clubs to consider selecting poetry for a meeting.

There are many ways you can enhance a book club poetry meeting to extend to the whole family. My book club chose to read poetry for a month a few years ago, and everyone in the family got into the act. First, we all headed to our local library to pick out books of poetry that we wanted to read (in addition to our assigned book). My husband and I went for some of the classic poets that we read when we were younger, because we wanted to remind ourselves of some of our past favorites. We chose Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Edgar Allen Poe, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson and others. We also added a few poets we weren’t familiar with, like Langston Hughes.

Our daughters both chose books with poetry that would make them laugh. They liked Jack Prelutsky’s A Pizza the Size of the Sun, and It’s Raining Pigs and Noodles. We took turns reading our favorites out loud over the dinner table each night.

We also tried our hand at writing poetry. I can’t say that anything profound came out of our efforts, but it was a great creative endeavor, and we wrote poems we could be proud of. When it came time for our group meeting, we had a great time reading some of our favorite poems out loud and sharing some of the work we had written as well.

Check out some of these titles of poetry that kids may enjoy if you plan to have a poetry meeting of your own:

•    Kenn Nesbitt—Revenge of the Lunch Ladies, My Hippo Has Hiccups: And Other Poems I Totally Made Up, and several other collections of poetry.
•    Jack Prelutsky—A Pizza the Size of the Sun and It’s Raining Pigs and Noodles, plus more titles of poetry.
•    Robert Louis Stevenson—A Child’s Garden of Verses.
•    Emily Dickinson—The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson.

Heather Vogel Frederick Talks About Authors Meeting With Book Clubs

April 1, 2009

Today I’m featuring a guest post from author Heather Vogel Frederick, author of the novel series for tweens, The Mother-Daughter Book Club. Here she talks about the pleasure of connecting with her readers.


Guest Blog Post by Heather Vogel Frederick

When I began writing The Mother-Daughter Book Club a couple of years ago, I had no clue what was in store for me.  How could I possibly have guessed that the book would soon be bringing me into the homes and hearts of readers around the country?

It all began as a marketing brainstorm – instead of the expense of a full-blown book tour, I’d offer to visit with book clubs by speakerphone or Skype’s free videoconferencing service.  This “virtual” tour was meant to last just a month or two, but it quickly took on a life of its own as invitations flowed in from mother-daughter book clubs around the country.  In the ensuing months, I’ve simply been having too much fun to stop the ride and get off.

Is it a time commitment?  Sure.  But how often do writers get the chance to interact with their readers?  Aside from a brief flurry of signings after a book’s initial publication, most authors work in a vacuum.  Writing is a solitary pursuit, after all.  Talking with one’s audience offers a unique opportunity to enrich and extend the conversation that every book begins between author and reader.  I genuinely enjoy spending time with the tween age group I write for.  I love their enthusiasm and delight and honesty and curiosity.  I love answering their questions and offering encouragement and advice.  And these virtual visits are also a very real way for me to give back.

Years ago, when my adolescent self was mooning around Concord, Massachusetts, dreaming of being a writer someday like Louisa May Alcott, one of our town’s most illustrious former residents, my mother managed to wangle an invitation to tea with a local author.  How she did this I’ll never know, but I imagine it was in much the same way she managed to wangle an original sketch from Barbara Cooney when the artist was visiting our next-door neighbor one day – she simply marched up to her and asked.  When it came to anything that might benefit her daughters, my mother was a fearless wangler.

The author’s name was Elizabeth Baker, and although her books for young readers are sadly no longer in print, the memory of our visit endures.  On the appointed afternoon, I showed up on her doorstep, uncharacteristically dressed to the nines (thanks, mom!) and clutching a manuscript in my nervous hands.  Mrs. Baker ushered me into her living room, and while I started in on the tea and homemade cookies she’d prepared, she patiently read my story.  I waited with bated breath for her response (secretly hoping she’d tell me it was brilliant and should immediately be published, of course).  While that didn’t turn out to be the case, Mrs. Baker more than made up for any deflated spirits on my part with generous praise and savvy writing tips.  I was thrilled.

After our chat, she gave me a tour of her ultra-modern office, which could only be reached via a catwalk suspended high above her living room.  This architectural innovation awed me into a state of near muteness, as did the workspace itself.  Her secluded aerie was lined with miles of bookshelves and file cabinets (which were orange, as I recall – cutting edge hip for that decade) and flooded with light from the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking her wooded property.  Mrs. Baker was the first person I ever met who worked from home, and I decided then and there that’s what I wanted to do someday as well, book-filled office and all.

Today, my cozy office may not be an architectural marvel, and it may overlook a simple backyard bird feeder instead of a broad expanse of woodland, but it is filled with books and light and the view it offers me is something I doubt Mrs. Baker ever could have imagined.  Connected to the world via phone and internet, I can sit in my armchair and be transported to living rooms and family rooms from Anchorage to Atlanta, Nebraska to New York.  And as I gaze at my laptop screen during these Skype visits, I see reflected in the faces of my readers echoes of myself at their age, poised on the brink of life and bubbling with possibility.  In their hands they often clutch questions for me in much the same nervous, excited way I clutched my manuscript oh-so-many years ago, and my hope as I watch them is that I might prove to be their Mrs. Baker, and inspire some of them the way she inspired me.
Now if someone could only invent a technology for teleporting the yummy-looking cupcakes and other treats that are standard fare at book club meetings, I’d really be able to join the party!

For more information or to invite Heather to talk with your book club via speakerphone or Skype, please visit her website (

New York Mother-Daughter Book Club Enriches Reading with Other Activities

March 12, 2009

Looking for an idea to liven up your mother-daughter book club meetings? Here’s a bit of inspiration from Kate Levin, who is in a book club with her teen daughter in New York. Kate says:

“We found out that a professional production of Our Town is opening here, so we read the play and got tickets to see it (using a group discount). Although we have lots of theater possibilities here in New York, this kind of opportunity is certainly possible elsewhere, since there’s lots of great professional theaters all over the country (this production of Our Town originated in Chicago, actually).  People could also see what’s being performed at the local colleges as well.  Usually schedules are published in advance, so people could see what’s coming up and plan ahead (which is what we did).”

To Kate’s comments I’ll add a few of my own. Some of our most memorable mother-daughter book club meetings have been the times we have tied our book into another activity: seeing a play, going to a movie, visiting a museum. The extra event helped us get another perspective on what we read and enriched the discussion we had afterward. No matter the age of your girls, you can probably find something that fits just right for them. Theater is good for younger girls too, and you can check local children’s theater productions up to a year in advance to see what they may have in store for a season.

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 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.