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Mother-daughter book clubs — the generation gap

In Julie’s mother-daughter book club, the girls make the book selections.

No polling, no voting.

These fifth-graders individually choose each title this Golden Valley book club reads.

Meetings rotate through the homes of the six mother-daughter duos, Julie explains, and the host daughter gets to pick the book for that month. As host, the daughter is also responsible for preparing discussion questions.

There is some parental censorship, exerted through the golden power of veto.

When Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series was bandied about by the girls, the mothers pulled rank and vetoed the suggestion. Although a couple of the girls had read the entire “Twilight” series (twice, adds Julie), the mothers didn’t feel the books were appropriate for all the girls in the book club.

The mothers have been surprised by their daughters’ interest in fantasy, adventure, and science fiction.

“As mothers, we had this idea that the group would be reading books like ‘Little Women,’ ‘Anne of Green Gables,’ ‘Heidi’ and ‘The Secret Garden.’ ”

But the girls haven’t picked anything remotely similar to those classics.

Most recently, the girls have chosen titles from fantasy and adventure series:

  • Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy — an exploration of childhood, morality and existence, revolving around two children from parallel worlds who find themselves at the center of a heavenly war.
  • Cornelia Funke’s “Inkworld” trilogy, which follows the adventures of a teenage girl who discovers her father has the ability to bring characters to life when reading aloud.
  • Jeanne DuPrau’s “Books of Ember” series, which tells of a post-apocalyptic city without a sun or moon, whose only light comes from electricity that is beginning to fail.
  • Liz Kessler’s “Emily Windsnap” series, centered on a 12-year-old girl who transforms into a mermaid in the water and sets out to solve mysteries about herself and her family.
  • Rick Riordan’s “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series, chronicling the adventures of a boy who learns he is the son of Poseidon and that the legendary world of Greek mythology can be entered through the mythical 600th floor of the Empire State Building.

“The girls are just crazy about the fantasy genre,” marvels Julie. “It’s been a new experience for the mothers; we’re reading books that are very different from those we read in our own youth.”

The genres and subjects that interest the girls are often foreign to their mothers.

“We read the strangest book,” recalls Julie, “…from a ‘Warriors’ series by Erin Hunter, about these four clans of anthropomorphic wild cats that live in a forest and have warrior ancestors.”

This was not the mother-daughter reading material the women had envisioned.

Because the girls have chosen the books, the club has not read biographies, historical nonfiction, or short stories.

“According to my daughter,” says Julie, “the girls don’t want their book club reading to feel like a homework assignment. They want to read books they look forward to and enjoy.”   

But mothers can only bend so far.

When asked about upcoming book titles, Julie tells me “We’re going to read a classic.”

Reading “The Little Princess” by Frances Hodgson Burnett is stage one of a plan the mothers have hatched to nudge their daughters toward historical fiction and more challenging reading.

The mothers are rooting for:

  • (of course) “Anne of Green Gables,” Lucy Maud Montgomery’s 1908 novel about a precocious 11-year-old redhead named Anne Shirley who is mistakenly sent to Avonlea — instead of a boy — to be adopted.
  • “The Goose Girl,” Shannon Hale’s magical retelling of Grimm’s fairytale, in which a princess is turned into a common goose girl before discovering her own talents and restoring herself to the throne.
  • “A Great and Terrible Beauty” by Libba Bray, which centers on Gemma Doyle, a girl forced to leave her home in India to attend a Victorian boarding school with magical secrets to unravel.
  • “Graceling” by Kristin Cashore, which follows Katsa, a Graceling warrior-girl of unequaled skill who is forced to serve a corrupt king while secretly leading missions to promote justice.
  • “Savvy,” Ingrid Law’s Newbery Honor-winning coming-of-age fantasy about a girl named Mib Beaumont who comes into an inherited supernatural power when she turns 13.
  • “A Northern Light” by Jennifer Donnelly, which interweaves the tragic real-life story of Grace Brown with the fictional world of Mattie Gokey, a stifled, conflicted 16-year-old farm girl living in 1906.

“Our strategy lies in checking these books out of the library and making them available to the girls in hopes that they’ll love them enough to choose them for book club.”

Nevertheless, the priority for the mothers is promoting a love of literature. “We definitely want the girls to have fun reading,” asserts Julie.

To raise constant readers, these mothers model a lifestyle where women and families read because they want to, not because they have to.

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