When Blind Brook 8th grader Sophie Loewenstein discusses The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares, she explains the book is realistic because, "The friends pick anything to stay connected—even a pair of pants."
In Sophie's case, it is not a pair of pants that keeps her close with her friends, but a mother-daughter book club she's been part of since 3rd grade.
When Sophie was a student at the Ridge Street School, her mother Myra and another class mom, Ann Provenzano, invited all the families from Sophie's class to join a mother-daughter book club.
"We opened it up to everybody and sent an email around," Myra said. "Some people were interested and had time, some didn't. I guess we got about eight people or so and went from there."
The club has met regularly for five years. The daughters are currently 8th graders at Blind Brook Middle School. Member mom Jill Maitland explained how the meetings, which take place about every six weeks, are structured.
"We all read the same book and meet at one of the member's homes which we have designated beforehand," Jill said. "We rotate the meetings so each person hosts once or twice a year. The host mom/daughter provides the seating and the snacks. We sometimes develop a game or craft that goes with the book title or theme."
The host mom and daughter make the final decision on which book will be discussed at their house. The group generally tries to read classics or Newberry Medal winners, but have explored some popular books, too. Recently, the choice of book has become the domain of the daughters.
"We were much more involved in 3rd grade helping them research titles that might be good to read," Myra said. "Now they really much more have their own opinions."
Her daughter Sophie agreed.
"Usually, I'm in the bookstore or something and I find a book that's interesting," she said. "Then I give that book to my mom."
The host mom and daughter also come up with questions to start the discussion.
"We start off with thumbs up or thumbs down [for the book as a whole], then talk about our favorite parts, and, depending on the book, what the protagonist's big challenges were, or what part was most scary," said another mom member of the group, Ruth Harmon.
Ruth added that, once the conversation gets going, it rarely lags.
"The girls love the opportunity to have their voice heard on a common topic," Ruth said. "The challenge is being able to take turns, not speaking all on top of each other."
Jill Maitland added that the discussions reveal more about the daughters than their literary opinions.
"You really get a lot of insights into what your daughters are thinking and how they view the world when discussing characters and book plots," she said.
The daughters admit, though, that the conversation sometimes gets off-topic.
"Sometimes we get a little silly, but it all works out in the end," said Jill's daughter, Rheanna.
Just like the book selection, the discussion has evolved as the girls have grown from 3rd graders to 8th graders.
"Moms were more involved at the beginning," Myra said. "Then, as girls got older, they took charge in running the discussion. The moms kind of let them discuss and we would chat and discuss school or jobs or whatever."
Although the moms no longer had to lead the discussion, they found that their interest in the books increased as the girls progressed to more advanced reads.
"Now, by the time they're in 8th grade, I'm reading books that I can enjoy equally with Rachel," Ruth said. "How fun that I can really enjoy something she's reading!"
Of course, it is challenging to maintain regular meetings because of the girls' schedule, which includes school activities, bat mitzvah preparations and academic commitments.
"It's gotten less often, I think as we got older and school's getting harder," said Ruth's daughter, Rachel. "We always have pounds of homework every day."
Still, as Ann Provenzano said, the book club continues to flourish.
"We have been going strong for five years!" she said. "Continued interest in learning and a commitment to each other and the book club concept has kept us together."
Ruth Harmon credits leadership with keeping the group together, calling Myra Lowenstein, who sends out the group emails, the "sustaining heart and soul" of the book club.
"One lesson for me about a successful book club is that somebody has to put that little extra something into it," Ruth said.
Rachel Harmon offers her own advice for keeping a book club together.
"Have an email, so you can email everyone," Rachel said. "And set a certain date, don't be flexible."
The girls' natural passion for reading and discovering new books draws them back year after year.
"Not only do you get to spend time with your mom and friends while talking about the read, but you get to read all different types of books!" said Ann Provenzano's daughter, Nicole. "Every month someone new picks a book and it is cool because you get to see what kinds of books other people like."
The book club has been so successful that Jill Maitland started another book club for her younger daughter, Joelle, last year when Joelle was in 3rd grade. Now there is another group of Blind Brook girls proving that reading is fun—especially when it involves hanging out with long-time friends.
Check out some of the club's favorite mother-daughter reads below:
Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares
Matilda by Roald Dahl
The Twits by Roald Dahl
Maximum Boy (series) by Dan Greenburg
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
Percy Jackson and the Olympians (series) by Rick Riordan
The Chocolate Touch by Patrick Skene Catling and Margot Apple