READING Together

By Hunker, Paula Gray | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 21, 1998 | Go to article overview

READING Together


Hunker, Paula Gray, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


The mothers work as Washington lawyers and administrators, EPA engineers and congressional aides. The daughters are students, ballerinas, soccer players and Girls Scouts.

But for a few cherished afternoon hours on the first Sunday of every month, they join together as members of a mother-daughter book club.

Although she did not invent these cross-generational reading groups, Shireen Dodson of Northwest may have institutionalized them. Thanks to her book published last year, "The Mother-Daughter Book Club: How Ten Busy Mothers and Daughters Came Together to Talk, Laugh and Learn Through Their Love of Reading," book clubs have become the hottest parenting venue of the 1990s.

A recent meeting of Mrs. Dodson's group followed a now-honored tradition in which the girls gather in an upstairs bedroom while the moms meet in the living room. This meeting is held in Kathie Thompson's spacious row house in Northwest.

"Our first few meetings we thought that we needed to start right away and keep the girls focused on the book discussion," says Mrs. Dodson, who with her daughter Morgan, 12, chose 10 mother-daughter pairs for the group. "But at their age [of from 9 to 12 years old], they need the informal time for play. And frankly, the moms really look forward to our time together, too."

GIGGLES AND CHAT

After a half-hour of upstairs giggles and downstairs chat, the group reassembles and the formal discussion begins. Since the Thompsons are hosting, Jihan, 13, leads the discussion. She has prepared questions about the book - Jacqueline Woodson's "Maizon at Blue Hill." The girls raise their hands to answer questions, slowly at first, but as moms pitch in with augmenting questions, the discussion takes off.

"Sometimes the moms get so excited about a discussion, one of us has to call a halt and draw the girls in," Mrs. Thompson laughs.

The question on the floor is whether a character in the book had a choice of staying in a boarding school or going home, as she wished.

"Sometimes it seems as if you have a choice," says Maya Yette, 10, of Silver Spring, as mom Joyce listened. "But it's a fake choice. Like basketball. I wanted to quit and my mom said it was my choice. But I knew I really had to finish the year and stay."

"But isn't that our job as mothers," Mrs. Dodson responds. "Isn't our job to help steer your choices?"

"No!" they answer in a chorus.

"That's what always surprises us," Mrs. Yette says. "We have to be so careful not to push the conversation towards the point that we think we should be teaching. We have to listen and learn from the girls sometimes."

Both mothers and daughters agree that the book club has given them a way to understand one another better, even when they disagree. Sharing the books has also instilled a greater appreciation of reading and juvenile literature for everyone.

READING WITH A FLASHLIGHT

Morgan was already "the kind of reader who will stay up all night with a book and a flashlight under the covers," Mrs. Dodson says. So the mother's motivation for creating the club was more to improve relationships than improve reading skills as the girls neared puberty and independence. But the experience has definitely "broadened the reading horizons" for all the girls, even those who were not avid readers, Mrs. Dodson says. "You're not going to turn a non-reader into an avid reader, but you do give them a viable option for their time. Most of our girls will now willingly choose books over television."

That could be a critical choice, says Mary Leonhardt, an English teacher and author of a number of reading books, including "Keeping Kids Reading: How to Raise Avid Readers in the Video Age." Her 20 years of teaching proved to her that a love of reading is the single greatest characteristic that distinguishes superior from average students. …

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