During the Christmas holidays we have been busy developing a community site within TowardTheStars. Our objective is to enable our community to discuss and debate ideas through Groups and Forums, create personal blog posts and share videos and photos. It is my absolute pleasure and privilege to introduce our first Group: Moms, Girls & Great Books! that will be led and facilitated by the amazing Lori Day. Lori and myself have been talking about this project for years and I could not be more delighted to introduce her work to our community. If you are interested in starting a mother-daughter book club, or want to continue to nurture the love of books and reading in your child, connect with Lori, I could not leave you in better hands.
- Inês Almeida
An intro from Lori:
Like many mothers, I tend to be hard on myself. Because I make a living advising other parents on all kinds of issues related to their children—educational, developmental, neurological, psychological, social and emotional—you’d think I had it all figured out. You’d be wrong. Imposter Syndrome is quite real! I have always second-guessed myself and often looked for creative ways to garner support from other moms in this extreme sport called parenting. I have also been aware that if the vicissitudes of motherhood rest heavily on my own shoulders, then how must it feel for mothers without my background? We all have our moments of throwing darts in the dark. Perhaps that’s best done as a team. And in the best of circumstances, one of the moms will know where the light switch is.
One of the happiest and most memorable undertakings while raising my daughter Charlotte was the formation of a mother-daughter book club, a collaboration with four other mother-daughter pairs that would last for six years. My decision to establish the club evolved from several different parenting goals in addition to a desire to spend more special time with Charlotte.
Of growing concern to me when Charlotte was a little girl was a monumental shift in pop culture towards the sexualization of girls, something we see even more of now than I did in the late 90’s. As a mother, once your eyes are opened to the sexualization of girlhood, you cannot unsee it. The clothes girls were starting to wear the year I began thinking about mother-daughter book clubs were inspired by Britney Spears, whose hit song and music video “…Baby One More Time,” launched in 1999, forever changed the image in my mind of the private girls’ school uniform.
My sudden inability that year to find a basic t-shirt for my seven-year-old daughter that was not chopped off just below her nonexistent breasts was enough to send me into a silent rage as I walked in—and directly out—of all of the children’s clothing stores at the mall. Would I need to hire a seamstress to make appropriate apparel for Charlotte to wear so that she would not have to run, jump and climb in a ridiculous half-shirt that was no longer just being marketed to teens, but had trickled down into the little girls’ department?
And it was not just clothes. The following year, in 2000, the Disney Corporation launched its marketing blitz that led to the creation of the four-billion-dollar princess franchise and, ultimately, the onslaught of over 40,000 Disney princess items currently being sold in the children’s market. It is no secret that Disney’s highly profitable, widely accepted, corporate-created definition of what it is to be a girl has become the norm today, obliterating any collective memory of what childhood was like for girls before Disney bulldozed all the gender-neutral toys like the original wooden Lincoln Logs into the aisle marked “For Boys!”, making room for other corporations to join them with their merchandise contributions to what is now known colloquially as the pink ghetto. This was just beginning when Charlotte was in elementary school, and was nowhere near the beast that it is today, but it was growing, and, it seemed to me, the imaginations and aspirations of girls were simultaneously shrinking.
I also remember noticing how few of my daughter’s books had female protagonists, and of the ones that did, how few of those portrayed women and girls in strong roles where they demonstrated authentic agency in their own lives. Female characters were often tokens, relegated to the role of sidekick or love interest. I noticed that girls did not seem to mind reading books about boys, but that boys had no interest in—and in fact outright avoided—reading books about girls. I started talking to other mothers, teachers, librarians and colleagues about this, and found that they all observed the same gender dance, and all felt frustrated too.
Certain events increased my frustration. In the mid-90’s, several wonderful movies came out based on critically acclaimed children’s books: Matilda by Roald Dahl, Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, and A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, among others. Great books, great movies. But the movies performed poorly at the box office, and production companies went on record saying they would produce no more movies starring girls, because they were money losers. Girls went to see these movies but most boys stayed home, and thus the potential market was cut in half. This was the same dynamic that happened with books about girls. I recall a lot of mothers talking about this and feeling sad and indignant. Everyone wondered whether the Harry Potter series, which was brand new at the time our book club formed, would be receiving the same voracious following if it were about a Harriet rather than a Harry. We also lamented the fact that Joanne Rowling went with “J.K. Rowling” in order to sell more books by obscuring her own gender.
Around this same time, a woman named Shireen Dodson wrote a book titled The Mother-Daughter Book Club, and a companion book called 100 Books for Girls to Grow On. My local bookstore, The Concord Bookshop, devoted its storefront window to a display of Dodson’s books, as well as some of the books Dodson recommended girls read, all of which focused on substantive female protagonists. As my daughter and I walked past the bookshop, the display in the window beckoned to us and we went inside. Within minutes Charlotte said, “Mommy, I want to do that!”
Thus was ignited the spark for our club that it seemed all roads had been leading to. I can say without the slightest hesitation that our mother-daughter book club was the most extraordinary formative experience in my relationship with my daughter. I cannot recommend it highly enough to other mothers looking for ways to expose their growing daughters to female-centric literature and to enrich their emotional bonds with their daughters. When I look back on our mother-daughter book club, I feel proud of what our club accomplished. We all learned and grew tremendously from the experience, and I think the girls are more confident, happier and healthier young women today due to the supportive environment of our club.
If I were starting a mother-daughter book club today, there are many things I would do differently in response to how much more challenging our culture has become for girls. It would function even more as a support group. I’d use a very similar structure, but I would want to be able to tackle head-on some of the known obstacles to healthy emotional development for girls and young women. It would be important to me to have this sharper focus, and to build a club with other mothers who shared these same concerns and values, and whose parenting style, like mine, was to talk openly and directly about the sensitive and difficult passages our girls were navigating. I would take all of the benefits of reading empowering girl-centric literature, of mother-daughter bonding within our chosen subcommunity of mothers and daughters, and the collaborative development of media literacy skills, and I would help our group harness all of that energy to push back against a media culture that tells girls their greatest value lies in how they look, and that the world they are inheriting places gendered limits on who they can be and what they can do.
My upcoming book, tentatively titled The Modern Mom’s Guide to Mother-Daughter Book Clubs: Creating a Club That Inspires and Empowers Today’s Girls Through the Magic of Books, will be a “modern” version of a guide to creating mother-daughter book clubs. I am writing it with my 21-year-old daughter, who felt that our mother-daughter book club was a transformative experience in her life. The book is a template for the kind of club I would want to start if I were doing it today, given the changes in pop culture, technology, media, and girlhood itself. It is different than others on this topic because it teaches moms how to use the club format to teach media literacy to young girls via girl-empowering books, movies and other visual media to help them respond effectively to many of the biggest challenges facing girls and women today, in the US and around the world.
I am looking forward to facilitating the Group “Moms, Girls & Great Books!” on TowardTheStars. I hope that the experience and wisdom I gained from my own club, along with the research and interviewing I am currently undertaking while writing my book, will benefit you all. If you already belong to a mother-daughter book club, are thinking of starting one, or simply wish to make book suggestions or enjoy reading good girl-empowering books with your daughter at home, I would love to be a resource for you. Another mother did that for me once, and ever since then I have enjoyed paying it forward!
Lori Day is an educational psychologist and consultant, currently running her own private practice, Lori Day Consulting. She has worked in the field of education for over 25 years, serving in varied administrative and teaching roles in public schools, private schools, and at the college level.
Lori is also an experienced freelance writer, editor and blogger. Whether writing for small businesses and nonprofits, or contributing to the Huffington Post and other online sites, she enjoys writing about teaching and learning, school life, parenting, child development, pop culture, media, gender, and many other topics.
Lori’s first book will be on shelves in the spring of 2014. Tentatively titled The Modern Mom’s Guide to Mother-Daughter Book Clubs: Creating a Club That Inspires and Empowers Today’s Girls Through the Magic of Books, it both reflects on Lori’s own long-running mother-daughter book club, and emphasizes teaching media literacy to young girls via girl-empowering books, movies and other visual media to help them respond effectively to many of the biggest challenges facing girls and women today.
Lori looks forward to helping moms create and run their own mother-daughter book clubs—or simply share good books with their daughters—through the group “Moms, Girls & Great Books!” on TowardTheStars. Please also join the conversation on Lori’s Facebook author page!