Last week my daughter and I read the classic Bridge to Terabithia. I wouldn’t have re-read this on my own (too sad, for one thing!), but a little group of my fifth grade daughter’s friends organized the SS-MD-BC: Second-Sunday-of-the-month Mother-Daughter Book-Club, and we had our first meeting last weekend. I’m excited that in the upcoming months my reading habits will expand to include a new literature especially since in recent years my daughter has not had the patience for me reading to her in the evenings as we used to when she was younger, much preferring to read on her own.
I’m also excited to be part of this group. In our first meeting last Sunday – just an hour and a half which included 15 minutes of decorating the covers of their new “reading notebooks”, 20 minutes of technical discussion about running the group, and another 20 minutes of play and snack afterwards), we had a wonderful and connecting discussion. Magically, there was a great comfort and joy in talking about the book together – and crying together (a roll of toilet paper made many circuits!) There was a range of emotional outlay, among the mothers and daughters both – a couple of the girls were tearful for much of the discussion, even breaking into heaving sobs at times. Others were more stoic. Everyone was clearly touched by their friends' feelings, if not obviously by the book itself. Most of the moms laughed at ourselves as we wiped away our own tears more subtly.
My own daughter was one of the more reserved there. She passed on the toilet paper on each round, and she declined invitations to comment on the story, except with the most factual contributions. Yet, because of the “shelving crisis” which made our public library unable to find Bridge to Terabithia in our time frame except for as a book on tape, I have insight into my daughter’s engagement with the story. In fact, my daughter and I did not actually read Bridge to Terabithia together last week, we listened together, snuggled up cozily in the same room, where I watched her body tense at the difficult bits, her face shine with admiration for the characters at some points, and cloud with fear and sadness in others. Like my daughter I have always been an avid reader, and like her I also was reserved during group discussions all through high school (who am I kidding – all through college and grad school too, and even now I still refine and re-refine my thoughts in my head before blurting them out, often with that panicky feeling). I know there are thoughts and ideas burbling inside her, but it can be a hard process to express those internalizations. As an adult, watching these kids learning how to interpret their feelings and understandings of literature I realize more than ever how productive and crucial to scholarship is the act of participating in group discussions, whether it be at a lab meeting, or a question and answer session after a talk, or discussion of a particular work or paper, or a class discussion, or just with a friend over lunch; and how important it is to practice this process, which can be painful instead of fun.
Next month we will host SS-MD-BC at our house, and my daughter gets to pick the book. She has chosen one that is far less sad, and I’m curious to see whether this will bring a different range of interactions to the group. I have the feeling that as we progress with this safe, encouraging group we’ll all get better and better at exploring books with different themes, and at taking the risks that go along with practicing together. It’s great to have this chance to practice these risks in a milieu that will maximize positive return, especially for girls: feeling that heady rush in putting together a concept, or satisfaction of delving into an agreement with someone, or convincing someone of your idea is a powerful start in building a confident scholar.
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