The Story of Holly and Ivy

The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden (illustrations by Barbara Cooney) is a wonderful book to kick off the holidays! But, is it good for a Mother/Daughter Book Group? Where the daughters are in second grade? Well, I think so, as all the girls enjoyed the story–and the pictures!–and we had a great conversation about it, with everybody, including the moms, joining in.
Importantly, it meets my three criteria:

The Story: This story captures the attention and the imagination of the girls because it is, as the narrator tells the reader right away, a story about wishing. A doll in a toy store is wishing for a little girl to come and take her away. (Even the setting makes the story interesting!) A little orphan girl is wishing to spend Christmas with her grandmother, even though everyone knows she doesn’t have a grandmother. And Mrs. Jones, the policeman’s wife, is wishing for a little girl of her own to share Christmas with. How these three characters go about getting their wishes makes for a charming and heart-warming tale.

Questions: This story generated many questions, but what I loved were some of the answers the girls had. For example, when asked why Abracadabra is so mean–why does he tell Holly no one will buy her and she will be put in a box–one little Bookclub Buddy responded that perhaps Abracadabra had been put in a box at one time. Hmmm, pretty astute, if you ask me. This reader, at this young age, already can see that there is a cycle in our treatment of each other–that many times we learn how to treat others through how we have been treated.

The girls explained wonderfully how wishes work, and we discovered that: sometimes wishes come true later than we would like, sometimes they don’t come true at all and we move on to other wishes, and sometimes we just have to never give up on our wishes–we have to keep on wishing!

We did a little critical thinking exercise and tried to put ourselves in the heads of our bedtime stuffies; we tried to see ourselves from their point of view. And I learned a critical thinking lesson myself, as I saw how much the illustrations in this story meant to the girls. It occurred to me that, as we get older and read books without illustrations, we may be losing our ability to gather meaning about a story from its pictures. The girls, however, are still expert at interpreting the artwork (in this case done by a Caldecott Winner); they think nothing of taking meaning about the story from the illustrations. I think this is terrific, and I will never breeze by the pictures in a book again–I’d like to thank my Bookclub Buddies for that!

Life Lessons: I think the big take-away (I hope, anyway) is that we should always have wishes–they really can’t hurt and they just may help us get what we want. But more important than wishing is doing something about it. We can wish, and we should wish, but we must act and go after what it is we are wishing for.

So, The Story of Holly and Ivy meets my criteria and I can thoroughly recommend it for a Mother/Daughter book Group. First, second, and third-graders will enjoy it.

Gooney Bird Greene by Lois Lowry

Gooney Bird Greene by Lois Lowry is not only adorable; it’s also a book that will appeal to both adults and children–not a easy thing to find. Adults will like the meta-fiction aspect of it; this is a story about telling stories. And kids will love Gooney Bird! She is as unique as the outfits she chooses each day (well, actually, she lays out her clothes the night before) and she tells the most wonderful stories. Each one has a surprise in it, and each one is terribly suspenseful. The fact that she interjects a lot of “Suddenlys” helps to keep her audience on the edge of their second-grade seats.

We read this for my second-grade Mother/Daughter Book Group, and it was a winner! What about my criteria? Let’s see:

1. The Story: Gooney Bird Greene is new to school, and she enters with a flourish. She regales her classmates and her teacher with a different story each day, and along the way the students, the teacher, and we–the readers–learn a different aspect of story-telling from each of Gooney’s tales.. We learn what makes a great story, where to find ideas for a great story, and how to tell a great story. And, best of all, we see that we should accompany every happy ending with a group dance!

2. Questions: This book generates lots of questions about story-telling, but it also brought up questions about language. One mom mentioned that a lot of Gooney’s stories are surprising because she uses language in an unexpected way, much like Amelia Bedelia. Quite true, and a wonderful inter-textual connection!

3. Life Lessons: Well, learning how to tell a good story is a lesson and a skill to take through life, and our book group decided not only to talk about Gooney Bird; we also stepped into her character and became a story-teller. Each girl stood up and told a story–trying to incorporate as many elements from the book that she could. It was fabulous! And I, for one, whenever I am losing anyone’s attention, am going to insert a “Suddenly!” just to get that person to focus and pay attention to what I have to say!

Gooney Bird Greene by Lois Lowry is a great choice for a Second-Grade Mother/Daughter book Group. Enjoy!

The Hundred Dresses

Mother/Daughter Book Groups. Hmmm…for second-graders. Hmmm…which book to choose? I have the perfect one for you: The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes.

There are lots of readable books out there, but when choosing a book for a Mother/Daughter Book Group, I keep three things in mind:

  1. The Story: No matter what, at the end of the day, what a reader of any age wants from a book is a great story. We want to enter the book, fall into the story, run around with the characters, even become one of them. We want to escape this world for another. Or…if the story is a scary one, we huddle close to each other while reading it, grabbing our stuffies, sooooooo glad that we are not in that world, but rather safely in our own!
  2. Questions: I love novels that get me wondering, get me thinking, get me asking questions. Some of these questions are the unanswerable kinds—you know—the mysteries of life kind. I don’t think having all the answers is as important as searching for them. Reading, to me, is a continual journey of searching…it’s kind of like life in that way.
  3. Life Lessons: If I can learn something valuable from a story, well then, all the better. It’s not a requirement; it’s more like a nice-to-have. Then again, what great literature is out there that we don’t learn something valuable from? The wise reader learns from the experiences of the characters in books, and avoids a lot of life’s pitfalls that way. There is so much truth in fiction, more than in non-fiction, but that’s a subject for another blog post, another day.

The Hundred Dresses meets all three of the above criteria. The story is wonderful, and my adorable seven-year-old group took to it with gusto. The story is packed with different layers, and the girls were tuned into most of them. It’s a story of friendship, of prejudice, of cowardice, and of hope, to mention a few themes that came up in our conversation.

We asked each other lots of questions, too. Was Peggy, the rich girl who had “fun” with poor Wanda each day, really a mean girl? Was she a true friend to Maddie, her “best friend”? Did Peggy really think she had helped Wanda with her “game,” or was she just telling herself a story so she wouldn’t feel guilty? Did Wanda know she was being made fun of? These are just a few of the topics we bounced around, and we didn’t definitively answer all of them. I love it that way; perhaps the girls will re-read this book at a later date and see the questions, and some of the answers, in a different light.

There’s a huge life lesson in the book, too. What would you do if you saw someone—your best friend!—making fun of someone else? Would you stand by in silence, relieved that someone other than you is the target? Or would you say something in defense of the victim? All the girls agreed that they would stand up and say something to stop the teasing, even if they were risking their friendship with their best friend. And all the moms agreed that this would not be an easy thing to do!

I highly recommend The Hundred Dresses for your Mother/Daughter Book Group, for grades first through fourth.