Women, girls bond over books

Library presents 'It's a Girl Thing'

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It's what girls and women love to do -- talk.

"We especially like to discuss a topic and how it relates to our own lives," said Currie Meyer, Bud Werner Memorial Library youth services librarian. That's the idea behind the "It's a Girl Thing" reading group.

Girls, ages 10 to 13 come to the group with their mothers (or another woman friend). Meyer chooses a book for mother and daughter to read and discuss with the group.

Last year, the group read and discussed "All Alone in the Universe" by Lynne Rae Perkins.

"It's all about girls and their friends getting in fights and someone feeling left out," Meyer said. "It's about the heartbreak of feeling like an outsider." Girls told stories about similar things happening to them at school and moms shared their own experiences. "It was therapy almost."

For each book, Meyer comes to the group with a set of discussion questions and research about the author and historical period of the book if it applies. Her job, she said, is not to control the conversation but to get it started.

Local restaurants sponsor the evening, providing dinner to the group. The only cost to the library is the purchase of one paperback copy of the book for each pair. The group is free to the mothers and daughters who attend.

"It's a Girl Thing" started in the spring of 2002 after Meyer attended a statewide conference and heard the idea from a veteran Arapahoe County librarian.

"I thought it was such a great idea," Meyer said. "We have so many great books on the shelves that lend themselves to discussion."

Meyer, who has a degree in elementary education, envies the teachers who get to regularly discuss books with their students. She watches girls check books out, but can never ask for their reaction.

On Friday, Meyer hosted the third season of "It's a Girl Thing." To keep discussion manageable, she limited the group to 10 mother/daughter pairs.

But the group has been very popular, and every session spills over onto a waiting list. The three sessions scheduled for this fall already are full.

Sign-up for the spring will be announced in the Steamboat Pilot & Today. Meyer suggests that anyone interested in joining "be on top of it."

Meyer has a strict set of criteria for the books she chooses for discussion.

First, the book needs to center on a female main character age 10 to 13 (the age of the girls who attend the discussion group). The book must be available in paperback so the library can afford to buy enough copies for everyone. It also must be critically acclaimed and less than 250 pages.

The books also must be discussable.

"That is a gray area," Meyer said. She likes to choose books that involve a societal issue such as the book, "Ties that Bind, Ties that Break" by Lensey Namioka. The book, discussed in November of 2002, is about a Chinese girl who refused to have her feet bound in the 1920s.

"It brought up discussion of dieting, makeup, pierced ears and high heels," Meyer said. "We talked about the things we do that are less than healthy or even painful for acceptance from society."

Girls ages 10 to 13 are right at the cusp of adolescence. They still like being with their moms, and their moms like being with them, "but they are also starting to bust out on their own. They are just getting into boys and starting to have new privileges," Meyer said. "But most importantly, this is the time when girls get silenced. They want to fit in and so they won't say what they think. 'It's a girl thing' is a place where they should know it's OK to express opinions. It's OK to disagree."

It's also a place for them to explore difficult topics.

"They know about things like Sept. 11, but may not know how they feel about it or how to ask questions about it," Meyer said. The discussion group opens up a venue for those kinds of conversations.

"My Lousiana Sky" by Kimberly Willis Holt, discussed in May, takes place in rural Louisiana in the 1950s.

"It talks about racism, women starting to have careers, Elvis," Meyer said. For the girls it was a chance to learn about an era in American history. For some of the mothers, it was a chance to share their memories.

On Friday, the group discussed "Gathering Blue" by Lois Lowry. The book is a science-fiction story about a futuristic society that somewhat resembles the Middle Ages, Meyer said. "Children aren't nurtured and anyone with a physical flaw is discarded by society." The main character has a disability. "There are a lot of open-ended questions in this book."

In November, the group will discuss "Letters from Rifka" by Karen Hesse and "Chasing Redbird" by Sharon Creech.

"What I like about 'It's a Girl Thing' is the idea of daughters and moms being on the same level," Meyer said. "They come in with different experiences and opinions, but the group is open to everyone -- it's not dominated by adults or girls. No one is more of an expert than another. It's equal."

-- To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210

or e-mail aphillips@steamboatpilot.com

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