Most female book discussion groups follow a similar design. Everyone convenes at someone's sumptuous home for gossip and wine, the book discussed for at best 15 minutes before its time for a meal or snacks. Not so with a Katonah mother/daughter book group that meets on the second Sunday of every month as six moms and their young daughters talk about a book for over an hour, in depth and detail.
This past November the group read Jerry Spinelli's Crash, a coming-of-age YA novel about a cocky, bullying young boy named John "Crash" Coogan who undergoes a powerful transition transforming him into a sensitive young man. At Celeste Potash's home in mid December, amid cups of apple cider and coffee, as James Taylor softly crooned in the background, the youngest members of the group, most of them in fourth grade, offered a sophisticated and thoughtful dissection of the novel's storyline, its characters, the book's affect on them, and even the writing itself, under their mothers' watchful eyes.
The Katonah mother/daughter book group has been meeting for a little over a year. The moms are award-winning children's book author Judy Blundell, jewelry designer Celeste Potash, pediatrician Cynthia Braun, writer Laura Beth Gilman, psychotherapist Jackie Reilly, and poet Moira Thielking. Their daughters Cleo Watson, Annika Braun, Ruby Potash, Mikaela Marcotullio, Esther Thielking, and Sadie Gilman are all fourth graders at Katonah Elementary School. Acadia Thielking is at the John Jay Middle School in sixth grade.
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After everyone had a mini bagel or a bite of cinnamon bread, Cynthia Braun got the discussion going, but after that, it really was the girls' show. "I thought this was going to be the usual nerd-bully book, but there was a lot more to it," Mikaela Marcotullio observed. "The family didn't spend any meal time together, the kids ordered a lot of pizza," Esther Thielking said. "I think it would have been good if Crash could have meditated," Sadie Gilman suggested. Passages were read aloud to prove a point. At the end of the discussion, everyone voted thumbs up or thumbs down whether they liked the book or not.
While the girls let off steam afterward, running through the house, the moms talked about how the book group has strengthened their mother/daughter bond. "Any venue where you get to spend this kind of quality time with your child is incredibly good," Jackie Reilly said. Braun is the group's organizer, reserving the books at the library, getting the calendar together, and sending out the emails. Books selected to read are a collaborative effort undertaken by the next meeting's hosting daughter and her mom. "We try to find books that none of the girls have yet read," Judy Blundell said. "Which is hard because they all read a lot." Some of the books the group has read and enjoyed include Dealing With Dragons, The Higher Power of Lucky, and Where the Lilies Bloom. Little Women, it turned out, was not a great success.
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Jackie Reilly said one of the things she loves about the group is that it creates a time she can spend talking with her daughter where there is "no direction, no correction." There was a sweetness of physical bonding as several of the girls sat close to each other, toying with each other's hair, while others cuddled with their mothers, two bodies sharing one seat. Looking on from my fly on the wall vantage hidden behind a column in the Potash's artful living room, the experience reminded me of when I read books to my young child before he went to bed; this is the extended version, and shared with good friends, no less.
-By Eve Marx
This article appears in the March/April 2011 issue of Town Vibe Bedford