April 17, 2015 Update In honor of National Library Week as I put the finishing touches on my presentation tomorrow about gender stereotypes and navigating unhealthy cues to kids, I’m sending a loud SHOUTOUT to remind that this book enlightens, informs, entertains, and lights the path for parents and educators alike to reverse the damage of some less than ideal pop culture cues.
May 4, 2014 Like Harry Potter’s protective cloak of invisibility, I’ve always found media literacy to be a powerful shield in the battle for hearts and minds of children, capable of an almost magical form of inoculation against some of the more toxic cues being served in our cultural zeitgeist.
Now, just in time for Mother’s Day, a new book hits the stands as a media literacy gift to us all, parlaying the fun informality of a mother-daughter book club into a potent, positive elixir with lasting effects.
Her Next Chapter: How Mother-Daughter Book Clubs Can Help Navigate Malicious Media, Risky Relationships, Girl Gossip and So Much More pairs the perspectives of two generations in a hands-on antidote to the challenging behaviors and negative cues coming at kids in the name of ‘edgy’ and ‘outrageous’ media messaging.
Written by educational psychologist Lori Day with tween reflections by her now collegiate daughter Charlotte Kugler, the book is both a family enhancement tool and a “you’re not alone” support group (for both the moms and the girls!).
She manages to use her pen and her prose to leap beyond the power of mother-daughter book clubs that choose strong characters to seed independent thought, toward an even more proactive approach deconstructing some of the present day societal angst swirling around the adolescent sphere.
“Learning how to use books, movies and other audiovisual media as tongs with which to pick up and examine difficult topics is central to the book,” writes the author.
Aptly named, Her Next Chapter springs forward to the next generation of girls growing up amidst selfies, Vines, Instagrams, status updates and texting to uncork the important conversations swirling in girl culture with hands-on media literacy to not only understand the issues but to combat them.
“When it really comes down to it, I wrote Her Next Chapter because I see the potential of mother-daughter book clubs when it comes to teaching media literacy. Sure they are great for reading and bonding and exploring the issues of growing up female—everyone knows that, and this has been true for many years. The really extraordinary thing about a more modern version of these clubs, beyond all of that, is that they are a concrete tool for helping girls deconstruct the toxic messages they are bombarded with every day.”
In our ‘anything goes’ reality TV era of humiliation and degradation as sport, and The Outrage Industry and incivility proliferating what passes for cable news shows and screaming talking heads, I find it uncommonly refreshing that this parenting coach, girls empowerment colleague and Brave Girls Alliance partner set out to strike back at pop culture’s vapid values with simple, sage suggestions that any parent can use to flip the message and get the dialogue going in a healthier direction.
It’s prose with a purpose…
“We need to counteract stereotyped and sexualized girl culture with positive messages about who girls and women really are and what they can do. As mothers, we wanted to work together as a “village” to develop open communication with our daughters early on, so our girls would be listening (and talking to us) when all the marketing and media messaging aimed at girls needed to be deconstructed and kept at bay,” Lori Day said. “We knew it was becoming increasingly difficult to raise happy, healthy girls with good self-esteem in our increasingly shallow, beauty-obsessed society. We felt we could do a better job at this together than separately.”
Her Next Chapter…Critical thinking skills couched in comfy environs
With a nod to Shireen Dodson’s “100 Books for Girls to Grow On” and “The Mother-Daughter Book Club,” Her Next Chapter goes beyond recommendations of great books for girls to deftly help adolescents navigate the choppy seas of today’s pop culture as they tack and jibe through 21st century media explorations of social networking and relational aggression, body image and sexualization, non-conforming cues, diversity, self-identity, gender stereotypes, personal safety, social norming, bullying, bystanding and beyond.
It’s no surprise that I’d wildly applaud this method of using book clubs for critical thinking, confidence building and writing a new page in building intimacy in mother-daughter relationships, as most of my work centers around using relevant media to speak the language of youth leveraging current entertainment.
At Shaping Youth, we use characters, shows and even socio-emotional plot points to deconstruct pop culture cues and marketing messages into a healthier lens so kids can define themselves on their OWN terms.
Whether it’s tapping the movie Frozen as an icebreaker for meaningful conversations about bullying, deception, and isolation, playing ‘spot the spin’ in TV shows like Glee’s sex-ed scenarios with fact vs fiction analysis, or hearing kids truly listen to music’s mixed messages impacting public health from dating violence to misogyny…It’s easy to see how characters, storylines and larger than life personalities become conduits for discussing the notion of changing the channel of influence and looking within ourselves for answers to the prickly questions of how we all choose to walk through this world.
Lori Day’s daughter, Charlotte, an 8th grader at the time, shared this insight in her middle-school paper,
“The discussions we engage in during the book club meetings often begin as conversations about problems in the text that the protagonist encounters and overcomes, and inevitably shift seamlessly to conversations about similar problems we have experienced and dealt with while growing up.”–Charlotte, grade 8
Heck of an 8th grade vocabulary I’d say, but Charlotte taps into the game-changer of what makes this type of close-knit, trusted group built over time with a sense of communal warmth an important, safe harbor from the judgment of girl culture and peer to peer interactions at school.
It’s an almost sacred space akin to a “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” candlelight moment, where walls come down, armor gets left at the door, and things get real.
I read Her Next Chapter with lots of head bobbing ‘aha’ moments of issues I’d wished we’d thought about ‘back in the day’ of our own mother-daughter book club. We had a great group of fun folks with girl-centric and later girl-chosen activity-based themes starting at the very early reader phase…Alas, our girls’ reading levels and personalities were all over the board as they aged; with some slogging through and others reading Harry Potter in 1st grade; so in retrospect, I’d take Lori’s advice and wait until Grade 3 or so when some of those skill sets are fully established.
Still, I distinctly recall the amazing perspectives gleaned from both the moms AND daughters from our diverse group of book club pals and personalities who had parted ways in different directions during middle school and only reunite monthly at book club which became like a cross between a focus group and a slumber party, swapping experiences of public, private and regional school differences and using every second of those first 30 minutes before book club started to ground themselves in ‘girl culture’ recon and recaps swapping tidbits like data nuggets of gold.
As the years progressed, I’d say we managed to learn more from each other by mixing up “the village” of “cliques and tribes” to careen far beyond the touchpoints of book club into some VERY enlightening conversations inching toward the high school years when it finally disbanned. Her Next Chapter carries forth the ‘it takes a village’ theme with their own public forum on their site, and also their active Facebook page.
Her Next Chapter helps with the prologue, the rest is up to you…
Of course, one of the first thoughts I had before I’d read the book and interviewed Lori was “Wait, are kids even READING for pleasure anymore?” What are the stats? How can we amp up media literacy couched as a fun fest?
How can we inspire reluctant readers AND girls with media management issues competing for time amidst umpteen texts, a digital deluge of FOMO (fear of missing out) and no phone zones with family time to add “book club” to the ‘to do’ list?
What does a 21st century book club look like? Are fun activities accompanying the book now Vines and Instagrams? Storybird or StoryScape?
Using guidelines from Her Next Chapter book clubs are like the character’s refrain from Princess Bride “As you wish…”
Her Next Chapter starts out with three chapters on the “how-to” logistics and thoughtful questions to examine BEFORE creating a successful mother-daughter book club, complete with tips on hashing out ‘values’ and building consensus on dicey factors of sex, violence, and age appropriateness of recommended reading… when to hold or fold if absenteeism, dropouts, or not finishing the book become a recurring theme…ways to “get unstuck” and refresh and re-energize a club with activities and fun…and most of all, how to draw out “questions that help the girls pivot from discussing characters in the book or movie to talking about their own experiences”…
The balance of the book uses a simple non-linear set-up that really worked for me, focusing on eight core topics girls are grappling with repeatedly in today’s environs. (making it easy to address general tween themes or zero in on specific ‘drama du jour’ issues that may need unearthed as a catalyst for conversation and hands-on problem solving) It has a porridge perfect blend of raw candor, helpful tips and some hilarious first person touchpoints that were easily digested.
The book often paints a family picture we’d all like to leap into: “…We had two bookmarks in the book and would pass it back and forth on the beach, occasionally commenting on being ahead or behind and teasing about what was coming up that the other had not yet read”…
Or pithy prose that’s warm and amusing…“My editor discovered me on a soda fountain stool at HuffPo”…It has a casual, BFF tonality, with some serious academic cred…my kinda poolside read.
The media literacy discussions were smart and thoughtful, with open-ended prompts that could springboard into some deep dives for those ready to wade out of the shallow end with a splash. Of course there are handy ages/key takeaways of each chapter’s subject matter with two outside contributors (yes, I’m dodging the word ‘experts’ as usual) and two generational perspectives (each chapter’s “Reflection from Charlotte” adds context and a personal kids’ eye lens from the era) along with aligned activities, movies/TV/media recommendations in addition to the excellent curation of books themselves. Fun!
Lori Day summed,
“It’s important for moms to talk to girls about media literacy and find the teachable moments every day, but what mother-daughter book clubs can do is slightly different. You can use carefully chosen female-centric books, movies and internet media to open side doors into difficult conversations, and to do that in a group setting that is really fun.
Sometimes girls, especially as they get older, start to tune mom out…But in the club setting, there are other mothers and other girls and that helps girls feel less under a microscope and more free to talk. The magical thing is what happens when a conversation about a challenge faced by a character in a book—say, bullying—pivots seamlessly into a conversation the girls start having about bullying experiences in their own lives. In those moments, they forget the moms are even there. It’s just amazing.”
With Mother’s Day upon us, I can’t think of a better gift than the opportunity for closeness…
Are you ready to open the book to a new page in your mother-daughter relationship?
Girls are “Unwritten”…Her Next Chapter brilliantly enables them to place the pen in their own hands…
Take it away Natasha Bedingfield!
Happy Mother’s Day to all the variations of ‘mother-daughter’ relationships Lori Day mentions in her book: stepmother/stepdaughter, foster mother/foster daughter, aunt/niece, guardian/girl, grandmother/grandaughter, daughter with two moms (+all those other ‘village people’ surrogates, nannies/community caregivers-single w/out kids pseudo-moms who help pals freely…truly takes a village!)
Here’s to writing your next chapter well.
Visual Credits: Screenshots/photos via Her Next Chapter online media/book via author Interview: via phone (nice to chat-1st time ever)