Great food, great conversation and great literature: combine these elements and you have the book club, an activity virtually tailor-made for moms, who tend to relish book club meetings for the opportunity to escape diapers, dishes and-temporarily, of course-their kids, and relax with a glass of wine among women friends.
Recently, however, it seems that no sooner are the diapers outgrown than the kids are being invited along to book club, especially if those kids happen to be girls.
"I probably had the idea for a mother-daughter book group even before my daughter was born," says Oak Park mom Deborah Wess, who organized a book club for fellow moms and their daughters four years ago. "It just seemed like a perfect fit for my interests: reading, reading quality kids' books and reading with other kids."
After her daughter's birth, Wess read The Mother-Daughter Book Club, Shireen Dodson's memoir of starting a book club with nine other moms and their girls.
"It crystallized a lot of my reasons for having a mother-daughter group," she says. "Not only did I think it would be valuable for the girls and moms to discuss books, I felt it could be a pro-girl, feminist activity."
For moms just starting or joining a mother-daughter book club, part of the pleasure of the experience can come from having a fresh reason to seek out and read the best children's literature.
"I enjoy reading the children's books I missed growing up," says Cris Rivas, also of Oak Park, about the club she participates in with her 6-year-old daughter.
Rivas reads the books aloud to her daughter, which literacy experts say is an important activity for parents to engage in with their children.
"Beyond the primary grades, it's very common for children to be interested in texts that are beyond their reading level," says Camille Blachowicz, professor of education and director of the Reading Center at National-Louis University. Reading aloud to children even after they are independent readers, she says, "is a wonderful way to keep increasing their vocabulary, especially when you're reading something that is just above their level."
Another activity that supports literacy skills is simply talking with adults.
"We know that parent-child interaction builds vocabulary," Blachowicz says. "Not just answering questions, but a real conversation, with give and take."
So how do you host a literary salon for 6-year-olds?
First grade teacher Cathy Ward of Chicago likes to challenge her students to make personal connections to a story, asking children whether they have ever been in a situation like one a character is facing.
"It's OK to stop and discuss the story as you're reading," she says. "You don't have to wait until you're finished."
As children get older, they may gravitate toward books that resonate with their own concerns about social relationships and growing up. For mothers, book club meetings can become a window into the social and emotional lives of preteen and teen girls. For the girls, it's an opportunity to learn more about their friends' ideas, feelings-and literary tastes.
Alex Brockman, 13, and Daisy Waid, 11, both of Berwyn, agree that one of the best parts of belonging to a book club is reading books they might not otherwise read.
Both girls also value the social time with peers and adults.
"It's like having a party for no reason," Brockman says.
Gloria Mitchell is a mom and freelance writer involved in three mother-daughter book clubs.