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Summer Book Club Fun

May 2008

Who doesn't love the end of a school year and the start of summer vacation? For me, it meant that there was finally plenty of time to do the things I really enjoyed — hanging out with my friends, and spending many hours every day reading book after book from the huge stack I'd take out of the Princeton Public Library each week.

In The Secret Book Club, the newest book in the Main Street series, I write about friends, books, and summertime. The story begins one year after Flora and Ruby Northrop's move to their grandmother's home in Camden Falls, Massachusetts, following the deaths of their parents. School is out, and the girls' second summer in their new hometown gets off to a mysterious start when Flora, Ruby, and their best friends, Nikki Sherman and Olivia Walter, each receive a package with no return address. In each package are two books, The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright, and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien, as well as a letter explaining that the girls have been chosen to be part of a secret summer book club! When the girls read the letter, they learn that they will receive a package every few weeks, which will include a new book, and a letter listing activities and things to talk about, plus some instructions to follow. The girls are intrigued by the idea of the book club and also very curious about the identity of the sender.

When I got the idea for the secret book club, one of the things I was excited about was selecting the books that the anonymous sender would give to the girls. To get started, I made long lists of books I'd loved both as a child and as an adult. Then I tracked down copies of the books I didn't already own and started rereading. It was hard to whittle down the list to just five books, but in the end, the ones I chose are in different genres (historical fiction, realistic fiction and fantasy), and are set in different time periods (e.g. the early 1900s, the Depression era, the 1940s). It was fun to come up with interesting activities to go along with each of the stories. I wanted the girls to love the books as much as I do, and also to experience something special as they read them together.

With summer vacation starting, now is a great time to start a book club of your own if you don't already belong to one. A good first step is to check with your school librarian and public librarian to find out if either one is running a summer book club that you could join. Another possibility is to see if one of your local bookstores will be sponsoring a summer book club. If there isn't already a book club in your area, you may want to talk with your friends about starting one together. A parent might be a big help to the club when you're trying to select the books and set up the activities. Or you might want to start a mother/daughter club, for example, or a parent/kid club. And don't worry if you think you're not a big reader. Ruby Northrop thinks she doesn't like to read, but she quickly discovers that she doesn't want to be left out of the fun conversations the rest of the girls are having. At one point, she insists the girls stop talking so she can run home and finish the latest book. The girls also learn that being in a book club can introduce you to a lot of different authors, and when you find one you really like, it's fun to read everything that author has written. This is exactly what Olivia plans to do at the end of The Secret Book Club.

For those of you who are curious about the other three books the girls read that summer, they are: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Delois Taylor, The Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars, and Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. I hope you get a chance to read all of these books this summer, and that you enjoy them as much as I have.

Happy summer reading!