Girls Leadership Book Club: Alexander McCall Smith, Brenda Woods, Laurie Halse Anderson

This month, Girls Leadership book clubs will read books in which the main characters take control of their lives by thinking for themselves, making bold choices, and taking action that furthers their own hopes and dreams.

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If we want to raise children who grow to be confident, strong decision-makers, we have to give them opportunities to make decisions. That’s not something that our society is very good at. What we are good at is telling kids they’re not old enough and they won’t do it right and it might not be safe and it might make a mess so just let us grown-ups take care of it so it’s done right.


Kids who don’t practice making small choices – like how to wear their hair, who to be friends with, and what classes to take – aren’t likely to grow up with any skills to face the big decisions.


Even when they’re very young, kids can build their decision-making muscle. The article “Teaching Your Kids to Make Good Decisions” offers five suggestions for parents who want to help their kids strengthen their ability to make decisions. The last piece of advice resonated with me the most: “Allow poor decisions.” The psychologist quoted in the article argues that poor decisions will help kids learn about natural consequences.


I’m a believer in consequences, but in my house, we talk about failure as a means of becoming bold. Failure shows us that our bad decisions are not the end of us. We can learn from them or we can fix them or we can just endure them and realize that the worst that could happen isn’t as bad as we thought. And next time we face a decision we try to do better, but fear of failure doesn’t have as much power over us as it did before. It doesn’t drive our decisions.


Caroline Paul’s book The Gusty Girl is a chronicle of amazing adventures (which are technically mostly failures) that she could never have had if she’d let fear rule her actions. It’s not that she doesn’t feel fear, it’s that she doesn’t give it power. In a story about climbing the Golden Gate Bridge, Ms. Paul writes about bringing all her positive feelings – wonder and awe and joy – to the front, and allowing Fear to come along, too, telling it, “You’re there, but I’m not concentrating on you!”


As you read and discuss this month’s book, let yourself also reflect on your family dynamic with an impartial lens. Does your girl get to make choices on her own, or does she need your approval for every decision? You might ask your girl whether she sees herself as a decision-maker, then listen to what she has to say with an open mind. You might discover that there are more opportunities for your girl to use today’s decision making as a training ground for the decisions she’ll make tomorrow.


Happy reading.


2nd/3rd Grades

The Great Cake Mystery by Alexander McCall Smith

Buy, borrow, or download a copy of this book and read it before your next book club meeting.

About the book

In this illustrated chapter book, Alexander McCall Smith peers into the childhood of one of his most famous characters, Precious Ramotswe from The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Clever, curious Precious thinks that it might be marvelous to be a detective, and when sweets are stolen from the classroom, she decides to try her hand at solving the mystery. All evidence points to a fellow student, but Precious isn’t satisfied. Instead, she devises a clever plan to root out the real thieves.


About the author

Alexander McCall Smith is the author of the best-selling No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, as well as numerous other books for adults and children. He has won many awards for his work, including the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction in 2015 and the National Arts Club of America Medal of Honor for Achievement in Literature in 2017.


4th/5th Grades

The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods

Buy, borrow, or download a copy of this book and read it before your next book club meeting.

About the book

Violet looks African-American like her dad, but the rest of her family is white. And, since her dad died in a car accident, all Violet has is a fantasy of what it would feel like if he was still there, if she belonged with someone. Sometimes Violet just wishes she could be with people who look like her so people wouldn’t stare and comment wherever she went.


When Violet’s need for answers becomes too strong, she does the only thing she can think of to do: she contacts her dad’s mom, a woman she’s never met. Her eclectic, artistic grandmother is full of surprises, and she introduces Violet to a part of her history that she’s never known before. This is the beginning of a journey that helps Violet find what she needs and appreciate what she’s already got.

The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond was named a Kirkus Reviews Best Book.


About the author

Brenda Woods was born in Ohio, raised in Southern California, and currently lives in the Los Angeles area. Her books for young readers have earned several awards, including the Coretta Scott King Honor.


6th/7th/8th Grades

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

Buy, borrow, or download a copy of this book and read it before your next book club meeting.

About the book

When they are sold to a cruel couple in New York, Isabel vows to take care of her sister Ruth, and find a way to freedom. Though she has practically nothing of her own and little control over what happens to her, Isabel does not wait to see what fate has in store for her. Instead, she works in large and small ways to reclaim power over her life, her story weaving in and out of that of the colonies on the brink of war.


This book spans several crucial months in our nation’s history, and tells a story of freedom through the eyes of one clever, determined girl. Published in 2008, Chains won many awards, including the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction. It was an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, and a National Book Award Finalist. The story continues through two more books, Forge and Ashes.


About the author

Laurie Halse Anderson has written many books for young readers, including Speak (a National Book Award Finalist), Wintergirls, Fever 1793 (an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, and New York Public Library Best Book for Teens), and the Chains trilogy. She regularly speaks out against censorship, and received honors from the National Coalition Against Censorship and the National Council of Teachers of English for her work in support of intellectual freedom.

Ms. Anderson lives in Philadelphia, PA.

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