Portland library's girls-only book club in jeopardy

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PORTLAND — An all-girls book club at the Portland Public Library is designed to empower attendees, give them a voice and encourage their curiosity.

But with low attendance, library officials are deciding whether they can continue to offer the club, which meets mid-afternoon on the first Saturday of each month.

Jerri Blatt, the lead children’s librarian, said the club is only attracting between three and four girls for each meeting, although “we have a large mailing list.”

“We’ve been discussing whether we can continue this group and would love to get more participants,” Blatt said this week. “We will reassess over the winter, (but) I’m just not sure of the future for this club.”

Even so, Blatt said, “There are valid reasons” to offer a girls-only club.

“It’s really important for girls this age to feel safe to talk about issues they might not otherwise feel comfortable raising or talking about in front of boys,” she said.

The next meeting of the Smart Girls Read book group is 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 6. The book is “All’s Faire in Middle School,” which is a graphic novel by Victoria Jamieson.

The book club is open to girls between 9 and 12 and provides “a forum where girls can explore what’s on their minds –what’s really important to them,” according to the library website.

“As well as strengthening their sense of self, the books they read act as catalysts to spark critical conversations about the roles of girls and women in the past, and examining the girl culture of today,” the site adds. “All you need to participate is a desire to voice your opinion, a willingness to listen to others (and) an interest in reading and discussing books.”

Blatt said the book club includes literature with strong female protagonists from all genres, from historical fiction to mysteries to fantasy.

“It’s a lovely community of readers,” she said. “They show a lot of respect for each other and all of them come ready to talk about the books. Some of the conversations that are sparked by the girls themselves are just wonderful.”

Blatt said some of the girls are still in elementary school, while others are in middle school, so it’s important to choose books that are appropriate for the age group as a whole.

She said sometimes the girls suggest books, but librarians in the children’s room take turns leading the group and they’re all “avid readers of children’s books, so we get quite a variety (of titles) because all of us have different tastes.”

Blatt said many of the books are written by women, and another key aspect of the monthly get-together includes snack time. Like when the group read “Nightbird,” a magical realism novel by Alice Hoffman, they had fun eating homemade apple pie.

“We’ve read some really great books,” she added. “We’ve got a great collection here and (luckily) there are more than enough books to choose from.”

Blatt said the book group also likes to include local authors, like the “Deadly Flowers: A Ninja’s Tale,” series by Sarah Thomson.

“An important consideration for us is diversity – not only in genre, but in characters,” she said. “So we’re always thinking about that in our selections.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

The Portland Public Library may do away with its all-girl book club due to low attendance.