In 1960, in California, a few of us neighborhood kids started the Manhattan Beach 4th Street Book and Snack Club. That wasn't its official name, but that's how we thought of it. We were nine years old. With younger siblings tagging along, we rode our bikes to the pier then up the hill to the library where whispering--quiet whispering--was strictly enforced. There we roamed the stacks until we each found a book to check out, its plastic cover then crackling against our handlebars as we rode home, fast, because of the treats that awaited us. It was the best part of the club, eating our snacks while looking out at the ocean. Though we never actually discussed the stories we read, we sure had fun.
That year Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell was published. I fell in love with the Indian girl Karana, who had been abandoned on San Nicholas Island in the 1830s. Based on a true story, it sparked my imagination because the Channel Islands were practically out our front door. When it wasn't foggy we could see the purple hump of Catalina, 26 miles out; further southwest was San Nicholas where the real Juana Maria had lived for 18 years. How I wanted to canoe there with my friends and live as she had with her dog and wild birds.
Fast forward to being a grownup. I set Bronte's Book Club in the fictional Gray's Beach, a composite of all the coastal towns I had lived in. So when Bronte starts her book club as a way to make friends, she choses her favorite story: Island of the Blue Dolphins. The discussions don't go quite as planned--there's some bickering and tension--but eventually the five girls learn how to trust and to care for one another.
A dog also joins Bronte's book club. Dogs are perfect for these sorts of gatherings because they eat spilled snacks, they're good listeners, and they don't interrupt.
PHOTO: five best friends just after a swim, summer of 1964 (I'm 2nd from the left), at 4th Street in Manhattan Beach. ABOVE: This cover for Bronte's Book Club is one of my favorites because it's cheerful & fun; my editors Regina Griffin and Leanna Petronella were also cheerful and fun (and a bit sassy).