5th Grade Book Club: The Uglies

What is Beauty and What’s Up with Heidi Montag

The book club that my 5th grade daughter attended was so dead on. 5th grade these days at my elementary school seems to be buzzing with who likes whom gossip and “dates” which seem to be innocent enough. There is, of course, lots of change going on, both in noticing the opposite sex (or not!) and in bodies that seem to spout both up and, well, out. Not all the kids are on the same page; it’s that awkward coming of age time when everyone is developing at their own rate as set by their biological clock whether they like it or not.

So when the Mom Friend hosted this book club and suggested The Uglies by Scott Westerfeld because her daughter’s aunt, a private school middle grade English teacher, had given it as a holiday gift, I thought, “Hmmm… I wonder if everyone is ready for this book?” It’s not that I don’t like this book, the middle graders on our street love this book series and it comes up again and again on my own lists for middle school and YA lit.

At first my fifth grader who does not want to deal with this thing called puberty was reluctant to read this book. She’s been racing through adventure fantasy series of the Harry Potter variety at breakneck speed and wants to stay in this happy place for  as long as possible. But I insisted she read her book club book. After all, it’s difficult to participate if you don’t read the book (as I, ahem, know from experience through my own book clubs!).

She read the book reluctantly at first but by the end, actually enjoyed it, and was excited to see her friends at book club.  The mom had prepared materials for a discussion that was  fascinating to me. She had a small pile of tabloid and teen fashion magazines and asked the girls what they thought beauty is. And it turns out that the girls had a wide range of ideas of what beauty is from “straight, white teeth”, “long thick hair,” to “being thin.”

She then spread out the magazines and asked them what they thought of these pictures. There was a robust discussion around the fact that these pictures don’t reflect the range of beauty of what our book club girls would define as beauty. These pictures were of girls who looked by and large pretty similar. I thought that was pretty insightful of these 5th grade girls!

The coup de grâce to a mass media definition of  beauty, was when the Mom brought out “before and after” pictures of Heidi Montag whose myriad of plastic surgery operations made the tabloids go crazy. She’s in her early twenties! What was equally fascinating and gratifying to me and the Mom host was that our book club girls all thought that Heidi was the prettiest during the “before” and they couldn’t understand why she’d get anything changed. And, they were horrified at her “after” pictures.

I know that all these girls are blasted day and night with unrealistic body images by the media so it was pretty terrific to get this reality check that our kids were keeping their heads above water in this ocean of pressure to look a certain way. And I thought this book club was brilliant! Thank you Mom Friend for a terrific book club that gave our girls a shot of confidence that there are many standards for beauty and that each of them is a shining example!

I hope this helps you if you are planning a book club for your daughter.  If you had a great book club, would you please share?  We always need ideas! Thank you!

Montag in Las Vegas in December 2007 (a.k.a. “before”)

Before and After from The Huffington Post. Note that this “before” is still after her first round of plastic surgery so it’s more like Before-Middle-After with this pic being Middle and After.

For more ideas about Book Clubs for Kids including book and activity suggestions, please click on this post or this category of posts.

To view this or any book more closely at Amazon, please click on image of book.

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By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. love what you’re doing — it’s so important for girls to talk about this issue!

    • To Melissa,
      I can’t take credit. The Mom Friend who hosted is awesome and she’s also on the board for Families First so I think she is especially tuned in to these issues. It was a great book club though and all the moms did a collective sigh of relief that our girls seem to have positive images of themselves so far! By the way, I love Imagination Soup. Your blog rocks!

  2. Wow. Sobering about what girls’ are exposed to and must deal with, isn’t it? These days it seems there’s an endless stream of free sex and plastic surgery going on–with girls UNDER 18!

    I have a fifth grade girl and we’ve tried to have the “talk,” but she seems so unwilling to go there. Not interested in boys yet, I guess I’ll just keep the lines of communication open and go with HER schedule!

    What else can a mother do?

    • To Dianne,
      The media is relentless. I also have a post on the best birds and bees books (www.pragmaticmom.com/?p=2066) . I bought my 5th grader Understanding the Facts of Life and left it in her room. She scanned through it and then we did a Q and A. It was much easier to have a book as the basis. Turns out she had a few questions but it was on confusing diagrams of the uterus and it turned out to be pretty well received.

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