Matters of the heart, body image, self-esteem, friendships, and family issues are some of the topics explored in Ask Elizabeth by actress Elizabeth Berkley, who has appeared on Broadway, in films, and on television. The author is perhaps best known to tweens and teens for her role in TV’s Saved by the Bell, now in syndication worldwide, on which she acted from 1989 to 1993. The book, a scrapbook-style compilation of girls’ personal stories, commentary from Berkley, and advice from experts, will be published by Putnam on March 22. The book grew out of Berkley’s popular “Ask-Elizabeth” well-being and empowerment workshops aimed at girls 11–17, which she launched in 2006

More than 30,000 girls have participated in the not-for-profit workshops, which Berkley conducts for students and youth groups across the country. “These workshops have been a heart-and-soul mission for me, and they were borne out of several things,” Berkley explains. “One’s sense of self as an adolescent and teenager is very delicate. It is an isolating time where girls can feel so alone. I look back at myself as a teen, in all my frizzy-haired glory on Saved by the Bell, and I think how I wish that I’d had a forum to share how I was feeling.”

When Saved by the Bell went into syndication internationally seven years ago, Berkley says she was increasingly recognized by teens, who approached her for autographs or to snap a photo. “One day I was sitting on a bench near a Manhattan girls’ school, and a few girls came up to ask me questions—superficial girly things at first—and then the group grew in size to maybe 20, and we got into a meaningful discussion, right there on the sidewalk,” Berkley recalls. “Instances like that kept happening, and my husband [artist Greg Lauren] teased me that I should write a column. It started out as a joke, but in fact he saw something in me before I realized that being of service to girls in a meaningful way was something I wanted to do in my heart.”

Another turning point for Berkley was the death of her godmother, who had been an important mentor and confidante. “When she passed away, I felt a kind of passing of the torch, and I realized I wanted to create an organized forum for girls, to give them a safe place where they can ask questions,” she says. “I am still on my own journey in life, and don’t have all the answers, and the workshops are never about me. I facilitate them and set the framework, and the magic happens when I back off and allow the girls to empower one another through their wisdom, strength, and experiences.”

In response to requests from teens, parents, and teachers, Berkley launched a Web site, and created a column on mother-daughter issues for “But girls kept asking me for something more tangible, something more intimate,” she says. “So I decided to create a book using as guideposts the questions girls most commonly ask in the workshops, and brought in a team of female experts to weigh in.”

Once Berkley whittled down the commonly asked questions to 15 ("How do you get over a broken heart?; "How can I make all my dreams and goals real?"), she conducted interviews with girls all over the world—in person and via e-mail blasts, i-chats, texts, and Skype—to gather material for Ask Elizabeth. “We created a dialogue in the same spirit as the workshops,” she says. “The girls told their personal stories, and they were moved to know that what they were sharing would help someone they’d never met.”

The design of Ask Elizabeth was also a high priority for Berkley. “I saw this as a group diary, and wanted it to look like it had been passed from girl to girl, with each one taping, gluing, or stapling in their stories. I wanted the girls to handwrite their contributions—the handwritten resonates far more than an e-mail written on a keyboard.”

Berkley lined up Paul Kepple and Ralph Geroni of Headcase Design to design the book in collaboration with her and her husband. The volume features copious photos, drawings, and paintings—some contributed by Lauren. “Greg was there, hands-on, every step of the way—even at 3:00 in the morning, when we’d be kneeling on the floor, taping and gluing,” says the author.

Berkley’s dedication paid off handsomely, according to Jen Besser, v-p and publisher of Putnam Books for Young Readers, who edited the book. “Elizabeth had a specific vision for this book, both in terms of its content and look,” Besser says. “She worked tirelessly along with the designers, putting together mock spreads. Her energy and passion kept us all focused and motivated.”

Besser, who arrived at Putnam after the house acquired Ask Elizabeth in what she calls “a hard-fought auction in which both adult and children’s publishers competed,” also praises the voice that Berkley brings to her book. “There is nothing patronizing here,” she observes. “Elizabeth comes across as a perfect big sister, one who listens and shares her own experiences. She lets girls know that she’s been through this, that they’re not alone, and they will survive. And she does it graciously, with a sense of humor and genuine empathy.”

Putnam has ordered a combined hardcover and paperback printing of 75,000 copies; Berkley will promote Ask Elizabeth on a two-week national tour that kicks off March 22 and will include presentations in school auditoriums as well as bookstore visits. Though she will obviously come face-to-face with many fans during her tour, Berkley is gratified that Ask Elizabeth “will reach girls who are in places that I am not able to get to physically. The book has such a strong collective heartbeat, and I really hope it will arm girls with tools to help them fully find themselves and move on from there. I want it to be a clear road map.”

Ask Elizabeth by Elizabeth Berkley. Putnam, $21.99, paper $16.99 Mar. ISBN 978-0-399-25448-2; -25449-9