Thursday, November 29, 2007

"The Daring Book for Girls"

When the debate over The Dangerous Book for Boys happened earlier this year, I was firmly on the side of everyone rolling their eyes at the idea of that book being just for boys. There is nothing gender-specific about coin tricks or marbling paper, for Pete's sake. So when I heard about a possible version for girls, I admit I got my eyes ready to roll again. I imagined a book with all the cool stuff from the boys' edition replaced with dumbed-down recipes and tips for making phone calls to the boy you like (squee!).

I'm so glad to find out I was wrong.

The Daring Book for Girls by Andrea J. Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz is a compendium of craft projects, games, and stories mixed with sports, history, and science for good measure. I would have loved this book as a kid. Picture a little girl in ponytails and glasses geeking out over the Greek and Latin root word chart, making a half-dozen sit-upons and poring over the stories of real-life princesses and spies. Age the girl twenty-odd years and you've got a pretty accurate image of me with this book this past month.

The brief sections are consistently engaging and the book encourages dipping here and there in repeated readings. Page after page took me straight back to my childhood. There were the friendship bracelets we churned out in junior high and the cootie catchers so popular amongst the fourth grade set. A suggested book list full of beloved titles (Island of the Blue Dolphins, anyone?). Lemonade stands and God's Eyes. Then there were all the things I wish I had known. How to make peach pit rings or a homemade flashlight. Five basic knots and the rules of darts. Variations on hopscotch I had no idea existed. And basketball tips that would have come in handy during my ill-fated year on the seventh grade team (season total: 2 points).

The book has the retro look so popular right now, but I think the content also taps into the nostalgia of parents like me who remember a mostly unscheduled, electronic-free childhood. It's a book inviting kids to explore, imagine and create. Admirably, it achieves that without seeming dated. Vintage content with modern sensibilities.

But what truly won me over was the fact that the authors place no confining expectations on the girls who will read it. They assume they will be equally interested in making the ultimate scooter as in learning to chain daisies. They talk about tools and hardware and basic finance without treating them as exotic topics for a girls' book. All the while celebrating friendship and the accomplishments of real women throughout history. It's honest empowerment instead of treacly Girl Power. In short, just what an egalitarian mom like me looks for.

I do think a lot of drama could have been avoided if the first book had just been marketed for kids, not only boys. But now there are two books instead of one, giving us twice as many creative activities and interesting trivia to peruse. In our house the twin books will sit in a pair on the shelf and I'll pull them both down when we're looking for some lazy summer fun.

Just don't ever tell the boys that I think our book is cooler.

Thanks to Mother Talk and Harper Collins, the nifty sponsors of this review.


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