Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Blog book tour: The Daring Book for Girls

My very first official review. With a reviewer copy of the book and everything. Woo-hoo! And the fact that I was one of about one hundred did not dampen my spirits one bit.

First, I have to admit to having had great big hopes for The Daring Book for Girls. And not just because it was promoted as "our" answer to the much praised and much criticized The Dangerous Book for Boys (criticized for, you know, the "for boys" part). I mean how could you not anticipate a book that pairs "daring" with "girls"? Written by Mother Talk's Andi Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz it promised to be a nice ride.

And mostly, it is. A book that tells girls to use power tools to build a flower press and a scooter, teaches them to tie proper knots, tells them to try something 200 times (assuring them that they will get it by then), and doesn't just instruct them on how to make a paper construction that flies but also explains what makes one of those fly will always have a soft spot in my heart. I also appreciated the many cultural mainstays that I do not have in my repertoire in their English-language versions on account of not growing up in this country-- jump rope and hand clap rhymes, for example, and slumber party games (although what is up with an independent chapter on palmistry, especially one so prominently placed at the beginning of the book, on page 8, I will never know). Add to that cartwheels and back walkovers, and you have my daughter's undivided attention too. She can do those things owning to her gymnastics training, but seeing the instructions, complete with diagrams, right there on the page made her think it is a very cool book.

Speaking of said daughter. When the book first arrived, she wanted to know what it was, so I read the title to her. Her reaction? "Why is it only for girls? Boys may like things in there too." Yes, kiddo, yes they would. It appears my constant assault on gender stereotypes is working (insert evil laugh and creepy hand rubbing here).

All of that said, however, this book was put together, from concept to sale, in a matter of months, and, unfortunately, it shows. While some chapters are written in flowing prose replete with witty turns of phrase, others are choppy and awkward. They feel like they missed their appointment with an editor. In some places fact checkers dropped the ball. I mean, seriously, sulfur is so not a component of DNA, let alone a main component. Phosphorus is not a main component either, but at least it is a key component.

The educator in me is cringes at slights of hand, even for brevity. Those math tricks, for example, are for sure useful, but I would've appreciated that section a lot more if it included explanations of why they work or, at least, a challenge to the readers to figure it out.

In a somewhat related thought, I much appreciated the chapters on the queens of the ancient world, but was greatly disappointed by the coverage of the women scientists, engineers, doctors, etc. Aside from the highly US-centered nature of that coverage (and some other--although definitely not all-- aspects of the book) the tiny little paragraphs devoted to individual women in this category were woefully inadequate. Their accomplishments are only that much more remarkable for the obstacles they overcame, and there is not much room for the obstacles in the tiny paragraphs. I realize that space is a consideration in a book like this. Perhaps a companion volume then? The Book of Daring Girls has a nice ring to it. Or is it women?

Finally, I can't tell you how much I appreciated (read: loved) the entirely unsubtle and repeated mocking of the Disney pink princess image. Very well done. But, and I realize this might be taken as a nitpick, except I don't believe that it is given the subject matter being discussed, I did not at all appreciate sweeping uncomfortable subjects under the rug. Such as saying, in the section on real princesses, that Sheikha Maitha bint Muhammed al-Maktum was born, in 1980, to Sheik Muhammed bin Rashid Al Maktum. That's right, just to the sheik. Impressive, I thought-- the first man to self-fertilize and to carry a pregnancy to term. However, a quick google search told me that Maitha does have a mother, the second wife to the sheik, although nobody seems to know what her name is. A fact, I believe, worth acknowledging, as long as we are talking about royal life. Similarly, the authors used a different form of royal salutation to draw attention away from the fact that the princess featured right above Maitha, princess Haya of Jordan, became the third wife of Maitha's father. And the rug-sweeping is not limited to the Middle Eastern affairs-- other tough subjects are handled with a similar slight of hand.

So would I recommend the book for a girl in your life? I think so, but with guidance. Lots more guidance than I was hoping would be needed with a book like that. Still, I have high hopes for the second edition-- there will be more time, and unhurried care can be taken to address these many issues.


ms. G said...

Interesting to hear your thoughts on this, Julia. I'd been wondering about the book, wondering if there was really anything "daring" in it, or if it was just another cheesy marketing item. So often, they market things to girls that are telling them they can do anything, but package it way to cutesy.

Can I just say, I love Monkey's response? It reminds me of being the only girl in school who believed it was okay for boys to like pink too.

Stirrup Queen said...

Totally cracked up over this line: "It appears my constant assault on gender stereotypes is working (insert evil laugh and creepy hand rubbing here)."

Stirrup Queen said...

That last one was me :-)


niobe said...

Good thing you got a free copy. Because, based on your thorough review, I'm not sure it sounds like it would be worth actually paying for.

Amelie said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.
I love Monkey's response, too. Would it be so hard to write a book for daring kids?

susan said...

Monkey is right on. As are you about the fact checking. I thought most of the biographical material was just a bit too breezy.

b*babbler said...

What a terrific and far better review than some of the other glossed-over reviews that are out there. It was starting to feel a little bit like everyone was loving this book not so much for the content, but for its mere existence.

BasilBean said...

I enjoyed reading your review. Based on what you have written I think I will look into the second edition.