I just got my hands on a copy of "The Daring Book for Girls," the newborn sister of "The Dangerous Book for Boys." Put plainly, it's awesome. Beyond the glittery turquoise cover are instructions for engaging in all sorts of fun, wholesome girlhood activities -- like how to make forts, friendship bracelets, cootie catchers and stink bombs. There are lists of female pirates, politicians, scientists and spies. There are guides to everything from stocks and bonds to slumber party games. It is, as the back cover says, a guide to adventure "for every girl with an independent spirit and a nose for trouble." I tell you, flipping through the book I was practically standing on my chair in excitement.
But, see, maybe that's a problem -- after all, my middle school years are long gone.
I'm afraid the book might be more accurately called "The Daringly Irrelevant Book for Girls." This is all to say: You must check out Judith Warner's excellent column in the New York Times that makes that very point. After surveying the book and singing its praises she has a revelation: Her approval of the book is akin to "the Geek seal of approval." I'm not of Warner's generation -- and I certainly do not have a tween daughter of my own as she does -- but many of the activities detailed in the book were a cornerstone of my younger years. I didn't learn any of those games from a book, though. They were the stuff of playground legend and that's what made them cool. You learned to summon Bloody Mary's image in a mirror from other girls, not from a book read at bedtime with Mom.
But nowadays, as Warner argues, schoolyard talk is increasingly devoted to copying Hannah Montana's newest hairstyle and learning Britney's latest pole-dancing moves. That's not to say that there aren't still plenty of girls braiding friendship bracelets and becoming tetherball titans, but how can a book like this really compete with those other compelling cultural forces? "What power can any of us -- moms and daughters, adrift in the cultural mainstream -- have against the hugely seductive, hypnotic machine that has brought us Paris, Miley, Lindsay and more?" Warner asks. "I don't know exactly how we can relieve them of the burdens of toxic girlhood … We can't simply preach at them, or badger them, or cloister them or dress them in the kind of puppy-dotted turtlenecks that are now showing up in some nostalgia-stoking holiday catalogues."
Warner concludes with a buoyant thought: "The only thing we can do is provide some sort of inspiration -- of a kind of womanhood that makes them want to connect to the better aspects of the girlhood we once knew. And then, give them the space and the time to make it their own." I read that and sniffed doubtfully -- but then, I'll admit, I fell to her sanguine spell. Even if the book's duotone pages aren't enough to hold tweens' attention, it might serve parents (and non-parents alike) as a needed reminder of what young girlhood can and should be.
Here's to hoping it doesn't just become a historical artifact.