Friday, November 16, 2007

The Daring Book for Girls: Don't Judge This Book By its Cover

Not that it's a bad cover, mind you. I happen to like the nostalgic feel of it; the weighty look of the title makes me think I'm going to find a map for buried treasure inside, or a spell for turning the mean boy next door into a toad. But my tween daughters? They thought it looked "old." That was pretty much the final verdict for us and this book: I loved it, my girls - eh, not so much.

First my side of the story, because not only am I their mother and know what's best, but I'm bossier and have more cash.

When I first got The Daring Book for Girlsto review for the Parent Bloggers Network I felt like I had been transported back to my childhood. Everything from the typeface on the cover to the line drawings inside were reminiscent of a set of child encyclopedias I remember having as a little girl. Remember that? Before Wikipedia? It's hard to imagine having to look for information without a search box and a cursor.

And if I could sum up The Daring Book for Girls it would be this: It has virtually every nostalgic activity in it that a parent dreams of doing with their kids, but don't always have the time. From setting up a lemonade stand to planting a secret garden, from bird watching to making a wooden tree swing. Throw in some yoga positions, a few math tricks and a recipe for making fake blood, and you've pretty much got the perfect book for getting your kids away from the TV and actually doing something. Why, it even made me want to consider pulling myself away from the computer for a few minutes.

And now for my girls' opinions. Keep in mind that they're 9 and 11, and don't know what's good for them yet.

They're first comments, besides the one about the cover looking "old", were that all the illustrations looked "old." Oh, and all the activities looked like they were "from a long time ago" and the type used for the body copy looked like "something out of an old book."

Do you see a theme here?

And on some of these points, I tend to agree with them. Let me explain.

I'm an art director. I enjoy good design, I totally get and appreciate the feel the authors were trying to achieve with this book, and I think they succeeded. But that's not to say that tween girls, who love a good iPod commercial and covet Japanese manga books with their slick graphics and mod colors are going to appreciate a book that looks like a throwback to a 1940's Girl Scout handbook. No matter how many times I threaten to ground them.

And though we all know you can't judge a book by its cover, I think that it's hard to expect children, who are bombarded with such sophisticated visuals these days to look beyond first impressions. Even when I showed my nine-year-old the section on 'sleep-outs (which she's been wanting to do) she had a hard time getting past the vintage silhouette illustrations. And don't get me started on her comments about the campfire songs, but I can hardly blame her - Darling Clementine was rusty even when I was a little girl.

My 11-year old pondered the list of Books That Will Change Your Life, and while she was excited to see her favorites Harry Potter and Nancy Drew included, she pointed out that not a single book on the list took place in modern day. She just did a book report on The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and wrote that it "taught her about friendship and conflict resolution" - so where was a nod to the modern 21st girl in this list? She had me there.

In spite of all our disagreements, I still love The Daring Book for Girls, but I concluded that, at least in our case, the book is really for moms to use as a guidebook in seeking out activities that they might bring to the attention of their daughters. When I mentioned to my youngest that there was a recipe for making a vinegar and baking soda volcano, she wanted to take another look, and even flipped to the next page to peruse the Rules of Bowling. There might be hope yet.

I found this video just as I was writing this review, and it's late now but I'm going to show it to my girls tomorrow. For me, this really captures the spirit of he book, and I think seeing these activities in a modern context would make them much more appealing for my jaded, modern girls. They might just reconsider that sleep out...

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