Monday, February 15, 2010

Bridget makes it look so easy…

One of my favorite bloggers does product endorsements and book reviews all the time, and it looks like she gets away with it. I can’t even get my second endorsement out of the gate before I find one of my baseline assumptions challenged. Even though I’ve had a bit of a head-slapping, how-could-I-miss-that moment, I am grateful to no longer be making this particular mistake.

One of my recent commenters said:

“Cool, let me know when they make the "boy genius" version:)”

At first, this rather annoyed me, because this material is still great for boys precisely because it has a female main character.  Generally speaking, children’s literature is weighted disproportionately towards male central characters. There is some interesting clinical research surrounding how boys and girls respond to that disparity, and what gender role interpretations happen because girls are generally exposed to different-gender central character narratives. My summary is that its generally likely to be a good idea for boys to be exposed to narratives with females as the central characters.  That is probably an epic post for another time (I'm sure that out in academia there are dusty piles of grad theses in countless libraries on the many aspects of this question). 

My response to that comment was something like: ‘Well, you should get it for your boys anyway, to show them a proper female role model.’

I do still believe this, and will advocate that the Girl Genius series would also be great for boys (this content to come later).

Shortly after that idea, followed the reciprocity chaser. What am I doing to expose my girls to proper male role models? They certainly should be exposed to Girl Genius, but they should also be exposed to what I would expose my sons to (if I had any).

I am very confident that men should seek out content aimed at women and women should seek out content aimed at men. I have concluded that this is very enriching and generally helps everyone understand each other better.

Fortunately for me, the comment has helped me re-tune my expectations to make sure that I am integrating appropriate measures of male-focused material into the education of my daughters.

That being said, I shall return to my awkward attempt at product endorsement with the following summary:

Girl Genius

  • Good central heroine role model for girls, which is useful to boys and girls
  • Strong character role models for boys, which is useful to girls and boys
  • Engaging story, helps motivate my kids to stretch their reading abilities
  • The art is fantastic
  • It is an absolutely moral truth that Steampunk is highly awesome

In the next few posts I shall attempt to show why these assertions are true. In the meantime, if you want an excellent steampunk recommendation with a male as the central character, I also recommend the coincidentally named:

My kids will have this on the shelf next to Girl Genius, probably this summer.


Update:  As a side point, the entire Girl Genius series is available for free on their website at this link.  Go check it out!


  1. I can see that I should be careful to make quick, lighthearted comments about gender roles in children's literature!... to give you an accurate idea about our choices of entertainment (as they relate heroes AND heroines) I should tell you that my boys are not partial to boys/men as the hero of the story/movie/TV show. Some of their favorites include: Dora the explorer, Nim's Island and Word Girl. Derek and I went to a conference in Provo a few years ago for which the keynote speaker was Wendelin Van Draanen. I was totally inspired by her story of being a mother and a teacher and waking up at crazy hours to write stories that were ever rejected for publication...then one day scholastic publishing called her and wanted to publish everything she had. Her books are about a young heroine named Sammy Keyes. After the great success of the Sammy Keyes series, she wrote some books about a boy who called himself "shredderman". Derek and I told Wesley the story about Wendelin Van Draanen to get him excited about reading Shredderman. He enjoyed the shredderman books, but what we weren't expecting was that he would devour Sammy Keyes. If I ever wondered where Wesley was when he first started reading her it was on the couch snuggled up with Sammy Keyes in hand. He has just finished the "Hotel Thief" and begged Derek to take him to the library to get "The sisters of Mercy" and "the Skeleton Man" also in the series. I think it is wise to expose children to healthy portions of entertainment with both boys and girls as the celebrated figure. In a family with all boys this is especially important so that they will have someone (besides their mother) who can tell them how amazing women are.

  2. Thanks for the tips! I'm not familiar with Nim's Island, Sammy Keyes or Shredderman, but Word Girl is big news around our house. I'll have to go check out those resources!

  3. Matthew, everything is more controversial when you're writing from the ME. EVERYTHING. I couldn't even endorse something like potato chips when I was writing on my Syria blog without getting tons of hate (not that that comment was hate, but dissent anyway).

    I love your guys' lesson plans.