A review of The Daring Book for Girls by Andrea Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

The Daring Book for Girls
by Andrea Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz
ISBN: 9780061472572, November 2007, Hardcover; Pages: 288; $45.00

Of course you knew it was coming. No self-respecting girl would sit back and just accept The Dangerous Book for Boys without a fight. Besides, the response to The Dangerous Book for Boys was so good, that no self-respecting publisher would let the opportunity pass. So The Daring Book for Girls is here, and it’s a pretty decent match. The information that the Dangerous Book included was more or less archaic, scouty type stuff that was due for a come-back, and The Daring Book is similar. Of course your average gal doesn’t need to know how to read tide charts, change a tire, make a quill pen, identify the queens of the ancient world, make paper or play handclap games. Most of us survived our girl years without that knowledge, but it’s pretty neat. I have to admit that my ten year old son is still asking, without luck, for that “essential pocket knife” and I suspect that my dear daughter will also be asking until she’s old enough to be scared of carrying one around. That suggestion is just too daring/dangerous for boring old mother. But the other stuff is great, and it makes a change from asking for an Xbox.

Forget Barbie, this book, which comes in the same simple but evocative plain matt cover, jazzed with just a bit of iridescent glitter, provides information on the rules of basketball, palm reading, tag, how to say “darling” in Spanish, how to press flowers, how to whistle with two fingers, Chinese jump rope and a lot more. The emphasis is definitely on daring rather than demure. Once you put your hair up with a pencil, you can hold a neighborhood snowball fight, sell lemonade, practice karate, or make a home-made volcano with vinegar and baking soda.

It’s not all about doing things though. There’s a lot of information too, including the periodic table, the countries of Africa, women spies from the revolutionary war to WW2, how to write a good letter, Greek and Latin root words, how to speak in public, and how to tell a good ghost story. In short, the book is a compendium of possibility – opening doors that might have otherwise remained shut, and providing a hint at the exciting world that’s out there. Some of the information is cursory – just enough to whet the appetite rather than really teach. The dedicated intellectual will need to follow up with Google, or better, a trip to the library if some real, in-depth knowledge is wanted. It’s one thing to check out a list of female leaders and another to learn about them. But there is an awful lot of tidbits here to stimulate girls aged from about 6 (my 5 year old just likes having the book and did a nifty job with that pencil in her hair – better than I could do it) to about 15.

One really nice way of using the book, especially if your daughter is young, is to sit down with her and work through a section. Maybe you could spend a morning making daisy and ivy chains for your hair. Or you could make paper planes together. Have an hour discussing female explorers, perhaps looking up a few others, or designate one day “bandana day” and learn to tie them together. It makes for a lovely bonding session.

All in all, like The Dangerous Book for Boys, The Daring Book for Girls is a good-looking, long lasting gift that girls will turn to for inspiration repeatedly. The balance between doing and learning is nicely managed, and the information is geared to be interesting and exciting for young girls. Don’t expect very young girls to do too much with it unless you’re prepared to get in there and join in (a rather pleasurable thing to do for “girls day”), but older girls will take off with this and hopefully push forward into horizons which go a long way past the clichés of fashion, makeup, fairies and dolls. Although it’s not a cheap gift, it’s one that will have a long (possibly permanent) shelf life and one that will be very much appreciated, even by girls who haven’t begun to resent that evocative looking book in her brother’s room.

About the reviewer: Magdalena Ball is the author of Sleep Before Evening, The Art of Assessment, and Quark Soup.