I Enjoy Being a Girl: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. Scholastic. 390 pp.

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. Scholastic. 390 pp.

I’ve been meaning to read Beauty Queens for a couple of years. The cover is amazing, it’s edited by David Levithan, and it sounded right up my alley. I mean, a plane full of teen beauty queens crashes on a deserted island on their way to the Miss Teen Dream pageant. Sounds like a brilliant satirical setup, right? And it is; this book pokes fun at ditziness, glitziness, and consumerism left and right. But it’s also deep, exploring many issues of femininity, gender, sexuality, and confidence that society often avoids like the plague. “If something’s not broken,” people reason, “why fix it?” But the way women are viewed is broken, and although it’s on the road to repair, it still needs adjusting. And this book points that out in an fast-paced yet deeply moving way. Plus, it’s funny. I laughed so hard at this book that I was afraid of waking my husband. (I often read in bed after he’s fallen asleep, and I laughed so bed-shakingly often that it’s a wonder he didn’t wake up.)

The girls on the island work their butts off to survive in an inhospitable environment, and they create a village that the folks on Lost would be proud of. All of their pageant extracurriculars come in handy, and they work together as a team to build homes, find food, and send messages for help. The Corporation, the pageant’s…well…corporate sponsor, claims to be looking for the girls with all the resources available to them. But is the girls’ rescue really in their best financial interests? You’ll see.

Most of the book’s scenes take place on the island, but there are commercial breaks as well, which are over-the-top ridiculous (and hilariously funny!), yet sadly close to the commercials we see aired today. This book is a reflection of our society that’s exaggerated just enough for the reader to feel comfortable reading it and finding flaws in it while not feeling directly attacked. (Although, as I mentioned earlier, maybe there are a couple of things that could use to be attacked…)

Some of my favorite parts of this book were the girls’ bonding, chatting and laughing together and growing into a community of support. (Tiara was probably my favorite; she was funny and sweet and deeper than you’d expect.) But I also loved the girls’ side conversations about…well…just being a girl. Like this discussion of Lord of the Flies:

“You know how you said it wasn’t a true measure of humanity because there were no girls and you wondered how it would be different if there had been girls? … Maybe girls need an island to find themselves. Maybe they need a place where no one’s watching them so they can be who they really are.”

There was something about the island that made the girls forget who they had been. All those rules and shalt nots. They were no longer waiting for some arbitrary grade. They were no longer performing. Waiting. Hoping.

They were becoming.

They were.

Passages like this are rare in today’s books. And, to be honest, a lot of times the cynic in me thinks “empowerment” is a silly notion, because you shouldn’t really need affirmations from other people to feel good about yourself. But this book made me feel good about being a girl — a smart, capable girl at that — in a way that literature doesn’t usually do.

All in all: One of the best books I’ve ever read. Seriously.

I’ll leave you with this heartbreaking lesson from one of the girls, revealing what she learned from her time on the island:

I love myself. They make it so hard for us to love ourselves.

Maybe we all need to drown out society’s noise and love ourselves a little bit more.

Picture Book Roundup!

I’m a stay at home mom, and as such, I can’t tell you how many children’s books I read each week. I read some of them with my fifteen-month-old, I read some of them on my own to decide which ones will be best for him in the next year or so, and I read some simply because I’ve been given a review copy by the publisher. Here are a few of the books I’ve read recently:

ChusDay

Chu’s Day by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Adam Rex. HarperCollins. 30 pp.

I bought Chu’s Day for myself, really, in a roundabout way. I’m a huge Neil Gaiman fan, and last winter I’d heard that Neil’s tour for The Ocean At the End Of the Lane (phenomenal book, by the way) would be his last. So when I heard that he and illustrator Adam Rex would be doing a signing at Books Of Wonder for their children’s book, Chu’s Day, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to meet Neil and pick up a great keepsake for my son. And it was. Long day, but my crazy-haired son got to meet Mr. Crazy Hair himself, I got my copy of Fragile Things signed, and my husband got some New York pizza. So we were all happy.

I’ve been reading this book to my son for seven months now, and it’s still one of his favorites. Adam Rex’s illustrations are reminiscent of Graeme Base’s, anthropomorphized animals and details that are a delight to stumble upon, but with a humor (and sneaky snail!) that is all his own. And Neil’s story is simple and silly enough for kids to read over and over. This is a book that I’m delighted to have added to our collection. Also, if you find yourself in New York, please visit Books Of Wonder. It’s a bright, heartfelt tribute to children’s literature, and the staff is warm and welcoming, even during an event that lasts for twelve hours.

ClaudeInTheCity

Claude In the City by Alex T. Smith. Peachtree Publishers. 96 pp.

Claude In the City is about Claude, a dog who decides to have an adventure with his friend and sidekick, Sir Bobblysock. While sightseeing in the city, Claude accidentally gets mixed up in a robbery (and, of course, saves the day!). This book manages to be simple and silly while maintaining a chic, urban feel. The illustrations are kid-friendly and fun. It’s a little old for my son at this point, but I had great fun reading it, and I have a feeling he’ll get a kick out of it when he gets a bit older.

ScaredySquirrelHalloween

Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Halloween by Mélanie Watt. Kids Can Press. 64 pp.

Last one for today: Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Halloween. This spring, I read (and adored) Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping. My husband and I laughed aloud at Scaredy Squirrel’s worrywart antics. Scaredy Squirrel prepares for Halloween is written in the same vein: meticulously funny lists and cautions, and the lesson that something that scares you can actually be lots of fun! Again, this one’s a little advanced for my son, but I can’t wait to read it with him. I can picture early elementary school kids loving Scaredy Squirrel: he may reflect some of their own fears, but in a way that makes them remarkably less terrifying and much more silly.

All in all: A good batch of books for various ages. Great illustrations in all three, but Adam Rex’s are by far my favorite.