THEGREATBIGGLORIOUSBOOKFORGIRLS Rosemary Davidson and Sarah Vine
One of the surprise hits of last year was The Dangerous Book for Boys, a decidedly un-PC guide to having fun written by brothers Conn and Hal Iggulden. Instead of being glued to television or computer screens, boys were encouraged to create their own amusements. For children used to having everything done for them there was a certain novelty value in learning to make a slingshot or light a campfire. However, there was a sneaking suspicion that the success of the book might be in no small part attributed to dads nostalgic for a more innocent childhood. The publishing industry is never slow to jump on a bandwagon, and sure enough Rosemary Davidson and Sarah Vine have trundled out this similar guide dedicated to girls. Just what today’s young girls – with their belly-rings, professional manicures and Barbie-pink fashions – will make of this book is less certain, however. It may be that their parents, used to wrapping their little princesses in cotton wool and plonking them in front of the television, will be thoroughly alarmed at finding instructions on how to make water bombs, play spin-the-bottle, or handle guns safely. At first glance there is a real Enid Blyton “lashings-of-ginger-beer” feel to the book. It has a splendidly retro navy blue cover and looks like something that’s been found languishing and almost forgotten at the bottom of an old toy box. With subject headings such as Dastardly Tricks, and Pets and Ponies, it might seem rather out of touch with the modern miss. But Davidson and Vine have pitched their material carefully and the chapters are informative and reassuring with a knowing touch of dry humour that can be appreciated by more grown-up girls. Although there is a chapter on needlecraft and several contain recipes, these are not presented as the rightful domain of girls, but rather as life skills that are a useful addition to anyone’s knowledge. This no-nonsense approach will appeal to those girls who enjoy more active pursuits. Chapters on the great outdoors and how to care for animals provide a welcome balance to those on make-up, hair care and perfume. The book is illustrated throughout with charming line drawings by Natacha Ledwidge and also contains information on inspirational women, from Helen of Troy, Virginia Woolf and Rosa Parks to Aung San Suu Kyi. That these women are famous for doing something useful rather than famous for being famous makes for a laudable feature. This is a book that will no doubt appeal to mothers and grandmothers who will remember many of the games, activities and practical skills with affection, although exactly what one does with the long tubes created by French knitting is still a mystery. For younger girls, creating toys and games from scratch will provide a sense of achievement that is missing from most shop-bought toys, while hints on how to deal with boys – “expressing emotion comes as naturally to a boy as ballet does to an elephant” – will probably be much pored over.