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[Monday Reading] Illustrated Guides On Girlhood And What It Signifies

"Being A Girl" by Hayley Long and Illustrated by Gemma Correll | "My Name Is Girl" by Nina Cosford.


It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community. 

The mere fact that these two illustrated guides to “being a girl” and the “feminine mind” written by female authors even exist demonstrates that the very idea of girlhood has, indeed, evolved. There were no such frank, unapologetic, and highly informative guidebooks when I was growing up, that much is certain. Or if there were, I had no idea that they existed.

My Name Is Girl: An Illustrated Guide To The Female Mind

Written and Illustrated by: Nina Cosford
Published by: Quadrille (2016)
ISBN: 1849498407 (ISBN13: 9781849498401). Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

Buy My Name Is Girl: An Illustrated Guide To The Female Mind on Amazon | Book Depository

The book is divided into five chapters: (1) On the Surface, (2) Which Girl To Be?, (3) Beneath The Surface, (4) How To Be A Girl, (5) How To Be A Better Girl.

The first two chapters deal more with a girl’s physical appearance: hair, clothing, shoes, outfits. There is also a depiction of the many roles that girls play, especially in the workplace. While the book may resonate with a lot of teenagers, this is more a millennial/young adult (early 20s thereabouts) illustrated novel of what it’s like to navigate the world as female:

It also highlights the many things a girl can choose to be, as well as the many possibilities or permutations or reinventing one’s self. In Chapter 3, one goes a bit deeper by examining a girl’s dreams and nightmares:

I like how it unflinchingly tackles the many taboo topics that a lot of young females are highly insecure about, and most likely refuse to discuss with others, even among close girlfriends or frenemies. In Chapters 4 and 5, the usual resolutions made by most girls about eating healthier, exercising more, and actualizing one’s dreams are discussed.

While I generally enjoyed it, I was a bit perturbed by certain sections that I feel perpetuate stereotypical myths of the doublespeak that girls are said to possess:

This duality of What I Say versus What I Mean is often used by opportunists to not take NO for a valid answer. While there may be a kernel of truth in some of these things here – doesn’t mean that it has to be this way – or that it is representative of all girlhood or girlkind. I would have appreciated an alternative that demonstrates speaking one’s truth and having the confidence to articulate it plainly, showing a fair amount of agency, self-knowledge, and self-efficacy.

There was also a section (see image above) where Cosford has gathered together some of her “pearls of wisdom” – a few made me raise my eyebrow just a tad, particularly “No one has ever become poor by giving.” This suggests to me that Cosford may not be aware of the lives of Catholic saints – or Asian families – for her to say something like this.

Regardless, I feel that there is something in this book for every girl.

Being A Girl

Written by Hayley Long Illustrated by Gemma Correll
Published by Hot Key Books (2015)
ISBN: 1471403904 (ISBN13: 9781471403903). Book was given as a gift. Book photos taken by me.

Buy Being A Girl on Amazon | Book Depository

My teenage daughter has read this book two years ago when she was 15 (it was a gift given to her by a good friend of ours), and she rated it five stars out of five on Goodreads. I only have just recently read it, in my attempts to find a book to pair with Cosford’s illustrated novel.

The book is divided into ten sections: (1) Being A Girl, (2) A Quick Herstory Lesson, (3) Hellcats and Hormones, (4) Bloody Periods, (5) Face, Fashion, and First Impressions, (6) The Hair Necessities, (7) Matters Of The Heart, (8) Sex: On A Need To Know Basis, (9) Being A Woman, and (10) Helpful Stuff.

I love how this is such a no-holds-barred guidepost to girlhood – constructive, engaging, and relatable. Topics about masturbation, waxing, using tampons (I learned something new here), premenstrual cramps, cyber bullying, the dangers of nude selfies, are dealt with in a clear, decisive, and humorous tone that conveys well-meaning tough love that tells things the way they are.

There are also no expectations that there is only one singular way of being a girl:

There is no right way to be a girl or rubbish way to be a girl. Just make sure you’re being a fairly decent human being and you’ll be just fine.

The message above essentially sums the whole book up, add on a great deal of information about the dos and dont’s of artificial hair colourant, waxing versus shaving, the herstory behind female disempowerment, the many ways that girls can be mean to other girls, and other things that I wish I had known about when I was growing up.

However, one aspect that I found slightly problematic is the author’s contention that “Tans are rubbish.” There is the implicit assumption that the young girls reading this book are not naturally tanned; hence, white. If, as the author says, tans are rubbish, what message does this say about naturally brown people – that their colour is rubbish? While this may not be the intention of the author, there seems to be an assumption that readers of this book will not be young girls of colour.

While I love the book as a whole and really enjoyed its snarky and witty tone, what would have made this book even better for me is if there has been a mention, even just peripherally, of intersectionality. While the herstory of sexism has been mentioned here, and the brutal fact that it is, after all, a man’s world – the issues on race and culture – and the fact that women-of-colour have it even tougher was not mentioned at all here. Just the mere fact that dental care is absolutely free for those under eighteen years of age living in the UK made me go wide-eyed. This is an unfathomable privilege in the Philippines where I grew up in – or even just in Southeast Asia – where wearing braces is more a status symbol than an actual hygienic or physiological necessity.

I understand, though, that touching on racism or intersectionality may make this a whole different book altogether, given its polemics and nuances. The author may also feel that she may not be the best person to tackle this in great depth (as a White female) – making me wonder whether there are illustrated feminine guides (not necessarily about feminism) written by females of colour that are similar to this – none, as far as I know. However, even just an intelligently crafted mention of the intersectionality of race, colour, culture, and gender would have been appreciated greatly. More books for us to write, then!

#WomenReadWomen2019: Nina Cosford, Hayley Long, and Gemma Correll are all from England.

Free Delivery on all Books at the Book Depository

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

6 comments on “[Monday Reading] Illustrated Guides On Girlhood And What It Signifies

  1. I like the look of Being a Girl, I had a tough time finding frank books for my daughter as a teenager. Thanks for sharing.

    Have a great reading week

    Liked by 1 person

  2. lindabaie

    My ten-year-old granddaughter is already fighting the stereotypes, being teased by wearing ‘boy’ shirts, etc. It starts so young! I’m glad to see that books are being written for girls and will take your words to heart about these, Myra, for her. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Being A Girl is now on my list. Even with the problem that you have pointed out here, it still looks like an important book. I’ve added it to my list and put a hold on it. It sounds like the kind of book that belongs in all school libraries. I hope you find a companion one that deals with intersectionality.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I haven’t heard of Being a Girl. I’ll have to see if we have a copy, here. This one sounds like it might be helpful. I’m happy that girls have more books on these topics that were available when I was at that age! Thanks for the shares, Myra!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Sarah Sammis

    Interesting pair of books. I’m glad you highlighted their problems. My week in review

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Those both look like good books.

    Liked by 1 person

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