This could be an interesting book to give to girls in your life aged 9-12:
No Girls Allowed is a graphic novel telling the story of seven women* – six historic, one mythical – who “dressed as men for love, freedom and adventure” – including a Viking, a pharaoh and surgeon James Barry. It’s been reviewed on Boing Boing and AfterEllen this week. There’s a promo YouTube video about the book on Boing Boing, but I haven’t been able to watch it yet.
We talk a lot about the comfort of seeing yourself reflected on screen and in books. This is the first young adult work I’ve come across that has the potential to provide that impact for middle school-aged girls who refuse to conform to the images they see in magazines and on television.
Perhaps equally important is the way these stories can reframe our understanding of history. It is almost impossible to ascertain the historical influence of women from standardized text books, but No Girls Allowed opens up the reader’s mind to the possibility that there really were women there, making significant contributions. Maybe they just weren’t recognized.
I like this quote on AfterEllen, too, by the book’s illustrator Willow Dawson:
I think it’s easier for younger kids to sort of play with identities of gender. It gets trickier when they get into school and are confronted with these other kids who are sort of assuming these opinions of their parents that are very strict: girls are girls and boys are boys, end of story. I hope kids reading this book will see, you know, it’s OK if I’m a 12-year-old girl and I want to dress like a boy. It’s OK if I go in the opposite direction, and I’m a boy who feels like dressing like a girl. It’s cool.
*I’m copying the book and reviewers’ language here – I guess it’s impossible to know how any of the people featured would have identified themselves, and most if not all the gender identity language we use today would be anachronistic…