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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Look what happened today at breakfast: 3 kids spontaneously pulled out books and started to read. I got to drink my coffee in peace! Moments like this are so rare, I took a photo, and I’m posting it, even though the picture is not that great.

Rose, age 3, is reading Giant Meatball. (She can’t read but doesn’t know that.)

Alice, age 6, is reading Green Eggs and Ham. She is just starting to really read and love it. Dr. Seuss’s rhyming word patterns are great for this stage, though his total lack of female characters drives me bats.

Lucy, age 9, is reading Wildwood. I am going to blog about this book; it’s great and stars a sister who courageously rescues her little brother.

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Riding bitch

Just posted about one of my favorite Halloween books, The Witch Who Was Afraid of Witches. It’s got sisters, a great mom, a cross-gender friendship, and magical power. What more could I ask for? Well, check this out:

Yesterday, when I posted about how the female in so much media is constantly moored on the back of the bike or the back of the Hippogriff, someone told me there is a term for that position: “riding bitch.” With 258,000 matches, Google agrees.

Here, in the story, Roger decides it would be more fun to be a witch than a ghost. He was right.

Savor this image. I wish that, both in fiction and in reality, more females got the chance to steer their own way.

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Since monster movies for kids starring girls seem so rare, I thought I’d tell you about one of my children’s favorite Halloween books.

The Witch Who Was Afraid of Witches is about three witch sisters. The youngest one, Wendy, always gets left out because she can’t do anything cool. On Halloween, her broom is broken, and she is left alone to take care of the house. A boy, Roger, dressed up as a ghost trick-or-treats at Wendy’s house. Roger convinces Wendy that all she needs to trick-or-treat is a new broom. Not realizing she’s a real witch, he takes her to his house to get one. It is at the Roger’s house, that Wendy discovers her power. She makes Roger’s old house broom fly. Roger and his mother are amazed and impressed. More adventures ensue and that culminate with Wendy making her first real friend and also, her sisters coming to respect and including her.

The book we have is  an I Can Read it and has been a favorite for learning how to read.

Reel Girl rates The Witch Who Was Afraid of Witches ***HHH***

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The girl on the back of the bike

I recently posted on how the image on the cover of Harry Potter, Book 3, of Hermione clinging to Harry’s back as they flew on the Hippogriff, bummed me out. This image of male driving and the girl along for the ride is ubiquitous in the imaginary world. You almost never see a girl in front and a boy behind, or even a girl alone, and also, it’s extremely rare to see a girl on a female magical creature.

After my post, Orlando wrote in this comment:

Shall I share with you the moment when I learned to loathe Kerouac? This is it (from “On the Road”):
“In the empty Houston streets of four o’clock in the morning a motorcycle kid suddenly roared through, all bespangled and bedecked with glittering buttons, visor, slick black jacket, a Texas poet of the night, girl gripped on his back like a papoose, hair flying, onward-going, singing.”
Familiar image? What happened was two people went past; what they saw was one person plus accessories.

The Kerouac quote pretty much epitomizes the poetic subjugation of women in that repetitive image (coupled with the the adventurous title of the book, of course.) Kerouac is such a good writer and he does this image so well. And again, the image/ narrative would not be a problem if it were one of many; it is its dominance over our imaginations, the way other narratives have become restricted and repressed, even in fantasy, that is the tragedy.

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First things first: I loved Prisoner of Azkaban. I could not put it down. I am onto book 4. That is a big deal for me. Since I started Reel Girl, I have read the first book of many series, because I want to get a good idea of what is out there. It is rare that I keep going and going, but with Harry Potter, I cannot stop.

Prisoner of Azkaban is my favorite book so far, and I loved the first two. For me, reading Harry Potter is like being in an incredible relationship where you fall more in love everyday.

Part of the reason I was so into this book was the dementors, terrifying and compelling new characters. J. K. Rowling’s description of them is one of the scariest I have read in kidlit:

Standing in the doorway, illuminated by the shivering flames in Lupin’s hand, was a cloaked figure that towered to the ceiling. Its face was completely hidden beneath its hood.  Harry’s eyes darted downward and what he saw made his stomach contract. There was a hand protruding from the cloak and it was glistening, grayish, slimy-looking, and scabbed, like something dead that had decayed in water.

But it was only visible for a split second. As though the creature beneath the cloak sensed Harry’s gaze, the hand was suddenly withdrawn into the folds of its black cloak.

And then the thing beneath the hood, whatever it was, drew a long, slow, rattling breath, as though it were trying to suck something more than air from its surroundings.

An intense cold swept over them all. Harry felt his own breath catch in his chest. Th ecold went deeper than his skin. It was inside his chest. It was inside his very heart…

The scabby hand looking like it had decayed in water! EEK.

So are we clear, I love Harry Potter?

Not only do I love it, J.K. Rowling is the writer. She can call herself the androgynous “J.K.” if she wants to, for God’s sake. And, if she wants to create an imaginary world that is a patriarchy, it is her right to do so.

But this is what I want to write about it: Harry Potter’s world, both the Muggle one and Hogwarts, are patriarchies. Before I read Harry Potter, I was often told that the series is populated with strong females, and it is. But the females are sidelined to the males, and it’s important to recognize that there is not gender equality in this popular series the way there is in the The Hunger Games. The reason this inequality is important to acknowledge is because the imaginary world, 99% of the time, is sexist. If we cannot imagine equality, we cannot create it.

Okay, have I qualified my criticism enough?

Here we go. I am going to point out how the sexism of Hogwarts and the Muggle world that I have already referred to in previous posts is further advanced in Prisoner of Azkaban.

First, the book cover:

The cover shows Harry riding Buckbeak, the Hippogriff, with Hermione clinging to his back. How many times have you seen this image of male in front, girl behind? It’s all over kidlit, in movies and in books, and my God, its all over the grown up world. It’s everywhere on the streets when you see a guy on his bike, the woman behind him. Do you ever see a female alone on her dragon? What about a dragon that is also a female, like in for example the reverse of “How to Train Your Dragon,” which features a male rider and male beast. Do you ever see a female rider with the male behind her, clinging to her back? This gendered, repetitive image sends the message that the male drives while the female is along for the ride. It’s a powerful message and it’s everywhere in the imaginary world. I was disappointed to see it in Harry Potter.

Then there is Lupin. I loved Lupin, but he is the third male Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, the most important class at Hogwarts.

Sirius Black is a great character, but also male. I loved discovering the history of friendship between Harry Potter’s dad, Lupin, Sirius, Peter Pettigrew, but they are all male. Lily, Harry’s mother, apparently hung out with the group, but she wasn’t an animagus. She was the only female.

Mrs. Weasley and Mrs. Dursley are both homemakers while Mr. Weasley and Mr. Dursley have careers that factor into the plot.

Percy Weasley is the Head Boy. For a while, I couldn’t even figure out if there is a Head Girl. I have, now, seen the Head Girl referred to, but I don’t know her name or what she does. She has no role in the book so far.

The Minister of Magic is male and the headmaster of Hogwarts is male. Hogwarts was started by two males and two females 1000 years ago and that is progressive, but the two houses started by the males, Gryffindor and Slytherin, dominate the series.

Chang Cho, the Ravenclaw seeker, is the only girl on the team. Would there be a Quidditch team with only one male? Is there a female captain? So far the rivalry between Slytherin and Gryffindor is between two male captains.

To me, it seems like Quidditch is a boy’s game in which girls are allowed to play. I feel the same way about the series.

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blue milk posted this intro:

Oh my god, Ta-Nehisi Coates knows how to write an Opinion piece. Here he is in The New York Times talking about the relationship between intuitive eating and historical affluence and how this all relates to culture and politics. It is an exceptionally clever way of framing the discussion.

Here’s the excerpt:

I left the first of these dinners in bemused dudgeon. “Crazy rich white people,”  I would scoff. “Who goes to a nice dinner and leaves hungry?” In fact, they were not hungry at all. I discovered this a few dinners later, when I found myself embroiled in this ritual of half-dining. It was as though some invisible force was slowing my fork, forcing me into pauses, until I found myself nibbling and sampling my way through the meal. And when I rose both caffeinated and buzzed, I was, to my shock, completely satiated.

Like many Americans, I was from a world where “finish your plate” was gospel. The older people there held hunger in their recent memory. For generations they had worked with their arms, backs and hands. With scarcity a constant, and manual labor the norm, “finish your plate” fit the screws of their lives. I did not worry for food. I sat at my desk staring at a computer screen for much of the day. But still I ate like a stevedore. In the old world, this culture of eating kept my forebears alive. In this new one it was slowly killing me…

..Using the wrong tool for the job is a problem that extends beyond the dining room. The set of practices required for a young man to secure his safety on the streets of his troubled neighborhood are not the same as those required to place him on an honor roll, and these are not the same as the set of practices required to write the great American novel. The way to guide him through this transition is not to insult his native language. It is to teach him a new one.

Thank you Ta-Nehisi Coates for writing this! And to the feminist motherhood blog blue milk for picking it up.

Every time I blog about the way I eat or how I feed my family– intuitive eating, letting my kids eat whatever and whenever they want, and that they never get in trouble for “wasting” food— I get comments about how wasteful and unhealthy I am, along with what a terrible mother I am.

Intuitive eating is about so much more than eating. It’s about learning how to listen to your body and listen to yourself. It’s about self respect and independence and health and not giving a shit what other people think or say about you.

If you don’t know how to listen to your  body, learn. Buy the books When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies or Preventing Childhood Eating Problems. Raise your kids to be intuitive eaters. That is, honestly, the best way to stop “wasting food.” And it sure makes meal times more pleasant.

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Yesterday, I posted about the fat-shaming of Dudley Dursley in the Harry Potter series, specifically quoting from the opening of Chapter 2, Prisoner of Azkaban which I’d just read. I have since finished the chapter. So this what happens: Unable to contain his anger when the evil, annoying, and fat Marge constantly puts his parents down, Harry uses magic illegally to inflate her, making her even fatter. To readers, this punishment comes off as humorous and deserved.

I have not seen “The Prisoner of Azkaban” yet, but looking at the image from the movie pasted below, and after reading J.K. Rowling’s prose, I am wondering if there is a child who could watch (or read about) the fate of wicked Aunt Marge and not burst into laughter. Can you even look at these images and not smile? And again, if this fat-evil-stupid-comic imagery happened once in a while, it would be no big deal, but its ubiquity in kids’ media trains kids that it’s normal to laugh at fat people.

Reading  into night, I was also fascinated that Harry’s act– so far– remains unpunished. Underage wizards are not permitted to practice magic in the Muggle world, and Harry assumes he will be expelled for his act.  Yet, when Cornelius Fudge , the Minister of Magic, meets Harry on Daigon Alley, he assures Harry that he took care of the infraction, deflating Aunt Marge and erasing her memory. Harry wonders why this reaction is so different from the time when he was wrongly blamed for the magic done by Dobby, the house elf, in Book 2. At that time, Harry received a letter of warning from the Ministry threatening expulsion.

Obviously, there is some reason in the plot why Harry is forgiven, given a cozy room in the Leaky Cauldron instead of a letter of expulsion. But the subdued reaction thus far underscores the deserved punishment for Aunt Marge.

I have been trying to think if there are any fat protagonists in kidlit. Please tell me if you know of any: not sidekicks, main characters. So far I’ve thought of one: Wilbur. I just blogged about how Charlotte’s Web may be the best book ever. without even thinking about that. Could E. B. White get any more original?

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