‘Wonder Woman at Super Hero High’ is Super for Tweens

DC Super Hero Girls continues its path to superhero-stardom with the release of a new middle grade book series. Wonder Woman at Super Hero High, written by Lisa Yee, is out today for readers ages 8-12 years.

The novel is a look at a high school with an all-star lineup of superhero students, but the characters are so relatable that readers of any age don’t need superpowers themselves to identify with them.

Continue reading ‘Wonder Woman at Super Hero High’ is Super for Tweens

Progressively Ever After?

It would be easy to dismiss the Mattel/Netflix miniseries Ever After High as a ploy to sell dolls. It’s true each new season introduces new characters, and puts the existing favorites in new outfits, to entice little girls and collectors into opening their wallets. Nor do the dolls or the series do anything to outwardly disrupt the parade of pretty Princesses and “stick figure silicone Barbie doll” figures that have populated toy aisles and tween girl pop culture for the past 15-50 years.

But amidst the capitalism and princess-mania is a youth oriented progressive feminism that shouldn’t be overlooked. Last Saturday my ten year old daughter and I watched the latest season—four 24 minute episodes new to Netflix at the end of January—together, as we have the whole series, and it’s occupied my thoughts since. Continue reading Progressively Ever After?

Happy World Read Aloud Day!

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Photograph: Talento Tec – Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, Mexico City (Creative Commons License)

My son and I have fought beside Peter in the Battle of Narnia. We’ve experienced the wonder of walking through the wall of Platform 9 3/4 on our way to Hogwarts. We’ve saved Prydain multiple times, and melted the Wicked Witch of the West. And we did it all from the comfort of our own couch.

My son is almost 13 years old, and every single night since he was old enough to focus his eyes, we’ve read out loud together. Every night, without fail, whether we are traveling or sick, or it’s late. It’s our time to regroup from the day, to escape for a while, to snuggle on the couch, and just share a bit of time with one another.

I have to admit, I was a little surprised to find out, when he was about 10 or so, that we were one of the only families who did this with a kid over about 7. It had never even occurred to us to stop (I think my son would cry mutiny if we did).

Today is World Read Aloud Day. If you click on the link, you’ll find a lot of information about reading to your kids and a link to a free story book.  Reading to your kids, whether young or older, is simple and doesn’t take a lot of time. Plus, according to Scholastic’s Kids and Family Reading Report: 5th Edition, 8 out of every 10 kids from ages 6-17 say that they love being read aloud to and want their parents to do it more.

Most parents read aloud to their kids before the age of 6, mostly to develop literacy and a love of reading. After that though, the percentage tapers off dramatically, even though the benefits are the same. I would argue, in fact, that reading together becomes even more important as kids get older. There are so many other things competing for their attention. What better way to show them both the importance of reading and spending time together as a family than having some story time together. In fact, the top reason cited in Scholastic’s study for kids wanting to read together with their parents is because it gives them a special time together.

So, what if you stopped reading to your child, but now want to start back up? What if you want some more bonding time with your moody teen? Well, it’s not always easy to start new habits. Start off by letting your kid choose what he or she wants to read. It can be anything. A novel, a comic book, a book about science. Most of the kids surveyed said they would like to read something of their choice or something funny. Don’t get frustrated if your kid doesn’t join you right away. Read to your partner, or your pet. But encourage your child to stay in the same room. For example, after dinner, set a family time where no one is allowed to hide out in their room. Everyone can do something in the living room as long as it doesn’t disrupt the reading (like, no television). Again, this might not be easy with some kids. Teens are mysterious and complicated creatures. They want to spend time with their families but they want to do it on their terms and they can feel embarrassed about taking the first steps to getting closer to their families. The want independence, but don’t want to break too far away. Give them lots of space and choice in the matter. Let them pick the book out, and don’t make them read to you unless they want to. Just read out loud to them so they feel welcome and comfortable, and eventually they might want to read to you.

What if you feel like you aren’t good at reading out loud? Just do it. You’ll get better the more you practice, and no one is grading you on your performance. It’s a fun bonding time for everyone. You’ll make mistakes. Your kids will let you know when you missed a word. It’s OK. Just laugh at the mistakes, compliment your kid on being such a good reader that he caught a missing word, and enjoy your family time together.

Happy reading, everyone!

Project Superhero: A Book For Your Young, Comics-Loving Girl

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Cover image courtesy of the author

Project Superhero‘s Jessie and her friends are the kids you want your daughter to be and be friends with in the eighth grade. She has an enviable comic book collection, and she loves journalism and science. (Things like the likelihood of Black Canary’s scream being possible bothers her.) Her friend Audrey is an electronics lover who has a room full of computer parts and builds robots.

In Project Superhero, written as Jessie’s journal, their class embarks on the Superhero Slam, a year-long 8th-grade project to explore heroes and superheroes—culturally, scientifically, and sociologically—culminating in a one-on-one debate for superhero supremacy.

Jessie’s stories will sound familiar to grown-up comic book geeks. They’re your friends talking about the characters. (“Zatanna…has cool sorcery powers, but I am kind of not so much into “magical intervention” when it comes to superheroes.”) They’re talk about women in and working on comics. (“There are lots of women on that team but they are still X-MEN—what is up with that?”) And it’s a pre-teen girl talking about her friends, parents, and figuring out who she is through the lens of her love for comics.

Author E. Paul Zehr’s previous works include Becoming Batman: The Possibility of a Superhero and Inventing Iron Man: The Possibility of a Human Machine. Project Superhero is a fiction/non-fiction hybrid extension of those themes targeted at tweens, particularly girls. Within the fictional story of the Superhero Slam, the book includes Jessie’s letters to and real replies from:

– Clara Hughes, six-time Winter and Summer Olympic medalist
– Bryan Q. Miller, writer for Batgirl and Smallville
– Jessica Watson, author of True Spirit: The True Story of a 16-Year-Old Australian Who Sailed Solo, Nonstop, and Unassisted Around the World
– Hayley Wickenheiser, Olympic gold medalist and World Champion in ice hockey
– Mike Bruen, NYPD sergeant-on-duty at Ground Zero
– Kelly Sue DeConnick, comic book writer for Captain Marvel and Avengers Assemble
– Yuriko Romer, filmmaker (Mrs. Judo: Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful)
– Nicole Stott, NASA astronaut and engineer
– Christie Nicholson, contributing editor at Scientific American and SmartPlanet

Project Superhero is all of this wrapped in a package of a lot of comic book history with a dash of science, history, and language lessons. It’s also delightfully illustrated by Kris Pearn, who co-directed Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2.

Though described as for 8- to 12-year-olds and perfectly appropriate for that audience, some of the heavier topics (9/11, friends in the hospital, dealing with medical issues like depression and insulin injections) may warrant a parental pre-read before giving it to the younger end. (You know your kids the best.) I’ll be happy to hand it over to my 9-year-old comic book fan.

GeekMom received a PDF of Project Superhero for review.

Minnie & Daisy B.F.F. Giveaway!

Minnie and Daisy © Disney
Minnie & Daisy B.F.F. © Disney

Minnie Mouse and Daisy Duck are growing up this spring in a new magazine and books for the tween set. The pair have been updated with a re-designed look and modern adventures set in the mystical land of middle school. With two chapter books kicking off a book series, a Minnie & Daisy magazine, and a line of Minnie Mouse makeup all hitting store shelves this month, Minnie and Daisy are poised to reach the tween audience.

Continue reading Minnie & Daisy B.F.F. Giveaway!

Sara's Cooking Class: Spil Games Knows Tween Girls (Part 2)

Sara’s Cooking Class on iPad and iPhone. Image: Spil Games/GirlsgoGames

When we last left off, I was in Amsterdam for less than 48 hours for the mobile launch of Spil Games/GirlsgoGames incredibly popular desktop title: Sara’s Cooking Class. To review: Sara’s Cooking Class is a desktop game with 50 million users worldwide. Under the tutelage of Sara, an animated chef, tween girls learn to cook in a virtual kitchen.

I played the game, and enjoyed it (I made macaron!) but I really try to stay away from playing games on my desktop. Hence I dare not sign up for WoW, SWOTOR or Guild Wars 2 – once I get entrenched in these types of games, I find it very hard to leave the computer. Or get any work done. When you work from home, you have to be disciplined, and I am already severely lacking in the discipline it takes to say, “I don’t need to complete another mission.” I realized this back  during ye olden days of Myst. But I do play games on my phone and iPad (*cough* JapanLife *cough*). I don’t feel guilty when I’m killing time on my mobile, as opposed to the crushing guilt I apparently feel sitting in front of the computer, leveling up a character, or beefing up my cities in Hex Empire.

Continue reading Sara's Cooking Class: Spil Games Knows Tween Girls (Part 2)

Sara's Cooking Class: Spil Games Knows Tween Girls (Part 1)

Food is very important to me. Wait, that sounds dumb, doesn’t it? Because really, whether you eat to live or live to eat; food is important to all living creatures. But I love to cook, I love to bake, I love to eat out, I love to eat in other people’s homes. If you tell me you’ve gone to a particular restaurant, I will ask you what you ordered off the menu there, and, as my husband pointed out, will actively listen to your answer and even ask pointed questions.

“You’re not just being pleasant,” he said to me, early on in our relationship. “You really want to know!”

When I go to another country, one of my favorite things to do is find the local supermarket and browse the shelves.  I know I get this from my mother and her identical twin sister. My father’s half-sister came to visit us once, and upon returning from a “quick trip” to the supermarket, she said to me, “My God, we were there for ages! And then I looked at them, and I realized, they’re window shopping in the local supermarket chain!”

In my experience, when you pop into the local supermarket, you will find chocolates, candy, and cookies that are interesting and unique to the culture – and you can buy them as souvenirs and gifts for friends back home. They will be much cheaper than the same product being sold in tourist areas. And it’s not just international. Oh no. Honey, I once killed a pleasant three hours in a Winn-Dixie outside of New Orleans while I waited for Delta to fly my luggage to the right city. Supermarkets say a lot about where you are visiting. And New Orleans had a plethora of indigenous products to gander at.

I cook a lot, and I involve my daughter as much as I can. We have a Learning Tower in our kitchen, and Vivi spends a lot of time up there at counter level, helping me make our meals, or treats. I want her to grow up knowing how food gets to her table, and understand what goes into the food she eats. At the beginning of Anthony Bourdain’s book Kitchen Confidential, he explains why food in restaurants tastes so much better than the food you make at home: monte au buerre. I think it’s important to know things like this, so you have an understanding of the work that goes into making a meal. When we cook something together and eat it, I always say that it tastes better because we are proud to have made it.

So I was intrigued when Spil games contacted me and invited me to Amsterdam to discuss, and be a part of the launch of their wildly popular game Sara’s Cooking Class on mobile devices. (In the interest of full disclosure, they invited fellow GeekMom Melissa Wiley, who had to decline due to previous commitments. She, weepingly, but graciously recommended me for the trip instead, and was rewarded handsomely with Stroopwafel.)

Continue reading Sara's Cooking Class: Spil Games Knows Tween Girls (Part 1)

Review: The Girls' Ghost Hunting Guide by Stacey Graham

Image: Amazon

Telling spooky ghost stories at sleepovers and at summer camp is a rite of passage for kids. We all perfect the shining-the-flashlight-under-your-chin part of it by the time we hit our teen years. There’s something fun and goofy and a little spooky about telling those stories and wondering if there really are things that go bump in the night. For all the girls who’ve wondered and wished that they could find a real ghost, Stacey Graham has written The Girls’ Ghost Hunting Guide. Geared toward kids age 9 and up, this book is full of the kinds of spooky stuff that tween girls will love.

It starts with a bit of history, including some famous fakes and how they tricked people into believing there was a ghost in the room. It moves on to include scary stories from real-life ghost hunters and tips on how to throw a spooky part with your friends. There’s also a question from a young “Future Ghost Hunter” at the end of each chapter along with the name and age of the child asking the question. It’s a nice way to make kids feel like the author is talking directly to each one of them.

Just like the ouija board that kids break out at a slumber party, this is a book that kids will likely take out with their friends when they want to have a little fun searching for ghosts and giving each other a bit of a scare. If your girl likes telling ghost stories in the dark and can’t wait for next Halloween, then she’s going to love The Girls’ Ghost Hunting Guide ($9.99).

A copy of this book was provided for review.

Does Legislation Guarantee our Children Online Safety?

SB242 is currently making its way through the California legislature and according to SFGate.com:

“Under the proposal, social networking sites would have to allow users to establish their privacy settings–like who could view their profile and what information would be public to everyone on the Internet–when they register to join the site, instead of after they join. Sites would also have to set defaults to private so that users would choose which information is public.”

For those of us who are long-time Facebook users…that might sound vaguely like a return to the terms of use we initially agreed to when we created our accounts, before Mark Zuckerberg redefined privacy. I, for one, would prefer greater control over my personal information than I currently have using Facebook. At the moment, it feels as if I am buying my monthly social-networking access by giving away small pieces of my self in the form of soul-shaped personal anecdotes, childhood photos, and “likes.”  As time goes on, I am wondering if this degree of access into my personal landscape is equitable or advisable…

According to NBC Bay Area, there is a second component to this bill that has even further-reaching implications, in that it would essentially give parents editorial power over their children’s Facebook accounts:

The bill’s language also states that social-networking sites would have to comply with parental requests to remove information or photos from their children’s pages or accounts. The new bill “would require removal of that information regarding a user under 18 years of age upon request by the user’s parent, within 48 hours upon his or her request.”

Ironically, I had a problem with that portion of the legislation. It took me a little while to suss out exactly why I felt it was misguided, though. Sure:

  • It puts the greatest responsibility for a child’s online safety with the entity least-invested in the interests of the child: that is, the social networking site; and
  • It creates a false sense of online safety in which parents may feel that they don’t have to discuss the sometimes scary or uncomfortable pitfalls of social media (and can opt to simply protect their children) because they are “in control” of their child’s accounts; and
  • It has nothing to do with lowering gas prices, controlling health care costs, or creating jobs–which, as far as I’m concerned, are the only things elected officials should be working on right now–all of them (I don’t care WHAT committee they sit on…)

But those points weren’t my issue.

The big question I came away with after reading through this legislation is: In the world where this bill passes, what happens on the day after a child’s 18th birthday? Will he automatically emerge into adulthood hard-wired with the skills necessary to negotiate the online world safely and effectively? How?

In a possibly-related news story, a recent Pew Research Center survey found that:

“A majority of college presidents (58%) say public high school students arrive at college less well prepared than their counterparts of a decade ago; just 6% say they are better prepared.”

What (I immediately wondered) has changed in the last decade? Is it possible that in the wake of the financial crisis and the World Trade Center attacks we have responded culturally to a justifiable feeling of physical and economic vulnerability by becoming more protective of our children? If so, is the resultant protective response actually serving us or our children well?

Do not believe for a second that I am instead advocating to allow children unfettered, unguided access to social networking sites–the news is too full of tales of social media use gone awry. Children need to be taught appropriate online behavior just as they need to be taught the etiquette of “please” and “thank you.” The people best equipped to accomplish this, though, are their parents, teachers, librarians and all of the other trusted adults personally-invested in their well-being–not someone trying to sell them something.

I realized as I thought on this that I subscribe to the type of solution that Dr. John Duffy proposes in his new book The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens. Like Dr. Duffy, I believe that my primary job as parent is to provide a safe environment for my child to learn, explore and make mistakes.

In the chapter entitled “What Never Works,” Duffy had some logical suggestions regarding social networking and teen development:

[Regarding] updates on social networking sites like Facebook…there is an element of public domain here. Inappropriate or overly revealing messages can absolutely present a safety issue, especially for younger children…Trust your instincts to know when your child is ready, and keep an eye on your child’s Facebook page. For the first couple of years, you should share her password so that you have access anytime.

The challenge, of course, is to be involved in your child’s online life while simultaneously keeping the following in mind:

If we choose to rescue our teen from every potential pitfall, we unwittingly disrupt her process and take some critical opportunities away from her. First, we take away any opportunity for learning from the experience. We also take away the satisfaction and pride that come with a problem well-solved. While we’re at it, we take away her ability to prove her competence, both to herself and to you, the parent. In doing so, we give her the false impression that we will always be there to pick her up when she falls. We create a wholly unnecessary dependency. Now, this may provide us as parents with a role to play, parent-as-hero, but it robs your child of the opportunity to ever feel like a hero herself.

What Dr. Duffy seems to be saying is that the best strategies to guiding children into the online world involve “scaffolded support” where the child is only helped in the areas where he cannot flourish independently; as the child gains proficiency, adult support is “faded out.”

When I think about it, I can see the allure of SB242–it sounds so simple and definitive in comparison.

 

(I received a copy of The Available Parent for review purposes.)

Ladder Up: Looking Back at Clarissa Explains it All

I just came across this great retrospective on one of my favorite childhood shows, Clarissa Explains It All. I was a dedicated fan of Clarissa and all her antics, and am certainly grateful for her presence during my pre-teen years. I wasn’t entirely aware of my geekiness at the time — nor did I have any idea that being a geek would come to so define me later in life — but Clarissa and I had a definite connection. Most of my friends were guys, like Sam; I favored really odd, quirky clothing (like dashikis). I had a habit of monologuing to myself, writing long diary entries in various voices and styles, and spent a great deal of my time trying to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. I dreamed big.

I won’t go on a rant here about the kind of role models companies like Disney and Nickelodeon are producing these days, but I will say I’m damned glad that I had Clarissa to look up to in the 90s. She gave me the go-ahead to fly my own freak flag. And, if there was anything that defined my teen years, it was a deep desire to find myself, to set myself apart from the popular, the expected, and, in my opinion, the terribly boring. As Marah Eakin says in the article:

But all viewers—myself included—gravitated toward the show because we could find ourselves in her. And in that sense, that’s the show’s biggest success. Clarissa wasn’t a pop star, a superhero, or incredibly rich. She was an average girl living an average life, but in kind of an extraordinary way. Clarissa Explains It All left a nation of young women safe in the knowledge that things would work out just fine, as long as they stayed true to themselves—Doc Martens and all.

Cultural Condomnation: Let’s Talk About Sex (With Our Kids)

This song was a lot more fun when I thought Salt n Pepa were singing it to my generation

So there we were in rush hour, driving down the Long Island Expressway, and from the eleven year old in the back seat comes the question:

“So, Mom, if guys can get erections, I’m wondering, does anything like that happen to girls?”

I’ve got to admit, when I get these questions—and these days they are coming with an insistent, rhythmic regularity—my first instinct is to look around for my husband and suggest a guy’s night out. Or, better yet: a weekend. Hey! I’ll supply the informational pamphlets!

I suspect, though, that part of this process for my son is figuring out where the lines of communication exist in his changing emotional landscape. Questions that mom can answer by sounding like a department of health manual? Still okay. Requests to be driven to the bookstore to pick up the latest issue of Maxim (initially discovered at the barber shop around the corner from my home)? Denied. He is looking for answers, but just as important, he is also looking to gauge my emotional response. And, while the 14 year old is less likely to ask this type of question aloud, I can feel him listening ferociously from the passenger seat while simultaneously monitoring me for stuttering eye tics.

This feels exactly like a minefield–but instead of blowing up, one wrong step lands everyone on a Freudian psychologist’s couch or pacing the floors of a neonatal unit. As I try to frame the facts around this latest question into a cogent, age-appropriate response that implies unconditional love, support, and the message DO NOT USE THIS INFORMATION UNTIL YOU ARE IN A LOVING, MATURE RELATIONSHIP MANY YEARS HENCE, a Lexus minivan swerves in from the side, cuts in front of me, and then slams on its brakes…which feels about right.

Here are some facts that I’ve been mulling  over (because this is what I do when I get anxious, I hunt up statistics):

  • In Western Europe and the United States, the average age people have their first sexual experience is 17.
  • 1 out of every 3 American girls becomes pregnant before she reaches the age of 20.
  • Half of all sexually active youth will contract an STD by age 25.
  • 15 percent of women who are infertile cannot conceive solely because of an untreated STD.
  • Half of all new HIV infections occur among adolescents.

Sure, some of our kids will fall outside of those statistics…but not as many as any of us grown-ups would like. We are all going to know some of these statistics personally—if they are not our children, they will be our children’s friends and peers. Young people we care about will be affected.

More food for thought: Last week I happened upon a Slate.com slideshow,  “The Dream Team, The European Approach to Teens, Sex, and Love, in Pictures.” The protagonists in this public health “dream team” are Love and Condoms–and in the slideshow presentation, both are suggested as vital prerequisites for a rewarding sexual relationship.

The slideshow is aimed at an American audience and it is asking that audience to consider the strategies and outcomes of a Western European model–something that, quite frankly, will not be everyone’s cup of cultural tea.  The presentation first compares young adult public health statistics in the United States and (for the most part) the Netherlands, stating that the two countries have comparable economic, education, and family-planning resources, but then goes on to outline dramatically differing outcomes:

  • Teen pregnancy rates are 3-6 times higher in the US than in Western Europe.
  • Teen gonorrhea and Chlamydia rates are 20-30 times higher in the United States than in the Netherlands.
  • Germany’s teen HIV rate is six times lower than ours.
  • The majority of U.S. teens—63 percent of boys and 69 percent of girls—wish they had waited longer to have sex, compared with only 5 percent of boys and 12 percent of girls in the Netherlands.

It is that last statistic that jumps out at me the hardest. Effective condom use (the first time they had sex, 64 percent of Dutch teens used birth control, compared with only 26 percent of American teens) can protect young adults from unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, but it takes something much more complicated than a “condoms, condoms, condoms” mantra to protect against trauma or regret: my best guess would be trusting relationships and open and honest communication…and yes, that is what the slideshow professes, that, “At the heart of [this issue] lies a contrast in attitudes toward teen sexuality. This is clear from research about how families talk about sex.”

Okay, I think as I read through the slideshow. I’m laying that foundation. We talk, we trust…

And then I get to these two paragraphs:

In a 2004 study, [researcher] Schalet asked parents: “Would you permit your son or daughter to spend the night with a girlfriend or boyfriend in his or her room at home?” Not surprisingly, nine out of 10 American parents said, no, often adding, “Not under my roof!”

Nine out of 10 Dutch parents told Schalet they have allowed or would allow a romantic sleepover under the right circumstances: With a child who was 16 or older and in a loving committed relationship that the parents observed develop gradually. It is common for Dutch teens to sit down together with each set of parents to discuss why they think they’re ready to have sex, and to seek permission.

After I’d unrolled back out from a rocking fetal position, I realized that as a parent I might be operating from more of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” perspective than I’d ever acknowledged. Sure, I am  willing to provide pie charts and cautionary literature–but is that enough? It hadn’t occurred to me that it might be common anywhere for parents to sit down with their children to discuss their actual (as opposed to theoretical) sex lives, or for children to “ask their parents for permission” before entering into a sexual relationship. To be honest, I felt like it was invasive to imagine my children, the people I diapered and breast-fed, as ever being sexual. Whether I realized it or not, “send them off to college and hope for the best” was probably my go-to strategy in this instance.

Clearly, though, my children want to have this dialog with me. On their terms, at their pace. So, we’ll continue to hammer out what our family believes is moral, what love means, what emotional groundwork should be laid before sexual relationships take place…and also, we’ll continue to discuss how best to keep those two bodies that I grew inside of me healthy and happy as they become adults.

ADDITIONAL READING:

  • I’m going to cite it twice: the Slate.com slideshow referenced throughout this post.
  • For hard number on the rates of STDs in our country, this New York Times article is helpful.
  • If you believe that advertising helps shape culture and attitudes, this article on how media corporations define appropriate advertising criteria for condoms is interesting–essentially, condom ads that stress disease prevention are acceptable on television, while ads that even imply that condoms can be used as a form of birth control are not.

(Read Kate Miller’s post on a similar subject: Confessions of a Sex-Ed Addict)