OK, I Lied—But Just Because I Had to Do this One We Recommend, with update

OK, yeah, I'm out of the business, I don't do that anymore—but there's one last heist…and I'm going to need all of your incredible skills.

Here's what happened. A loved one, who is also a social worker, called with this situation. (I will condense and paraphrase.)

She works in a public elementary school where there has been a recent spate of 5th grade girl-on-girl emotional violence in the form of hacking each other's Instagram (and other social media, I imagine?) accounts, as well as emails sent that include unpleasant graphic sexual commentary. Yes, yes—this is terrible, but that's just the context.

Some of the perpetrators were caught, and brought to our friend the social worker (praise be!) to get straightened out. Conversations were had. One girl—a 5th grader, remember—is an extremely beautiful, smart, physically developed Latina. She looks, in the words of the social worker, like a gorgeous 16 year old. In the most recent meeting she wept. "No one ever talks about anything but my face and my body. The only thing the boys in the class talk about is my body. They talk about my body parts all the time."

Ugh. Ugh ugh ugh. All these things working together—children, rape culture, sexism, race (I have no doubt), social media, 5th grade, being a person. But for us the question is, what can we give this child to read? She feels alone, but she is not alone. 

See why I had to take this one?

My thoughts on this are varied and possibly not all that helpful. First I thought of Speak, but that is too grown up, too much acting as though what people see when they look at her is the truth.

Then I thought of going in a whole other direction with an old favorite, First Test: Protector of the Small. This is the story of the first girl who trains as a page. It is about learning your own power.

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Then I thought of—ok, don't laugh—the greatest of them all, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. Because who remembers Laura? The girl who they socially torture because she has big breasts? Whom no one will speak to? But yeah, she's not the center of the book.

OK, people, I know I'm quitting—we're all quitting!—but I need you now! Or really, this kid needs you. She needs a book to remind her that she is not alone, that she is who she thinks she is. Bonus points if you can offer her a Latinx author. Extra bonus points if you can think of a book to make the boys in her class shut up and learn something about other people's humanity.

You all remember how to do this, right? Put your ideas in the comments, social worker will look here, books will make their way to the girl—let's do this!


UPDATE: Chestnut strongly believes that a book should be gotten for the boys as well, the ones who are spending all their time talking about this girl's "body parts," something, perhaps, that might remind them of the humanity of others? She wants the teacher to be able to have them all read it. In a curriculum this might be hard to fit, but I do think it is an excellent idea. 

11 thoughts on “OK, I Lied—But Just Because I Had to Do this One We Recommend, with update

  1. I will think too…the only thing that popped into my mind was Thirteen Reasons Why…but again, too grown up. And the end is not what you want for an end result. It DOES talk about body image and rumors and such, but no. I will ask my daughters.
    Would any of the “me, too” stuff out there help? I know it isn’t a book, but maybe an article? I wonder if Teen Vogue would have anything…hmmmm.
    I will keep thinking.


  2. Thank you both, it’s a tricky one to talk about how to let yourself feel like a kid, in kid-friendly terms, when the world is talking about you in a different way. I’m close to somehow remembering something, a girl who is running off to do something at the end, but I cannot think what it is.


  3. OK, talking to Chestnut, who is struggling with this as well. She’s against Protector of the Small, but she does think the Alanna series (also Tamora Pierce) would be good, because the lead is explicitly ugly. Maybe, she says, Tortal and Other Lands, short stories by Tamora Pierce (everything but the last two stories).


  4. oh! Also Riding Freedom, by Pam Munoz Ryan, who also wrote Becoming Naomi Leon. The first one is about a girl who is pretty and surrounded by boys but wants only to be a stagecoach rider (I guess, this is what Chestnut is saying).
    The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates (a series) by Caroline Carlson. Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott. And Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall about some girls who are evacuated to Mars, described by Chestnut as “a very pro-dork book.” Huh.
    Maybe the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett, which has a powerful girl, or Equal Rites.
    OK, last idea has to bee considered carefully, because it’s kind of grown up, but…Beauty Queens, about a bunch of Beauty Queens who get stranded on an island. It’s more about the commodification of beauty and sexuality, and it’s got sex in it, which is not ideal


  5. How about Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo? It’s YA so may be a little advanced but it is SO SO good. A novel written in poems from the perspective of a Latina girl in NYC who, among other things, is dealing with getting attention for only her body from boys, and has a very strict religious mom.


  6. The point of reading when you’re in the midst of a mess like the one that’s mired these girls is to break free to another world, one where problems have solutions, and people like you can find them. Ideally the problems aren’t the same as the ones you’re facing or the similarities will remind you of your pain, and the differences will make you more alone with them. You want a fresh start, with characters who feel like friends—better friends, perhaps, than you really have, with stories that are larger than life.
    So definitely Terry Pratchett’s wise and funny Tiffany Aching series, starting with The Wee Free Men, and then going on for four more books as Tiffany grows older and stronger:
    “Another world is colliding with this one,” said the toad. “That’s what Miss Tick thinks. But it’s happening faster than she expected. All the monsters are coming back.”
    “There’s no one to stop them.”
    There was silence for a moment.
    “There’s me,” said Tiffany.
    Also consider Eva Ibbotson’s Journey to the River Sea: orphaned Maia travels to the Amazon to live with relatives who turn out to be awful, but Maia is able to forge new friendships, connect to the world around her, and so thrive without them. Here’s her wonderful governess, Miss Minton:
    “I would let her have adventures. I would let her choose her path. It would be hard—it was hard—but I would do it. Oh, not completely, of course. Some things have to go on. Cleaning one’s teeth, arithmetic. But Maia fell in love with the Amazon. It happens. The place was for her—and the people. Of course there was some danger, but there is danger everywhere.” She broke off, gathering her thoughts. “When she was traveling and exploring, and finding her songs, Maia wasn’t just happy, she was herself. Perhaps I’m mad—and the professor too—but I think children must lead big lives…if it is in them to do so.”


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