We Recommend: How to Understand Girls, 8-Year-Old Boy Edition

It’s We Recommend! In which we post a request that's been sent to us, and do our best to get that person the right book. Know a kid who needs a book to read? Send us (thediamondinthewindow (at) gmail (dot) com) his or her likes, dislikes, favorites, quirks, and any other reading information that might be helpful, and we will think on it, and pose it to our oh-so-helpful readers. And look in the comments—all the best recommendations are there.

Hello, you old-fashioned readers of blogs, you! I'm still here, writing a blog! I promise that this time I'll make it worth your while, because we have a really interesting request, guaranteed to make you think hard about books, gender, age, and humanity—everything you like! Maybe!

My eight year old grandson has many interests and reads above grade level. He enjoys nonfiction right now having recently finished Harry Potter and wanting a change. Since he has a crush on a girl in his second grade class, he asked for some books that would help him understand her and girls in general! A friend told him to read the Dork diaries, but I know that is not where he needs to be so any suggestions will be appreciated.

Wow. The old "Help me understand girls" dilemma. Often also phrased as "Help me understand boys." Or just "Help" for short.

I've been thinking about this for a few days, and here's what I've come up with. 

1) There is no such thing as understanding girls. 

See, the premise of the the Dork Diaries is that there is a class of human beings, girls, and they act a certain way, and this is so funny, ha ha!

But of course, what he really wants is to understand the girl in his class, and what do we know about her? Nothing! It's (comparatively) easy to "understand" groups of people rather than a specific person. For example, in some countries, "groups of people" will be offended if a woman has uncovered hair. We can understand this. But that doesn't help us to understand a specific person in that country very much; it might help to know that this is a belief in his country, just as it might help this boy to know the burden of stereotyping and society and who knows what else that have gone into forming this girl. But it won't help him understand her attachment to, say, Barbies or Star Wars or dogs. Or that she likes cookies, or is the youngest and is bossed around all the time, or is exceptionally strong, and likes to push heavy things.

The only way (I think) to understand girls, or at least to understand a girl, or to try to understand this girl in particular, is to know her.

However (oooh, I feel like the Wizard of Oz now), I do have something that might help him understand that girls are, after all, people, and as such are difficult to understand, and yet well worth it. That is, a book that is about not girls in general, but a girl in particular, and such a fully realized and true girl that it will help remind him that they (we) are simply people, like himself.

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The other advice I would give him (that we should be clear would work with me and might not work with all girls, but is worth a try): bring an extra cookie and offer it to her. That goes a long way in connecting to others.

Do you have other ideas? Complementary? Contradictory? Put them in the comments, please!

Does Anyone Know What to Do About 13-Year-Old Boys, Porn, Women, and the Future?

Well. This weekend I heard the tale of a mom discovering from her son's browsing history that he has been, er, investigating the internet's copious troves of smut.

This is not the first time I've heard a story like this. While kids are aces at finding terrifying, hair-curling images online, with or without parental controls on the computer, they neglect their browser history (probably a good thing overall) and parents are confronted with: reality. Or really, not reality, but a shaved, degraded, creepy, freaky version of reality.

What are you supposed to do?

If you're ancient and wizened, like I am, you remember when it was more about a Playboy magazine in someone's garage. That seemed extremely risque at the time. And while I don't want to go whole-hog and say, "Internet porn is worse," I do sort of want to say that. Because there is SO MUCH of it. And it is SO SCARY. And also SO AVAILABLE. And how can you counter, or at least balance, these crazy images? And what about how women are portrayed? And oh my god what are you supposed to do?

There are computers everywhere, and from the story my excellent nephew told be about the bad kid at school, "We were supposed to be researching plants! But he went to a site and looked at ladies' bras!" , I think that it's very hard to keep it all out. Also keep an eye on that kid—he was 8.

It seems to me that: of COURSE 13-year-old boys want to see naked ladies on the internet (I'm trying, as I write this, to be honest but I must say I am terrified about what the keyword search situation will be on this post). But mostly what I think is that there need to be other ways in which love/sex/bodies/women are represented in their lives, and that goes beyond just the parents serving as a model for how to be. Maybe I am wrong about this? But I think it.

So I want to come up with books for boys, especially books that remember that boys are human, and girls are human, and it's all terrible and wonderful and complicated. It would be EVEN BETTER if I were able to include books that speak to boys, in boys voices, about boy stories, or have covers that are not embarrassing for boys to be seen with (though maybe they are like girls and everything is embarrassing? I think maybe this is the case). Also better still? If the books could acknowledge the reality of sex, in a humane sort of way.

Here are some ideas, all of them compromised by the fact that I don't have boys, I was terrified to talk to boys for a long time, and I am an ancient wizened crone. Still!

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Or maybe this?

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Or maybe this?

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I haven't even READ that last one, but I read The Marbury Lens and I think he's a good writer and I trust him? And it looks like a book that isn't just about the girl's story? And basically: Help me, readers! You must know something about what to read, think, or do in these situations? (Aside from talking to the kid—of COURSE you talk to the kid.)

Speak! In the comments.

We Recommend: 6-Year-Old Boy Read-Aloud

Ah, yes, it's We Recommend, where you write in with your near and dear one's favorite books, likes, loves, hates, and we try to find the right book for her! Or him! Have someone who needs a recommendation? E-mail us at thediamondinthewindow (at) gmail (dot) com and we'll do our best to find something. But the secret is: all the best suggestions are in the comments.

Prepare! Repent!

Or maybe don't repent, but do prepare for the cockles of your heart to be warmed, your estimation of humankind raised a notch, and your bitterness dissipated (at least for a moment). Onward!

I am very happy to be the new step-mom of a newly 6 year-old boy (who is wonderful).  We read stories every night at bed time (every night he is with me and my husband, which is a little less than half the time).  He is in kindergarten and learning to read, but not yet confident about it at all.  I have been thinking that I would like to start reading chapter books to him at bed time, in part to fuel his interest in reading on his own.  He loves animals, legos, and angry birds.  He has a great memory for story details.  He has a sweet heart, a great sense of humor, and a bit of a mischievous streak.  And he gets scared pretty easily (and does not like it).  As I am new to the (step-)parenting gig and was never a 6 year-old boy myself, I'm a bit at sea about where to start.  Any ideas?  

Let's see: sweet heart? Humor? Mischievous? And six years old? Friends, I will go to my tried and true, my one great love, my silliness source, behold!

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It's so sweet and ridiculous! I very much hope that this young man will enjoy it. But there are so many great read alouds for this age. Poetry is awesome, oh my goodness, Winnie the Pooh is perfect! It's as though every great children's book ever written was written to be read aloud to a sweet 6-year-old boy at bedtime.

But don't take my word for it. (Have you ever? I don't think so.) Opine! Into the comments with you, and let's hear some more ideas, so they have a tidy stack.

Where Are All the American Boy Books?

I was talking with the most excellent finslippy, whose son is getting ready to enter middle school. He is (as any sane person would be) a little nervous about it. So where, she wondered, were the boy books about getting ready for middle school?

And I realized: I had no idea.

And that's a problem, because while advice books may not be perfect, they're reassuring to read for the nervous and anxious among us. Chestnut read this over and over and over the summer after 5th grade, and it really helped her. But it's true that these are almost all pitched directly at girls. And why is there no boy equivalent? Do publishers think boys don't read? Boys read. Do they think boys aren't nervous? (They can't possibly think that, right?) Do they think boys don't like quizzes and advice books? All I'll say is that my nephews (who aren't yet in 5th grade, but are still, you know, guys) were raptly involved when their cousins were administering the "What kind of cupcake are you?" quiz.

So what gives?  How can this be? And does anyone know of a book for this kid to read—a book about starting middle school, that's not explicitly for girls? Put it in the comments.

Thank You, Alex Rider

So there's this guy I know. He's a nice guy. He's 10. He's good at building things, great at figuring out how things work, not such a champ at reading.

It was really a drag for a while. The letters didn't make sense to him as sounds. The pieces never melted together into meaning—not easily. He got by, as people do, with context and faking and hating reading. Then he met this other guy:

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Now? He likes reading. For real.

And it's not just confined to Alex Rider books either. When he ran out of those, he found something else, and liked it. It doesn't have to be a technical manual anymore, or a book with lots of pictures and barely any text.

The best analogy I can come up with is if you weren't so into eating, and then someone gave you chocolate, and you figured, "Hey—if this is around, I shouldn't give up on chocolate all together."

It's true that it's not just Alex Rider that changed things. He's been getting reading help. And he's growing up and getting older. And something was going to break through one way or another.

But really? While I know all that, all I can think is: Thank you, Alex Rider. You are a gateway drug in the best possible sense.