L.H. Johnson's Reviews > Stories for Boys Who Dare to be Different

Stories for Boys Who Dare to be Different by Ben Brooks
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really liked it
bookshelves: family, feminist, non-fiction, historical, short-stories, tearjerker, war, travel

I have promised to be, above all things, honest in the reviews that I write and so it's for that reason that I must confess that I wanted to dislike this a lot more than I did. These books at the moments for rebel girls and boys who dare to be different conceptually bother me; they speak to ideas of gender in children's literature, for this is what this is, really, and they speak to the state of those ideas being in a somewhat complicated and, perhaps, quite a troubled space. And, because I am somebody rooted in the classics of British children's literature, it seems to all stem from the mid-twentieth century and the notions we have of girls and of boys in the books of that second golden age that still so heavily comes to influence the state of children's literature today.

And yet, and yet -

That strapline bothered me. Boys who changed the world without killing dragons? It's so specific, so madly, utterly, wilfully specific in tone that by perpetuating said tone, that surely it perpetuates a myth of masculinity that the book itself is trying to defy -

And yet, and yet -

That title. Why stories for boys who dare to be different. Different from what? Why is it daring? The transgressive act only becomes transgressive when rendered as such; perhaps this should be a form of normalcy that we should be trying to understand as such. Surely in making something the other, we perpetuate that otherness -

And yet, this isn't a bad book. To be frank, it's actually pretty good.

But I still have questions to resolve, and I will resolve them and I will do so with the full and frank acknowledgement that this is a good, kind and thoughtfully constructed book. It is representative, inclusive and frequently moving, encompassing characters such as Nicholas Winton, Taika Waititi and Lionel Messi. There's elements of it still to challenge, and on fully legitimate circumstances and not 'grumpy scholarly' circumstances. Louis Braille is included and yet there's no acknowledgement of the fact that much of his entry cannot be read by those he sought to help. Similarly, the entry for Junot Diaz suffers from recent events, and I was concerned by some of the looser rhetoric involved in other entries such as "It's time to take their country back". That's a problematic phrase, not in the least for its implicit politicking, and it's a phrase that, really, means very little. And sure, a very young reader might not pick up on that angle, but they'll pick up on the language. The phrasing. And it's that sort of thing in this book that matters and should be fought over, fiercely.

These books are having a moment and I welcome the effort that Brooks has done towards making his contribution a pretty damn good book. I suspect much of its problems come from the hobbles of frame and circumstance, and that I'm maybe demanding a lot of it that perhaps it can't quite achieve in such a context. And yet, I'm unapologetic in doing so because these books - as evidenced by their raw and fierce popularity - are clearly needed. I just ache for them to, somehow, become something more than what they are at present.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
July 13, 2018 – Shelved
July 13, 2018 – Shelved as: family
July 13, 2018 – Shelved as: feminist
July 13, 2018 – Shelved as: non-fiction
July 13, 2018 – Shelved as: historical
July 13, 2018 – Shelved as: short-stories
July 13, 2018 – Shelved as: tearjerker
July 13, 2018 – Shelved as: war
July 13, 2018 – Shelved as: travel

Comments Showing 1-5 of 5 (5 new)

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message 1: by Stephanie (new)

Stephanie This book has been so inspirational and meaningful to my own older son - it was a gift from a thoughtful friend and he has DEVOURED it (and also asked me to get him the girls' ones too, so that we can read them all). Honestly, I wish the word "for" (in all of the books' titles) could be replaced by "about", but this has been so good for him, I can't make myself be cranky about it.

L.H. Johnson Hurrah for your son! And your friend! And for your family! Even though I am cranky yes, I'm so happy these are finding readers and making connections, and I won't ever be sad about that. :)

message 3: by Alex (new)

Alex English I share your reservations about these titles. I really wish this was about boys, not for boys. The content of these books is fabulous, but the way they are titled still excludes half the potential audience, which is a shame.

message 4: by Mathew (new)

Mathew Thank goodness people have reservations about these titles. The concept is wonderful but if you really want to break down barriers then we all need to be invited to be part of the process. Brilliant review.

message 5: by Liz (new)

Liz Filleul Totally agree with you re. the titles.

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