I had a hard time sleeping last night, so I got up and started reading The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler. It was probably the wrong thing to do, because I couldn't put the book down. And stayed up to the early morning to finish the book. I was just amazed at how Carolyn Mackler was able to weave so many different layers into this book.
This book is about a girl named Virginia Shreves, who has major body issues and creates a Fat Girl Code of Conduct for dealing with boys. She's kissing a boy from school, Froggy, but knows she is not girlfriend material because of her weight. So Virginia never acknowledges Froggy in school since she doesn't embarrass him. She just meets him every week for a kissing exchange. That just made me so sad.
Then enter Virginia's perfect thin family, albeit a dysfunctional family. Virginia feels she doesn't fit into her beautiful, thin, intelligent family. Her mother and father are never around. They are determined to help Virginia lose weight. Never mind they make her feel bad. And her brother...well Virginia realizes she had her brother on a pedestal way too long.
Virginia's best friend is across the country for the school year, leaving Virginia with no one to hang out with. The queen bee of the school and her sidekicks would rather be dead than look fat. Virginia's self esteem is so low, she doesn't think anyone wants to be friends with her because she is fat.
Isn't this all sad? But, there is hope. Virginia has a cool teacher who offers support and encouragement. She meets her best friend in Seattle. Away from her parents. And starts an adventure of appreciating herself and liking who she is without the parental pressure of who she should be.
The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things is simply a wonderful read. It will make you think about perceived body images, fitting in at school and home, relationships with parents and siblings, whether you are selling yourself short and what you are worth.
And now A Sunday's List of Strong Girl Role Models in Children's Literature:
1. Virginia Shreves and teacher Ms. Crowley from The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler, ages 15 and up: Virginia Shreves just kicks butt in this book. She starts off with very low esteem in this book. After a few unfortunate events, Virginia examines her life and realizes she is worth so much more. She gets involved with life, takes up kickboxing, shows independence, organizes a webzine for the school, and speaks up for herself to her family. She is one strong girl.
Virginia's teacher, Ms. Crowley is incredibly empathetic because she understood how it felt like to have weight issues. However, she wanted to make sure Virginia didn't let it control how she saw herself. Ms. Crowley let Virginia know that it was okay to explore making new friends. She also gave Virginia a wonderful, hopeful book about young women who were "rebelling against the body norms."
2. Aunt Sarah from Surrender by Sonya Hartnett, ages 16 and up: This beautifully written book is for older teens who are mature enough to handle a psychological thriller. Despite the disturbing nature of the book, it was so difficult to put down because of the beauty of the language. When I first read this book, I was so impressed with Aunt Sarah. She has a small role in the book, but she played a big role in the care of her nephew, Gabriel as he was sick and dying. Gabriel didn't want to have his parents around him, so when he asked for Aunt Sarah, she came to take care of him. After all the twists and turns of this book, I found out who Aunt Sarah was, and all I could think was, oh my. Still, anyone who takes care of someone who is ill, that person automatically makes it as a strong person.
3. Roxie from roxie and the hooligans by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, ages 8 and up: I was so disturbed by Surrender, I had to read roxie and the hooligans to take the edge off. You will simply cheer for Roxie, a little girl who has big ears that stick out a bit. She is bullied by the mean Helvetia's Hooligans. After the Hooligans chase Roxie, they land into quite an adventure. Roxie was always afraid of things but remembers Lord Thistlebottom's Book of Pitfalls and How To Survive Them. Turns out she is quite brave, resourceful and even helps her bullies out! I loved the little tip from Lord Thistlebottom's book...Do not panic.
4. Melanie from The Diary of Melanie Martin: or how I Survived Matt the Brat, Michelango, and the Leaning Tower of Pisa by Carol Weston, ages 9 and up: This cute book in diary form takes place on a family vacation in Italy. You'll learn a few Italian words and a bit about Italian culture. Melanie thinks her parents always side with her little brother, Matt. This family vacation has a few mishaps. As a result, Melanie realizes she has a great parents and even a good little brother. She stands up for her mother, protects her brother and writes a great poem about her vacation to bring back to school.
5. Little Sister from The Day I Swapped my Dad for Two Goldfish by Neil Gaiman, ages 4-8: This creative book is a little disturbing if you take it at face value. Boy trades Dad for 2 goldfish. Little Sister rats boy out to Mom. And Little Sister is keeping boy on track to get good old Dad back. Thank goodness for sisters. And while the ending is somewhat funny, it is a bit disturbing. But that one is for you to decide.