Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein

I picked up this book after reading a brief review of it on a fellow blogger’s page.

I have to say, although this is non-fiction, based on observations and facts, it was a fast paced read, witty and informative. Peggy Orenstein, describes herself as first and foremost: a journalist. And the style in which she writes this book certainly reflects a journalist’s knack for sharing information in such a way that a reader is pulled in and wants to keep reading.

“Cinderella Ate My Daughter” is essentially, a critical observation of ‘girly girl’ pop culture that is being pushed onto girls at an extremely young age. Orenstein deconstructs how pop culture has been successful at infiltrating what ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ be ok for girls to play with, to look like, to like and dis-like; in other words: What a girl should be. She goes through the recent explosion of the Disney Princess line, which although based on classic Disney characters, has only come to be, very recent years. She also tells her readers about children’s pageants (which I personally think should be ban), the rise of the Bratz, child-to-teen stars such as Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus, as well as other tid-bits of culture that have been successfully marketed to the malleable minds of the very young to the point where it really could be all consuming.

Although she attacks the issue head on, I feel as though Orenstein has tried to balance her argument by opening a window to show a glimpse of the other side of the argument. In other words: the positive side of the pink culture. She asks the question: “Why has girlhood become so monochromatic?” then ponders the question: Does the “pink factor” open of limit girl play? For example: Would girls be actively involved in sports if sports equipment did not come in ‘girl colours’ such as pink baseball bats and pastel soccer balls? Some pageant girls seem to really want to be there.

Other sides of the issue are also explored and explained such as: the socially constructed meaning of colours regarding either gender; the history of the Disney Princesses and the early sexualization of girls.

Strawberry Shortcake, then and now

As I read on I kept reflecting back to my own childhood. My toys, my colour choices my exposure to girl culture in the 80’s and 90’s and the choices I’ve made based on this exposure. I remember being completely in love with the colours pink and purple but I know this was not pushed on me (at least not by my parents). My toys were of every colour under the sun and were mostly gender neutral in terms of interest. I’ve always rejected the Barbie doll despite having so many of them given to me as gifts and loved the Ninja Turtles. I was never told I couldn’t do or achieve anything because of my gender and have become livid on several occasions when a family friend had implied just that.

We all know that times are changing and they always will be. But are they changing for he better? And which elements of this change are not proving to be fruitful in the long run? Do we want an entire generation of girls to be so overly worried about their looks and weight that they completely forget about nurturing what’s on the inside, be it knowledge or spirit?

As much as I enjoyed this read the only disappointment was that Orenstein had left out any commentary and very little substance in terms of the best ways to address these issues. A good balance is a good way to go but how does a parent achieve this balance in today’s world and how would a teacher take this information and create a positive environment for his/her students that would address these matters?

Having said that, I still highly recommend this book for it’s eye-opening content, the many “ah ha!” moments and the amount of information that has been packed into its pages.

The Fred Factor by Mark Sanborn

The Fred Factor by Mark Sanborn, was given to me by the principal of a school I worked for about 2 years ago. The entire staff was given a copy and asked to read it before our next meeting. It was meant to be a giant book club meet-up where we were to discuss the concepts outlined and ways in which we could apply them to our own teaching and learning dynamic within our classrooms as well as our daily interactions with one another. It was a great idea but between curriculum writing, lesson planning, marking and parent meetings I never quite got through the entire book. I remember my students asking me about it because they found almost every staff member walking around the campus with a copy! It was pretty funny.

Anyway… I finally picked it up again to revisit the core concepts and actually read it cover to cover!

In a nutshell, Mark (the author) had recently moved into a new neighbourhood. The morning after, Fred, his post carrier, knocks on his door and takes the time to introduce himself, have a little chat and cares enough to let Mark know that he would be able to hold his mail when he is traveling so as not to raise suspicion of an empty house and possible temptation for others to break in. And so the ‘Fred Factor’ is born. The idea is to bring passion and meaning to whatever it is you do, to go above and beyond without expecting anything in return. I know this sounds absurd in this day and age, but really when you do something with passion and show genuine care the good will come to you especially when you don’t expect it. Does that make sense at all?!

I wouldn’t want to spoil the read by re-wording the concepts outlined because it is done so well and explained in such a straightforward way I wouldn’t want to ruin it. But it would give you an idea as to what this self-help book is trying to achieve if I simply outline the titles of each part: Part 1: What’s a Fred?; Part 2: Becoming a Fred; Part 3: Developing Other Freds; Part 4: For the Love of Fred

I started reading this with the saying: “You reap what we sow” in mind. I thought that this was essentially what the book was all about. But this all changed when, as Oprah would say, the “Ah ha! Moment” hit me. This, for me, was when the author describes the concept of making a difference. We all want to “make a difference” right? Well he points out that regardless of what we do we are making a difference! What we really want to emphasize is what kind of a difference we want to make. A simple example: Whether or not we smile at the waiter who serves us our coffee will make a difference either way. If we choose to smile and be polite we may have a positive effect on his/her day. If we chose to ignore him/her… we’re still making a difference, it’s just not a positive one. So the next time I say “I want to make a difference” (which is a line I think about a lot) I’d rather be more specific and say that “I’d like to make a positive difference.” I’ve never really thought of this distinction… but it’s there, and the more aware we are aware of it the better.

After this “Ah ha! Moment”, another quote came to mind which I think describes the book better than the previous one, and that is: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” ~ Mahatma Ghandi.

The best way to understand The Fred Factor is to read it! And I do recommend it quite highly.

Happy reading! :@)

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

This is a book that has been on my ‘to read list’ for quite some time. I’m glad I finally picked it up. It’s a pretty easy read as far as langauge goes but the content is very heavy! It was one of these books that made me be extremely thankful to have been born away from a place where a child would need to face horrific events and live with the memmory of them. Things that adults are unable to deal with. It also brought tears of sadness, pitty and hope into my eyes at several sections of the story.
This is a very honest, raw account of what life was like for Ishmael when forced to become a child soldier in Siera Leon. He fought against the rebel soldiers who also ‘recruited’ children. The account takes the reader on his journey as he transformes from a regular child who has learned to love Shakespeare and loves to rap and perform in talent shows, to a child suffering from insomnia who is most comfortable with his gun and ammunition and can not function without his daily dose of war, blood, cocaine and marijuana.
I remember writing a research paper back in grade 13 about child soldiers. I chose the subject because it was so new to me and I knew I had a lot to find out. What I dug up was shocking! I know I still have my research paper somewhere in the basement. I’d really like to take it out and go over what I had written 8 years ago.
Although I am now familiar with what child soldiers are and what they are forced to go through. This book gave a very different perspective to the issue because of it’s being a first hand account of true events with the use of a child’s voice. It has presented the issue from a different prespective. It’s not an outsider looking in. It’s not about an observer or journalist telling us a story of a boy. It’s not about statistics and numbers. It’s about the innocence of a child robbed; and it’s written by the boy himself.
The book also brings a tremendous amount of hope. I don’t know too much about Ishmael now. However, I do know that he is a part of the Free the Children Organization as well as the Me to We effort, based in Toronto, that bring together youth to carry out global projects building schools and providing basic facilities such as clean water in remote areas in underdeveloped regions. I believe he is also a motivational speaker. Now here is a person I’d really like to meet!
This is a story of one of the lucky ones though. One of the very few who have made it out alive.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who can appreciate what it is to be human.
p.s there are quite a few links in this post but I think they’re well worth checking out :@)