Barely Behaving Daughters: A Book To Teach Girls to Be Bad

Categories: Books

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Of the many things that no one should have to tell you not to do, lighting a firecracker next to a sleeping tiger is probably near the top of the list. It's also the first thing that you see when you open P.M. Neist's new children's book, Barely Behaving Daughters, as one of her wayward girls begins the alphabetical journey of mischievousness. Above her is the quote, "Disobey often and well. It is a sad little child that only plays by the rules." From Catherine De La Pelissa Douce. The idea of beneficial rowdiness is the theme of the 26-page book.

The book follows a simple, but delightful pattern. Each page features a girl, an animal, and an unruly action. My 4-year-old daughter's favorite was "H is for the Hannahs, who halved a hyena" featuring a grinning set of twins in front tall grass hiding the front and back end of an impossibly long hyena. It's a devilish little scene, as are the rest of Neist's creation. Everything from wallpapering a whale to boiling beavers is covered.

In many ways, the book echoes something like Neil Gaiman's The Dangerous Alphabet, though Neist trades surrealism and fantasy for a more upfront morbidity like you'd get from Charles Addams. Throughout it all, though, is a continued sense of girls going their own way in their own unique manner. Neist says so much about each of her characters in sentences of fewer than ten words, leaving us to fill in all manners of adventures from characteristics embodied in their momentary transgressions.

"I do think it is both important and very tricky to learn to break the rules," said Neist via email. "Creative work, whether it is artistic, scientific or political, requires us to think critically and break from convention. It's difficult, it requires a lot of courage and it's not likely to be rewarded, with good reason. We depend on rules to be safe and get along. Our educational system is geared toward obeying rules, not breaking them. How do we reach the right balance?"

If there is a downside to the otherwise delightful book, it's that so much of the action does in fact involve what could be considered cruelty to animals. I doubt even the most vehement member of PETA would feel too bad for Annette eating ants or Josslyn jostling jellyfish, but Mona muting monkeys and Yanicka yanking yaks sometimes comes across as a bit mean and a trifle unnecessary. Then again, that may be decades worth of political correctness eating away at my ability to enjoy a good dark laugh.


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