It seems we’re finally living in an age of true girl power. Our bookshops are piled high with stereotype-busting titles, exhorting our girls to become scientists, inventors, activists. Endless shining possibilities beckon. But what about our boys? Is their book reading still dominated by gender cliché?
Stories for Boys Who Dare to be Different, steps up in timely fashion and offers an inspiring array of alternative heroes and tales. Dragon slayers and football goal-scorers are so last season. Here we meet dancers and poets, campaigners and philanthropists. Although some of our heroes are defined by their occupation, many aren’t. Instead, their stories are of resilience and determination, often in the face of towering adversity.
A stand-out example for me was Favio Chavez. This extraordinary man worked with impoverished children, ‘recyclers’ who earned a pittance collecting scraps from a rubbish dump in Paraguay. He inspired them to build musical instruments out of things that were thrown away. Oil barrels, oven trays and pipes became improvised flutes, cellos and violins.
He then formed the Orchestra of Recycled Instruments. This orchestra now plays internationally, channelling the money they make back into their community built around a rubbish dump. And there are many other marvellous stories here. The hip hop artist who stood up and told the world he was gay, the carpet factory slave who saved 3,000 children’s lives, the make-up artist whose flamboyant self-expression set him free.
Author Ben Brooks has compiled this vividly illustrated book for the legions of boys who don’t see themselves reflected in mainstream literature. There’s an emphasis on re-thinking masculinity. I loved the depiction of artist Grayson Perry receiving the 2003 Turner Prize. In dress and make-up, he was Claire, the alter ego that had sustained his inner life as a teenager.
Claire inspires our kids to embrace the things that mark them out as different. An often moving book and a valuable addition to any young reader’s bookshelf.
Stories for Boys Who Dare to be Different is published by Quercus, 208 pages.