Today I Read…My First Book of Girl Power and Batman’s Hero Files

my-first-book-of-girl-powerToday I read My First Book of Girl Power and DC Super Friends: Batman’s Hero Files by Billy Wrecks, illustrated by Erik Doescher.

Girls are strong and smart and brave and kind. They can be heroes! Come and learn about some of the DC Super Heroines.

And: Batman likes to know everything. He keeps files on all of the Super Friends and their special Super Powers. Let’s read his files together!

Tiny Niece has started to like Superman and Batman, and as her Nerdy Auntie I feel it is my duty to encourage this. Especially Superman, who is better than Batman. But as her Feminist Nerdy Auntie, I really want her to know some of the female super heroes–Batgirl and Supergirl and Wonder Woman, who don’t have the same overwhelming amount of merchandise as the boys do. I deliberately went looking for some books featuring the female super heroes (and maybe bought some of the DC Super Hero Girls dolls, which are pretty cute and bend better than Barbie). But books with the girl heroes are actually pretty hard to find. There was one book I looked at that had 4 stories about Marvel’s Avengers, and in those 4 stories the only female character mentioned by name was Pepper Potts. And she had to be rescued. And there was one drawing of a random female bystander who also had to be rescued. Now, there have been tons of female Avengers over the years, and even the movies have Black Widow (although not my Black Widow movie, I wants it, I wants it, where is my Black Widow movie?!?) But there is nary a girl to be found in the board books and early readers I was looking at, at Chapters and the independent comic store. And as much as I enjoy the DC Super Hero Girls, it’s really aimed at an older age group than my Tiny Niece, who is just turning 4. The rare books that do include a girl hero, the ratio is usually about 1 girl character for every 5-6 boy characters. I wanted a book with a fair ratio of girl to boy characters. I ended up getting this book, which is only about girl heroes, and an early reader DC Super Friends: Batman’s Hero Files. That one has Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, The Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman, with Wonder Woman and Batgirl (Supergirl not included). And there are at least pictures of Catwoman and Cheetah, though none of the villains are named.

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They’re both good books, which describe the various hero’s powers. Girl Power is a board book, and it only has a maximum of about 3 sentences per page. The language is fairly advanced, and it’s more for an adult to read to a child. Batman’s Hero Files is a reader, intended for children who are learning to read on their own, so it uses basic vocabulary and short sentences, although I’m not sure who decided ‘indestructible’ is basic vocabulary. And I do like that Girl Power emphasizes that being smart and brave and kind are qualities as worthy of praise as being strong. Hawkgirl is posed with her mace, but her description talks about her healing abilities. Batgirl likes to read books and program computers. Mera likes to explore new places. It would be nice if they included some heroines of colour–at least Batman’s Hero Files feature a black Green Lantern and Cyborg, but I guess I’ll have to be happy with baby steps of representation.

So yes, I absolutely have an agenda regarding promoting super heroes to Tiny Niece. I love superheroes. I love stories about people who try to save the world. But I want Tiny Niece to grow up to realize that she can be a superhero too, and not have to always be rescued.

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Today I Read…Project Superhero

Project SuperheroToday I read Project Superhero by E. Paul Zehr and illustrated by Kris Pearn.

Jessie loves superheroes. Completely, utterly, loves them. So she is THRILLED when her grade 8 social science teacher says that their major project that year will be about…can you guess…SUPERHEROES! How cool is that? They have to each choose a hero and research them, and figure out what makes them a hero, and debate with each other over whose superhero is the best.

There are so many to choose from, at first Jessie has a hard time narrowing it down. But one thing is for certain–it has to be a girl superhero. Dylan in her class keeps being a jerk and saying that girls suck and they can’t be superheroes, so Jessie needs to prove him WRONG! And to help her, she chooses the very best superhero of all, strong, smart, determined, resourceful, and a great team player–BATGIRL.

To help her figure out what makes Batgirl a hero, Jessie starts her own training program to become Batgirl. She takes karate lessons from her aunt and tries to eat healthier food because Batgirl has s strong body, does all her homework and learns about all kinds of different things because Batgirl is super smart, and interviews real-live heroes to figure out how and why they did remarkable things, just like Batgirl.

Jessie’s all ready for the Superhero Slam. But Dylan, her nemesis, has chosen Batman for his superhero. Can Batgirl beat Batman?

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This was one of the books I picked up at the Word on the Street festival last year, just because it looked like a really cool book. I was even happier when I found out that the publisher, ECW Press, has a program where if you provide proof of purchase of one of their print books, they will send you the ebook for free. And another nice thing is that Kris Pearn’s terrific illustrations are in colour in the ebook, though the double-page Superhero Slam Brackets are easier to see in the print edition since the pages are printed side-by-side.

I like the idea of studying what makes a superhero. The categories that the students have to study for the Superhero Slam are Wisdom and experience, Physical strength and agility, Perseverance and determination, Critical thinking, Recovery, Courage, Preparation, and Leadership. These really emphasize that what makes a superhero is not just who can hit the hardest (though who would win in a fight between Superman and the Hulk?). Jessie also begins to think about how each of these qualities can be demonstrated in real life, by her family and friends and people she admires.

What really makes this book special are the interviews that Jessie does. She writes letters to real-life heroes to ask them questions about what they did that made them famous and what drove them, how they trained, and of course who their favourite superhero is. The interviews are all actual interviews that Zehr conducted with actual experts in different fields, including:

  • Mike Bruen, retired NYPD Sergeant on duty at Ground Zero for 9/11
  • Kelly Sue DeConnick, comic book writer for Captain Marvel and Avengers Assemble
  • Clara Hughes, Canadian 6-time Winter & Summer Olympic medalist in speed skating & cycling and mental health spokesperson
  • Bryan Q. Miller, comic book writer for Batgirl and Smallville
  • Christie Nicholson, Contributing Editor, Scientific American & SmartPlanet
  • Yuriko Romer, film maker (“Mrs. Judo—Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful”) who documented the life of Keiko Fukuda—the highest ranking woman in Judo history
  • Nicole Stott, NASA astronaut who spent more than 3 months on the International Space Station and has been in space 6 times
  • Jessica Watson, author of True Spirit: The True Story of a 16-Year-Old Australian Who Sailed Solo, Nonstop, and Unassisted Around the World
  • Hayley Wickenheiser, 4 time Olympic medalist in ice hockey and community advocate

The book is written as Jessie’s diary, as a kind of record both of her life and her research. Her project inspires her to make changes in her own life to emulate the qualities she most admires in Batgirl. It also leads her to examine her life and her interests, and think about her future and what she wants to do. Since she likes writing and finding things out, she thinks about becoming a journalist. Different people have different qualities that she admires, and she learns to take the best of everything to make herself the best she can be, as well as seeing the good qualities her family and friends around her.

Superheroes are hugely popular right now, with Marvel’s terrific MCU and DC’s strong tv shows Arrow and The Flash. Sure, the costumes and the powers and the snappy one-liners while they punch out the villain du jour are fun, but the thing about superheroes is, they’re good. They save the world when it needs to be saved. And maybe if more people tried to save the world, it wouldn’t need to be saved quite so much.

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MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 8

The first day of my diary.

Or first entry. Or whatever.

Grade 8 is already crazier than I imagined it would be. That’s why I started this diary  to keep track of all the craziness. But I think it’s going to be fun. I really like writing: it’s like thinking out loud but in a quiet way. I think maybe I’ll be an author or a journalist when I get older. Or maybe a scientist. Something where I can ask questions and get answers!

But of all the questions I have, my main one is this: why are all the homework assignments and projects coming up already? Didn’t the teachers get the memo that it’s still only the first week of school?

I wish we were kind of “easing into” the year. Maybe gradually introduce some homework as we go along. Like, say, after Halloween or perhaps even later. I’m very flexible on the “later,” just as long as it IS later. It could be as late as March break.

Lots of questions are being asked, and asked too soon, in my humble opinion. (Which I guess isn’t all that humble, since I think I’m right.) But seriously, this early into the year should we really have expected questions like, “Who are you anyway?” and “Who do you want to be?”

Here’s an example from Socials today. Which again, just in case it was unclear, was day 1 of grade 8.

Ms. King, my friendly neighborhood homeroom supervisor and Socials teacher, was giving us some “food for thought” (her words).

“This year we are going to explore what it means to be a hero. What characteristics do heroes have? What does it take to be a hero? Are heroes born, or are they made? What’s the difference between a hero and superhero? And why is our culture so interested in superheroes?”

To which I shot up my hand and answered, “Um . . . obviously because superheroes are way cool!” I didn’t say that actually, and I didn’t shoot up my hand. I just thought about doing it.

I was so busy thinking about what I might have said that I almost missed the big announcement.

The big thing is this:

WE ARE DOING A PROJECT ABOUT SUPERHEROES!

She called it the “Superhero Slam”! And guess who’s into superheroes and superhero comics  me! How awesome is grade 8 going to be? Really awesome . . . except for all the homework.

Ms. King went on for quite some time. She was in that teacher-on-a-roll mode. She’s pretty great so far, and I actually like her. But I had gone off daydreaming about superheroes. I’ve read just about every superhero comic book and seen all the movies. But I’ve never really thought about why I like them in the first place. And why they might be important.

I started to think about superheroes in a new way. Like I always wondered if Spider-Man would have still been a hero without his Spidey sense. And although I think he’s a great character, is Batman really a superhero? He doesn’t actually have any superpowers. I guess I’ll get a chance to look into this in detail because we all have to choose a superhero and then argue that our superhero is the best! Cool!

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I started off this diary in September wondering (or being forced to wonder) what I had inside. What I was capable of. Basically, who was I?

I still don’t know for sure. But I do know I feel pretty good about what I could do. And can do. What the possibilities are. Not sure if I really want to become a superhero like Batgirl. (And not just because of what Hayley Wickenheiser said about the costume! Too funny.)

But I do know a lot more about the work and effort needed to do something big. All the people I wrote to this year told me that.

So for my big diary finale here’s my list of the Top 10 Things I Learned From My Interviews. In random order!

* “I don’t think you have to have superpowers to achieve amazing things; we can all do amazing things if we believe in ourselves!”  Jessica Watson

* “Do you ever defeat fears or do you just get used to them?? Well, I guess a little of both. There is no substitute for training and the ­other side of that is there is really no ­substitute for actually doing.”  Mike Bruen

* “I have a real live superhero and that is my mom. She is superhuman to me!”  Clara Hughes

* “You should never go to a place of ‘a girl wouldn’t say that!’ Anyone, of any race, of any sex, can do or say anything. How they behave is based on their past experiences and their current sense of self.”  Bryan Q. Miller

* “What’s best for us is who we are. Each of our challenges is unique and we are uniquely ­qualified to live our lives our ‘best.’”  Kelly Sue DeConnick

* “I believe that you should always go after your dreams, no matter how high or how hard they seem that just makes you try harder!”  Hayley Wickenheiser

* “Today I look around and I see many real ­women superheroes! I hope we keep adding more and more women to our list of ­super­heroes.”  Yuriko Romer

* “We did so much training so we could respond to things we could control if something did happen” Nicole Stott

* “We have to trust ourselves.”  Christie Nicholson

* “There’s a superhero in you.”  Jessie (That’s me. I needed one more to make 10. And I learned this year that this is true.  )

Today I Read…The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy

Fangirl's Guide to the GalaxyToday I read The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy: a Handbook for Girl Geeks by Sam Maggs.

Are you a newcomer to the wide world of fandom? Are you not quite sure what an OTP is, even though you know that Dean and Cas belong together? Do you plan your Halloween costume months in advance and hand make each piece? Do you know why the cake is a lie, and the ultimate answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything? And are you looking for someone just as passionately nerdy as you to talk to about your favourite nerdy things? Then, young fangirl padawan, you might need The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Chock full of interviews with prominent professional fangirls, invaluable tips for attending your first convention, a field guide to the more common geek groups, and much much more, this is a fantastic resource for those new to fandom, and a terrific refresher for the old hands.

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This was the book I wanted most for myself from the OLA Super conference this year, and I was so happy I got a copy. Sam Maggs is a fellow member of the Toronto fandom community, a former associate editor for fabulous nerd news site The Mary Sue, one of the outgoing Cineplex pre-show hosts, and generally, pretty cool. Plus, that title–how could I possibly resist?

Way back in the dim mists of history before the internet was a thing (okay, it was the 80s), I started my fangirl life, and I entered the world of fandom just at the start of web 2.0 and when interactivity was becoming the watchword. I would have LOVED to have a guide like this way back when I was convinced that I was the only person in my city who liked Star Trek, let alone the only person at my elementary school. It wasn’t until university that I met my first real fangirl, who became my best friend. One of the best parts of fandom is sharing what you love.

In a way, I suppose I’m lucky. I don’t think I’ve ever been personally challenged on my level of geek knowledge, just because I’m a girl. My experience of the Toronto fandom community has always had a strong mixture of boy, girl, and other nerds, with women making strong contributions to our community and with fan-run events. Girl geeks are pretty common, at least in the spaces I hang out in. But like all geek girls I’ve desperately searched for myself in the media I love–a heroine who doesn’t get fridged and isn’t there to be the token female, or worse, the one-dimensional love interest (or worst of all, all three). I’ve put up with the absurdly impractical and oversexualised superhero costumes, having to look in the boys’ rows of the toy store for action figures, and every bloody nerd girl shirt being pink. I ask you, when did Supergirl or Batgirl EVER wear a hot pink costume or a hot pink glittery shield? EVER? AND WHERE IS MY BLACK WIDOW MOVIE ALREADY??? Seriously, Marvel, *ten years* from the release of Iron Man it takes you to release a female-led movie, and it’s Captain Marvel instead of Black Widow, a character you’ve already used 4 times? /rant

Back on track, chapter 4 is about Geek Girl Feminism, looking for the best representations in media and pointing out that unlike the stereotyped antisocial teen nerd boy who lives in his parents’ basement and can’t talk to girls (and his awful, AWFUL counterpart the mythical Fake Geek Girl), women make up a large part of fandom and we have the right to love what we love and to know that we are the heroes every bit as much as the guys are. (See Sam’s awesome Geek Girl’s Litany for Feminism below.)

It can be intimidating to insert yourself into a tightly-knit yet wildly diverse community like fandom can be, especially when you get nonsense like GamerGate giving nerdiness and gamers a bad name in the media. (Yes, it was nonsense, if you feel the need to dox and threaten to injure, rape or kill ANYONE in the name of your argument you are an asshole and you lose any modicum of respect for your argument and for you personally). That said, fandom can be an amazing place and you can meet amazing people who not only love what you love, but can share with you other amazing things that you will love. Fandom can enrich your life, give you friends and interests and sometimes even a career. Fandom is filled with smart, creative, hardworking people, and they can be very welcoming to newbies. If you want to jump into the deep end and sally forth to your first convention all on your own, go ahead– it’s how we used to do it (it’s what I did). If you want some great tips, this book is a great guide for how to venture in, both in person at cons and good online spaces to introduce yourself.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, Sam made some great recommendations and I think I need to go hunt them down (and rewatch/reread any old favourites she listed). Hey Sam, any time you want to trade kickass-chick book lists, let me know. I have a feeling you would LOVE Esther Friesner’s Chicks in Chainmail anthology series. Two words: Amazon Comedy.

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The Geek Girl’s Litany for Feminism
I am a geek girl and I am a feminist. I embrace the word “fangirl” with open arms. I don’t have to prove my nerd cred to anyone, ever. Whether I’m a comics noob, Or a fic writer typing up her next chapter, Or a hard-core gamer who sometimes forgets to sleep (Not that I ever do that), No one else gets to decide whether I do or do not belong. From SuperWhoLock to Shakarian I accept all fandom and ships As equally meaningful and important In our geek girl lives. Even if your OTP is my NOTP, I will still like you (Even if I have to unfollow your blog). I can wear makeup and R2D2 mini dresses, Or a Chewie T-shirt and ripped jeans, And the world has to deal with it; Because a geek feminist looks however she wants And doesn’t apologize. I will support empowering, lady-created media, And amazing female characters That make me feel like I could be Batgirl, If I just had some yellow Doc Martens And a vigilante complex. I’m the Doctor, not a companion; Buffy, not Bella; Nobody’s sidekick, love interest, or token female. I’m driving this ship. I’M A FANGIRL, A FEMINIST, AND A FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH.

Fangirl's Litany