Books celebrating the contribution of women to history and science are deservedly rising to the top of the bestseller lists. There are now two volumes of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls and I’ve reviewed Kate Pankhurst’s Fantastically Great Women books in a recent Word Wednesday post. Anybody who follows the industry will know that publishers like nothing more than a bandwagon to jump on, a trend they can follow that will bring in some guaranteed readers. This phenomenon is, of course, not restricted to the book industry.
There have been a number of Rebel Girl imitators hitting the shelves, but Ben Brooks and Quercus have come to the conclusion that it was about time that there was a book that put men at the center.
Before you dislocate your eyeballs rolling them into the back of your head, I should qualify that despite my snarky opening, Stories for Boys Who Dare to Be Different does celebrate many men who do not normally grace the pages of a history book. It’s a book worth reading as a reminder that there are some great people out there who do amazing things, without any thought to fame and fortune.
What is Stories for Boys Who Dare to Be Different?
The book’s blurb reads:
“Prince charming, dragon slayer, mischievous pranksters… More often than not, these are the role models boys encounter in the books they read at home and at school. As a boy, there is an assumption that you will conform to a stereotypical idea of masculinity.”
Ben Brooks sets out to offer up alternative role models. Men who have changed the world in quieter ways. Men who challenged the status quo.
The book champions the stories of men from all over the globe, from different cultures and social backgrounds. Stories of men, who, as the book says, dared to be different. The book details many amazing life stories, some whose inclusion is obvious: Galileo, Barack Obama; others less so: Daniel Radcliffe and Jesse Eisenberg. Some inclusions do feel like they’re stretching the concept a little too far.
Stories for Boys Who Dare to Be Different has some potted biographies of some incredible people. David Attenborough needs no introduction and neither does John Lennon but far lesser known men (and boys) are included too.
In the book, you can find out about Arthur Rimbaud, Benjamin Zephaniah, and Frank Ocean. You can learn about Caine Monroy’s cardboard arcade or Christian McPhilamy’s hair donation. Boyan Slat, the youngest person ever to be given the title “Champion of the Earth” is in the book too, thanks to his invention to help clear up plastics from sea water. Gandhi, Lionel Messi, and Louis Braille are all here, joining with another with another 97 biographical stories. Some of these stories feature GeekDad favorites such as William Moulton Marston, Neil Degrasse Tyson, and Taika Waititi.
Why should you read Stories for Boys Who Dare to Be Different?
It’s filled with inspirational stories that deserve to be more widely read. Acts of selflessness, perseverance, and innovation that should serve as an inspiration to anybody who reads them.
I do have a couple of reservations about the book. Firstly, I’m not overly keen on some of the illustrations. Most of them are fine but some look more like Spitting Image caricatures than portraits intended to honor their subjects. But art is a personal thing, so perhaps that’s just me.
Whilst these types of book are undoubtedly admirable in intent and should be applauded for bringing so many rarely-told stories to the fore, I must confess, I find the pigeonholing of “boys” and “girls” a little depressing. Clearly, this delineation strikes a chord with readers, and publishers are moving to where their audience is, but why can’t we have beautiful books about amazing people, collected together irrespective of gender? I know my boys refused to read the Rebel Girls book because the cover literally told them the book wasn’t for them. This book feels like it excludes half the population too.
Putting those gripes aside, Stories for Boys Who Dare to Be Different is still a book worth reading. Ben Brooks’ potted biographies are informative and engaging. The majority of the book’s subjects are interesting to find out more about. If your son (or daughter) is struggling to fit in or has a passion they’re embarrassed about, this is a great book to help them find their way.
It’s true, I’d rather these books weren’t split along lines of gender, but the stories they tell are important. The stories of women’s contributions to history are overlooked, as are those of countless men and women who change the world in small ways. Those whose existence makes the world a better place. Books like Stories for Boys Who Dare to Be Different celebrate those people, and for that, they should be celebrated.
If you found this review useful check out my other Word Wednesday reviews, here.
Disclaimer: I was sent a copy of this book for review.