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What Is She Reading? Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown

In fall 2005, my daughter was in 4th grade and I was doing my homework, visiting schools of all types—public, charter and private.  My reality was within six months, we would have to make a decision regarding her middle school and high school academic experiences.

I took on an investigative fact-finding mission and approached the researching of multiple school options available to parents; public, private, Catholic, Charter and single sex. As a proud product of the Philadelphia High School for Girls, a public single sex school, I knew in my heart and in my gut that a single sex education was my preferred first choice for my daughter. Being one who has complete respect for research and data in my professional life, I was no doubt leaning on research and data as I studied what was in our daughter’s best interest for the next chapter of her academic journey.

As a part of the school search process, I was invited to hear Michael Gurian, author of “The Wonder of Girls.” Gurian, the father of two girls, offered insightful, crucial information for parents who struggle to fully understand the basic nature of girls, layered with the challenges that are inescapable as we raise our daughters in this new age of social media.  Facebook was just taking off and Twitter was not invented yet.

What I was struck by was his up-to-date scientific research on female biology, hormones and brain development and how all of these areas of study without a doubt affect and shape our girls interests, behaviors and relationships. I recall taking pages and pages of copious notes. The presentation of his professional research data blended with his compassionate, passionate and personal storytelling of real cases of girls and families was profoundly compelling. I knew then that I had to read his book about which he spoke so eloquently.

Have you ever had a book that you have been meaning to get to once you get a minute?  Fast forward to summer 2012, when that person was me—finally with a chance to sit in a quiet space, as my daughter is that much closer to those college years, and read the book that has been on my mind since that seminar—“The Wonder of Girls.” Attention moms—this is a book worth the wait.

The book helps us consider and navigate so many challenges that are complex in and of themselves. The book goes on to couple those aspects of raising our daughters with a culture too often occupied with competition, a tug of war between traditionalism and feminism. Yet, “The Wonder of Girls” offers a new vision, a new paradigm for the equal status of girls and women while it acknowledges the nature of girls as layered, complex and uniquely different from boys and men.

As the author tells us, this book offers practical tips, real life anecdotes and accessible science. I would concur. The key elements include a nature-based approach to why girls are the way they are, support for a girl’s inherent need for intimacy (an important tool for dads to be aware of and understand), strategies to protect and cultivate girls’ self-esteem and emotional life, a fresh approach to girls’ character development and the rites of passage in this new technological era.

I am one of those parents with a library of books about parenting. Some of my favorites include Philadelphia’s own Dr. Myrna B. Shure’s, Raising a Thinking Preteen” to Dr. Kevin Leman’s “Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours” to Dr. Sal Severe’s, “How To Behave So Your Children Will Too!” I treat these books much the same way I dissected my college textbooks.

This is one of those books that I have read and reread certain chapters and sections, particularly those on topics when I have been bewildered and concerned about an issue facing my daughter. This book has given me the tools to confront those issues. I have given “The Wonder of Girls” as a gift (literally and figuratively) to at least a half dozen of my friends who are also raising daughters.

So it is my quest to raise a daughter who is spiritually grounded, culturally aware, intelligent with a sense of humor and civic duty, and who follows what my mother taught me—the  golden rule. I am also keenly aware that this is a tall order. Nonetheless, I remain hopeful as a mom who believes that I have only one chance to get it right. I want to rely on the common sense and lessons taught by my mom, but I am also very clear about my limitations in parenting. I have taken much of the advice to heart. Some of my favorite passages: “your daughter needs structure,” “ a well disciplined life,” and stressing the importance of having “sounding boards and limits.” Much of this advice seems obvious, but sometimes you just need that extra little affirmation from an expert.

The people to whom she is most attached are the scaffolding within which she builds her house of self. “The Wonder of Girls” taught me that in raising my daughter, she may appear not to want me as involved in her life, especially in “telling her what to do.” But (in the end) she needs me profoundly.

Wow—what an affirmation. Every once in a while a great informative book like this one allows you to let out an audible sigh of relief, knowing that while you may not know it all, you are on the right track.

Christina Hoff Sommers, author of “Who Stole Feminism,” says a sensitive and scientifically knowledgeable writer has given us a book on girls and describes “The Wonder of Girls” as “important not only for parents but for anyone who cares for, educates, or makes policy affecting the lives of girls and women.”

Blondell Reynolds-Brown is Councilwoman with the Philadelphia City Council and a member of the Pennsylvania Conference for Women Advisory Council.