Rosie Millard writing in The Times on Sunday.
However, to its detractors who have come out in the press, the GBGBG is not only a “wholly unoriginal” copycat of last year’s bestseller, The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn and Hal Iggulden, but “twee”, “desperate” and written with a tone that “flickers between faux-naivety and irony”.
But the girls aged 8-12 that I know rather like mad, modern living, I suggest. Their bookshelves are full of knowing volumes by the likes of Jacqueline Wilson who includes story lines about divorce, childcare issues and alcoholism in her bestsellers, not to mention families on the run.
The Brownie pack I help with is full of bright girls who are just as interested in rude jokes as they are in playing sleeping lions. Sleeping lions is in the GBGBG, but no rude jokes. “I wanted to put in more grown-up things,” counters Vine, “but Penguin wanted it to be nostalgic and uncomplicated.”
“Well, you write about what you are able to write about. I wouldn’t dream of patronising a demographic that I wouldn’t know, or understand,” says Vine, very politely. “The whole idea was to recapture some of those great 1950s books for children – to have a bit of that lost spirit of childhood.”
Why is the tone, though, so fey? Take the section on throwing, which begins, “It’s a myth that girls can’t throw. It’s just that boys are generally better at it because they have been practising since they were first able to pick things up.” Maybe the nudge-nudge quality is because the original idea seems to have sprung from something rather close to a joke.
“When The Dangerous Book for Boys came out and was such a hit,” says Vine, “I was asked to do a spoof girls’ version for a newspaper, and wrote a rather silly, jolly piece including things like how to have a sulk. That’s why this book came about. Anyway, I think the writing is characterful, not anodyne.”
To be fair, my 10-year-old daughter has been champing at the bit to read the book since it arrived yesterday, and has already made hummus from the recipe in the cooking section. “This book is not meant to be a postfeminist critique of girlhood,” Vine continues. “It is not politically correct, because I am not a PC person. Needlecraft is not an offence to the female sex. None of our sex is enslaved by needlecraft!”
Her co-author Rosemary Davidson, 42, who is also the mother of two, is as intrigued, although a bit less defensive, about why the book has caused such a kerfuffle. “I’m really interested in why it is being attacked in the way it is,” she tells me.
“It is clearly a response to The Dangerous Book for Boys. However, while it is clearly okay to endorse, or celebrate macho ideals – as Dangerous does – I do wonder whether girls should be genderless. Glorifying boyhood is good, but it is somehow wrong to know how to make a doll. I don’t think it’s wrong to want to make a doll. And I think knowing how to unblock a toilet [a particularly criticised section] is quite useful.”
Still, the fuss doesn’t seem to have impeded the book’s ascent up the bestselling chart. What, I ask Davidson, can be next? “I hear that there is a Dangerous Book for Dogs about to come out . . . I think it is a spoof, actually,” she adds, reassuringly.