Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Good Boy! Boys Are Dogs by Leslie Margolis

Annabelle had lived a sheltered life. Her elementary school was just for girls, so through fifth grade, for her and for her girlfriends Mia and Sophia, boys were not an issue. At dance night at summer camp, however, Annabelle gets her first inkling of the fact that boys are a different species, if not actually aliens from planet Mars.

On the night of the dance we decorated the room with streamers and decorated ourselves with cool outfits, cherry flavored lip gloss, and glittery eye shadow.

We looked fabulous. We tried out our goofy new dance moves, wolfed down pretzels, and sipped punch. It was a blast. Fantastic. Some even called it blast-tastic. But that was all before the boys showed up.

They filed off the bus, messy-haired and slouchy. Every single one of them wore regular old shorts or jeans and ratty T-shirts.

Once inside, they stood in one corner in an unfriendly, lumpy clump. Instead of dancing, they pushed each other around. Rather than eat our food, they threw it at one another. Then they tore down our streamers. At some point a bunch of them snuck out and threw eggs at our cabins.

Then Annabelle is forced to move and finds herself in a regular middle school with a bunch of tweener boys whose behavior is even worse than that of the regrettable boy campers. Eighth grader Jackson, whose sister kindly befriends Annabelle right away, calls her Spazabelle, steals her book report and drops it in cafeteria catsup, and generally makes her want to hide whenever he comes into sight. Tobias, the boy behind her in English, kicks the back of her seat every 60 seconds throughout the whole period and when he turns out to be her science lab partner, hogs the microscope and refuses to let her do her assignment.

The rest of the boys she meets are, from her point of view, rude, sloppy, and totally out of control. Finally, Annabelle surprises herself in English class on Monday:

Something weird happened at school on Monday. As soon as Tobias' foot made contact with my chair, I turned around and said, "Tobias, stop."

And Tobias actually looked at me. He seemed surprised and a little alarmed, like he didn't know me and maybe realized that I was someone he didn't want to mess with.

Where did that come from? Annabelle wonders. And then it hits her. She is using the same techniques as those in the book she got to train her puppy Pepper.

Talk to dogs in their own language. Your tone is just as important as your words. Don't ask them. Tell them. You're the boss, so act that way.

At home she flips through the dog training book to the section called "HOW TO BE THE DOMINANT DOG."

Think about it this way: in a group of dogs you can always spot a dominant dog in the pack by his swagger. He walks with his chest pushed forward, confidently. This designated leader is in control.

Annabelle thinks about the way Jackson swaggers down the hall, his loyal pack trailing a few paces behind. Then she suddenly gets a mental image of herself at school:

Then I thought about how I'd been walking around school--rushing from place to place, totally lost and confused, my eyes on the ground, my posture hesitant. I'd acted totally weak. No wonder boys picked on me. I was sending out wimpy signals.

Suddenly Annabelle knows what she has to do: train these boys the same way she is teaching Pepper, with confidence, strength, rewards, and praise for good behavior. And it works. Middle school boys don't become gentlemen overnight, but most of them begin to treat her with a decent level of respect. Even in the final showdown, eighth-grade top dog Jackson backs down, and Annabelle knows her days as Spazabelle are almost a thing of the past.

Leslie Margolis' Boys Are Dogs takes on dealing with bullying boys as one of challenges of making it in middle school with ready humor, insight, and skillful writing. In her forthcoming sequel,Girls Acting Catty due out in the fall of 2009, Margolis takes on an even bigger challenge of middle and junior high school--the snooty girl clique. Good luck with that one, Leslie. A lot of girls will be waiting for your take on this challenge!

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