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Melinda Luisa de Jesús

Since 2008 I have had the pleasure of teaching Girl Culture at California College of the Arts (CCA), a private art/design college located in the San Francisco Bay Area. This article features student zines from Girl Culture at this college.

Girl Culture is part of the school’s general studies curriculum in the Humanities and Sciences at the upper division (junior and senior) level. The course title comes from Sherrie Inness’s foundational anthology defining American Girlhood Studies in the twentieth century, Delinquents and Debutantes (1998), in which she notes,

"Too often girls’ culture is shunted aside by scholars as less significant or less important than the study of adult women’s issues, but girls’ culture is what helps to create not just an individual woman but all women in our society. (11, emphasis in original)"

Girl Culture explores the myriad forces that have an impact on American girls’ lives today and seeks to identify the places where artists and designers can best advocate for girl-centric liberation, autonomy, and joy.

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Beyond (Hyper)Masculinity

Images of Boyhood in Croatian Young Adult Novels in English Translation

Marija Todorova

This article gives an outline of stereotypical representation of the Balkans as a predominantly violent culture that legitimizes violence through the lenses of (hyper)masculinized characters represented in Croatian literature for young adults selected for translation into English. A representation of this stereotypical image can be found in one of the most recent translations of a contemporary novel for children from Croatia, Odohohol and Cally Rascal by Matko Sršen. Meanwhile, the second case study of this article focuses on the analysis of translated young adult literature that promotes or contests violent masculinities. The novel The Teacher of My Dreams by Miro Gavran portrays a more complex image of masculinity from the Western Balkans, promoting a depiction of an emotional, intellectual, and rational male.

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Jonathan A. Allan and Cliff Leek

This special issue of Boyhood Studies takes two terms—boys and storytelling—and positions them alongside one another. In some ways, we take seriously Charles Dickens’s oft-quoted notion that “A boy’s story is the best that is ever told.” What does it mean to take the stories of boys and boys’ stories seriously? Are they really among the “best that [are] ever told”? In the space of education, and with declining literacy rates among boys, what does it mean to study storytelling? Or, what might it mean, to borrow a phrase from Carol Mavor (2008), to “read boyishly”? In this special issue, we hoped to bring together scholars working on the relationship between boys and storytelling, to consider the kinds of stories that boys are told, and to also consider the stories that they are not told. Our goal was to consider the importance of storytelling in boys’ lives as well as the importance of the storytelling of boys’ lives. That is, we were interested in boys as both real and embodied, as well as in the fictional boys that populate the literary universe. The issue presented here brings together a host of perspectives that all work to explore and expand the literary and cultural study of boys and storytelling.

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But the Boys Are Still Bullies

A Typology of Supporting Characters in Queer-Themed Picture Books

James Smith

Although queer picture books are growing in popularity, research on these texts still tends toward an overgeneralization of the field. This article takes a narrow focus on secondary characters in texts that center boys wearing dresses to see what reactions to boyhood gender nonconformity are supported in this subcategory of texts. Through close readings of various scenes throughout eight picture books, the article highlights gendered and aged patterns in these responses: women are supportive but distant, girls are close allies, men are absent or hesitant to support the boys, and other boys are generally bullies. The article concludes that while these texts are ostensibly queer because of their protagonists’ gender performances, they nevertheless fail to disrupt gender norms beyond the lives of their central characters.

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Representations of Race and Boyhood in Infant and Toddler Media

Heather Moore Roberson

The hit streaming series Cocomelon has become a household name for many families with infants, toddlers, and kids at heart. Cocomelon introduces our youngest population(s) to a Western world that privileges flawed and utopian post-racial perspectives. I contend that the show presents a perspective on race and identity that glorifies color-blindness and ignores racial differences that would educate children about the complexity and beauty of diversity. This commentary imagines a Black infant and toddler boyhood in children’s media that prioritizes race, culture, and identity and recommends other children’s programs that invest in culturally diverse representations of childhood.

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Companions and Villains

Reading about Boys in Early Twentieth-Century Girl Scout and Camp Fire Girl Series Fiction

Jennifer Helgren

This article examines boy characters in early twentieth-century girls’ scouting fiction. These series, marketed using the names of the recently established girls’ organizations, supported female empowerment. They also included important boy characters: brothers, companions, villains, and bullies. The first three types are exemplars of what boys’ workers envisioned as middle-class manhood: youthful wildness and spunk channeled into habits of hard work, self-reliance, and intelligence. These boys would also recognize girls as near-equal partners at a time when marriage norms were becoming more companionate. Rural bullies and ethnic villains, by contrast, provide warnings about boys who do not develop manly self-control. Girls’ series helped shape how modern girls thought about their male peers, including what girls would and would not accept in their relationships with boys.

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“Defining Ourselves for Ourselves”

Black Girls Conceptualize Black Girlhood Online

Cierra Kaler-Jones

Black girls have long created their own subversive and creative forms of curriculum and pedagogy. I explore adolescent Black girls’ suggestions for teaching and learning about Black girlhood online based on a virtual summer arts program called Black Girls S.O.A.R. Through performance ethnography, we contended with our conceptualizations of Black girlhood and identity sense-making. The co-researchers suggested that storytelling, learner-centered pedagogy, and intentional community-building must be central in virtual pedagogy and saw reclaiming girlhood and self-care as two essential topics for teaching Black girlhood content. I also reflect on the tensions and possibilities of co-constructing participatory learning environments with Black girls, particularly as it relates to disrupting power and adultism.

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Ken Parille, Kenneth Kidd, Jay Mechling, Victoria Cann, and Edward W. Morris

Reading Characters, People, and Properties

In this piece, I reflect on superhero comic books I read in my childhood and adolescence, noting that as I collected and read stories featuring the character known as the Silver Surfer, I slowly began to realize that the character’s traits, as established in the first comic in which he appeared, seemed to change in comics published later. In searching for explanations for these changes, I began to pay attention to a comic’s credits, recognizing that different writers and artists understood the character in different ways and often felt no obligation to maintain a consistent approach. I eventually realized that a comic’s credits sometimes misrepresented the labor invested by each of the story’s creators. This long process led to an ongoing interest—in both my writing and teaching—in the ways that our interpretation of a story and its characters can be enriched by understanding the conditions under which it was produced.

Books of the Heart

What might reflecting on favorite books from our childhood tell us about our past and current selves? This short meditation on that question first considers reading memoirs and experiments in rereading, and then reviews some favorite books from the author’s own childhood, speculating on their appeal and potential significance for identity consolidation.

The Fantasy of the Boy Scout Handbook

Born and raised in Miami Beach, Florida, I opened my new Boy Scouts of America Handbook for Boys in the summer of 1956, at age 11, in anticipation of moving from the Cub Scouts to the Boy Scouts that fall. I found in those pages a fantasy that moved me deeply, a romantic fantasy of hiking and camping in the wilderness with a band of boy buddies. That fantasy has deep roots in fiction for boys and in books like the Handbook, appealing to the boy’s desire to escape the surveillance and control of adults and to fashion a community of “lost boys” in a wilderness setting ideal for strong male bonding in friendship.

“I Never Had Any Friends Later on Like the Ones I Had When I Was Twelve. Jesus, Does Anyone?”: Reflections on Learning about Boyhood through Stand by Me

This piece offers reflections on the 1986 movie Stand by Me, drawing on some of the main themes and contextualizing them in relation to my own childhood as a girl growing up in the 1990s. I reflect on how in my rewatch of the movie, I was struck by the ways that the class positions of the boys echoed my own experiences of transition and liberation through education. I also reflect on the significance of seeing boys cry and be scared—feelings that the boys at my school were policed out of performing in public.

Boy Genius: Reflections on Reading The Great Brain

Based on reflection and analysis of a formative childhood text, this essay disentangles the relationship between reading, intelligence, and masculinity. The author argues that although reading fiction appears to encourage empathy, books written specifically for boys may contain detrimental messages about masculinity. The analysis reveals that the popular Great Brain series reinforces notions of whiteness, ableism, and masculine superiority. These messages are reinforced by the books’ emphasis on pragmatic “genius” and the savior trope in boyhood.

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Fat Boys in Gym Class

An Examination of Athleticism in Young Adult Novels Featuring Fat, Cisgender Male Protagonists

Jennifer DuBose

This article examines the role of athleticism in young adult novels featuring fat, male young adult protagonists. I analyze the role of athleticism in eleven national award-winning young adult novels with fat, cisgender, male protagonists, arguing that athleticism rebrands fatness as acceptable, powerful, and even desirable as long as it is associated with sport or violence. It also signals character growth and redemption in the fat male protagonists, as it is often the catalyst for their maturation and the resolution of the plot’s conflicts. The article ultimately shows that the trope of athleticism in young adult literature reflects and upholds social constructs of male fatness.

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Gen Ed Girlhood

Artifact-centric Approach Invites New Students to Girlhood Studies

Jen Almjeld

While general education (gen ed) courses are commonly created as overviews of disciplines, a girlhood-centric approach celebrates a tightly focused introduction to girl identities as an entry point to critical analysis of gender and associated systems of oppression. I offer a rationale for my Cultural Constructions of Girlhood course and discuss specific assignments and strategies for introducing girlhood as a field of study for university students. This course offers grounding in how important childhood literature is in shaping our concepts of who we are and are allowed to be as well as indicating ways in which the idea of literature may be expanded and updated to include many modes and styles of text by attending to the artifacts of everyday girlhood.