Star Scouts: 04/22/17
Star Scouts by Mike Lawrence is a graphic novel about a young Indian girl joining an extra-terrestrial scouting group. Avani lives with her father and they have recently moved to a new town. That means a new school and a new scout troop. She doesn't like her new troop and feels like she doesn't fit in, but she does with Mabel's troop — even though Mabel and her friends are aren't from Earth.
On the surface it sounds like a great book. It has a strong female lead. She speaks Hindi at home. She has a single parent. She's struggling with adjusting from a move and fitting in at a very white, homogenous school.
But the book falls flat on a number of key issues. Most of these stem from the fact that the author knows nothing about scouting for girls and didn't both to do his homework. Rather than learn about long established organizations for girls, he decided to take everything he knows about being a Boy Scout and plop Avani into the middle of it but with "feminine touches." This approach maybe ok for readers (girls who aren't scouts, or boys) but is insulting to who should be the core audience — Girl Scouts / Girl Guides.
Let's take Avani's introduction. Her dad makes her dress in her scouting uniform before school. There's a comment about how she used to love being a Pine Scout but now she's stuck being a Flower Scout and she doesn't like it because all they do is talk about makeup.
Let's first assume it's an innocent mistake — the over hearing of Daisies and assuming that was a type of scout. It is — sort of (and I say this as a Daisy troop leader). Daisies are the youngest group of Girl Scouts in the United States. They are named for the founder of the organization, as her nickname was Daisy. The goal for Daisies is to spent their first two years learning how to be Girl Scouts, with each petal (instead of a badge) being based around one of the pieces of the Girl Scout Law. They are all flower themed to give the experience an overall metaphoric context. So perhaps, then Avani, whose age is never stated, is in kindergarten or first grade. Since she seems rather competent with her basic skills, I'll hazard that she's in first grade.
OK. But what about Pine Scouts? There's no such thing. The emblem shown for Avani's old uniform, does, however, resemble that of the Bharat Scouts — a girl scouting organization in India which is recognized by the Girl Scouts and the Girl Guides. Why not include a cool fact about India and make Avani a better rounded, and grounded character?
Next there's the problem of the uniform. What? How can that be? All scouts are the same, right? Wrong!
To a Girl Scout, there are a few GLARINGLY wrong things going on in these illustrations. First and foremost, Girl Scouts don't wear their full uniforms to meetings or while camping. If they are going somewhere to represent their troop or the council (the local governing body) they will usually just wear their sash or vest as it will contain their troop number, their council's name, their years of service pins, their age group, and whatever badges or petals, and fun patches they've earned at their level. The only time Girl Scouts ever really fully dress up is if they will be serving as a color guard (and presenting the United States flag in some official capacity).
Also, Girl Scouts don't dress like Boy Scouts. They don't have a neckerchief and slide. The fact that Avani in every version of her scouting uniforms shows again the author didn't do his homework. Nor did he have any readers familiar enough with Girl Scouts to point out this error. Or maybe they did and he didn't listen? I don't know. But to any Girl Scout, the errors will be glaring.
As it turns out, the extra-terrestrial troop that Avani joins is a mixed gender, mixed species organization. Of the organizations out there, it's most like Camp Fire. Again, it's not really an organization with a strong commitment to a uniform. They're more about community service and leadership than in dressing a certain way.
Most of the book takes place at a weeklong sleepover camp – which despite orthogonal gravity seems to have the same passage as time as earth, so Avani can sneak away to the camp she wants to go to while her father thinks she's at Flower Scout Camp.
Even at camp it's a decidedly non-Girl Scout / non-Camp Fire type experience (and decidedly Boy Scout). First of all, all the troops go in their uniforms and wear them for the entire week. This is where Girl Scouts laugh and point at the Boy Scouts for being so impractical while camping.
The troops also march around, flying their colors, and fly their colors over their camps. Realistically, if an entire troop went camping together at some council wide thing, they'd probably have tie-dyed shirts that they'd made together and earned a fun patch for. They would however, be exchanging SWAPS with every other troop they came across. Trust me — Girl Scouts are ALL ABOUT SWAPS (even more so than cookies).
While these kids are in uniform, they are expected to clean up the camp. What? Really? In Girl Scouts, mother, daughter teams are recruited the week before to clean up the camp for a day. The second day they camp together to break it in for the season. Sure — campers do have to do chores while there (like taking turns in the mess hall) but not clean out the entire thrashed camp on the first day!
The largest plot point in this book is that Avani gets into a merit badge (again, they're not called merit badges) war over a methane breather. Now the idea that troop leaders would encourage two scouts to go on a head to head battle over merit badge earning is simply reprehensible and would not happen in the Girl Scouts. Each girl who completes the tasks to earn a badge, earns a badge.
But the thing that really took me aback was near the end. For the final merit badge showdown, Avani and her opponent have to teleport a specific kind of creature — but it doesn't matter if it's male or female. OK. But then the troop leader who is explaining the rules, adds that it would be best to capture a male "Since the female is a hideous monster beyond imagining."
Really? In a book supposedly promoting strength and bravery and outdoor survival skills to girls, there's this misogynistic crap. Don't tell me that it's a throw away line. It was put there as a conscious choice. The editors left it there as a conscious choice. Shameful.