In 1865, when he was only thirty, Mark Twain penned a playful short story mischievously encouraging girls to think independently rather than blindly obey rules and social mores. In the summer of 2011, I chanced upon and fell in love with a lovely Italian edition of this little-known gem with Victorian-scrapbook-inspired artwork by celebrated Russian-born children's book illustrator Vladimir Radunsky. I knew the book had to come to life in English, so I partnered with the wonderful Claudia Zoe Bedrick of Brooklyn-based indie publishing houseEnchanted Lion, maker of extraordinarily beautiful picture-books, and we spent the next two years bringing Advice to Little Girls (public library) to life in America – a true labor-of-love project full of so much delight for readers of all ages. (And how joyous to learn that it was also selected among NPR's best books of 2013!)
While frolicsome in tone and full of wink, the story is colored with subtle hues of grown-up philosophy on the human condition, exploring all the deft ways in which we creatively rationalize our wrongdoing andreconcile the good and evil we each embody.
Good little girls ought not to make mouths at their teachers for every trifling offense. This retaliation should only be resorted to under peculiarly aggravated circumstances.
If you have nothing but a rag-doll stuffed with sawdust, while one of your more fortunate little playmates has a costly China one, you should treat her with a show of kindness nevertheless. And you ought not to attempt to make a forcible swap with her unless your conscience would justify you in it, and you know you are able to do it.
One can't help but wonder whether this particular bit may have in part inspired the irreverent 1964 anthology Beastly Boys and Ghastly Girlsand its mischievous advice on brother-sister relations:
If at any time you find it necessary to correct your brother, do not correct him with mud – never, on any account, throw mud at him, because it will spoil his clothes. It is better to scald him a little, for then you obtain desirable results. You secure his immediate attention to the lessons you are inculcating, and at the same time your hot water will have a tendency to move impurities from his person, and possibly the skin, in spots.
If your mother tells you to do a thing, it is wrong to reply that you won’t. It is better and more becoming to intimate that you will do as she bids you, and then afterward act quietly in the matter according to the dictates of your best judgment.
Good little girls always show marked deference for the aged. You ought never to 'sass' old people unless they 'sass' you first.
Originally featured in April – see more spreads, as well as the story behind the project, here.