Friends forever; Children's book stresses the values of true friendship

Rachel_Boyd@TimesRecord.Com
The Times Record, August 16, 2004

When Peggy Moss' niece was 8 years old, the two avid writers began brainstorming ideas for books they might write together. But whenever Moss and her niece Dee Dee Tardif began writing, the stories always circled back to one issue: girls' friendships.

Six years later, their final product is on sale a 32-page children's book written from the perspective of school-age Alexandra. In "Our Friendship Rules," published in May, Alexandra explores the joys and challenges of her relationship with her best friend, Jenny. Moss and Tardif hope the book will empower young readers to work through any problems they might encounter with their own friends.

In the book, Alexandra seeks the acceptance of Rolinda, a popular new girl in school. When Alexandra's long-time friend Jenny discovers that Alexandra gained entrance into Rolinda's circle by telling one of Jenny's deepest secrets, Jenny feels terribly betrayed. But the best friends don't abandon their relationship Alexandra apologizes, and the two girls devise a new set of rules to govern their friendship.

The book is illustrated with intricate collages and paintings by Alissa Imre Geis, an artist based in Massachusetts. Many of the collages are designed as pages from Alexandra's journal and are decorated with notebook paper, envelope linings, pencil doodles and newspaper clippings.

"A lot of it is things that I found," Geis said. "That's how I was as a child; I loved to draw on the back of index cards. I wanted Alexandra to have the same experience looking to find artistic materials from her own environment and not an art store."

Co-author Tardif, who is just shy of her 15th birthday and who lives in Toronto, Ontario, said she thinks the story reflects a common challenge for people of all ages.

"Everybody makes mistakes, but your friendships can become stronger if you work it out," Tardif said. "You can learn from your mistakes to become a better person."

Moss, 41, who moved to Canada last month after living in Freeport for 13 years, said she worries that popular books and movies such as "Mean Girls" often portray girls as being catty and unfaithful to their friends. Speaking with Tardif and observing the friendships of her own 9- and 7-year-old daughters, Moss said, made her concerned about a lack of sustainability in their relationships.

"I think right now kids especially girls are getting bombarded with these messages that they are not good at being friends," Moss said. "And that message is sort of ironic, because people in my age group are being told friendships are key."

That's why, Moss said, she thought it was important to write a story in which the girls resolve their conflict and learn to stay friends.

Audrey Maynard, the children's book editor at Tilbury House, the Gardiner-based publisher of "Our Friendship Rules," said she was excited to work on the book because of its very focus on learning from mistakes. Maynard said she had not seen many other children's book manuscripts that addressed this issue so directly.

"In our world, there's not a whole lot of information on how to mend things," Maynard said.

Tilbury House also published Moss' first children's book, "Say Something," in 2004. Maynard said "Say Something" is one of Tilbury House's best-sellers.

Lyn Mikel Brown, a professor of education at Colby College who specializes in the psychology of girls and women, said she likes Moss and Tardif's book because of its emphasis on the positive aspects of girls' friendships.

"You rarely have an image or a story that talks about the complexity and realities of girls' relationships and about their incredible strength and ability to overcome the negative and learn how to be in a positive relationship with each other," Brown said.

Brown is co-author of "Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers' Schemes" and is author of "Girlfighting: Betrayal and Rejection Among Girls."

Psychological research has long shown that because girls are socialized to care about relationships, they in fact become very good at listening to each other and working things out, Brown said. But since the "girl power" movement took off in the late 1990s, she said, a great deal of popular media began to spin girls' questioning of the status quo into a "mean girl" image.

"We're just seeing so much of the negative, and I think we're seeing the negative in part because girls have challenged their gender roles," Brown said.

Other studies have shown that young girls are now exposed to so much aggression toward other girls in the media, that they are learning to follow that sort of behavior, Brown said.

Moss said she hopes that her own book and the example set by Alexandra and Jenny might be able to provide girls with a different sort of model. "It is my hope that this book will help kids form the kind of long-term relationships that they want," she said.

In the meantime, she and Tardif are working on their next collaboration a story about Rolinda, the very girl who almost broke Alexandra and Jenny's friendship.



For more information, contact Peggy Moss at peggy@saysomethingnow.com.