________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 4 . . . . October 15, 2004


The Girls' Spa Book: 20 Dreamy Ways to Relax and Feel Great. (Girl Zone).

Mary Wallace and Jessica Wallace. Photography by Mary Wallace. Illustrated by Claudia Dávila.
Toronto, ON: Maple Tree Press, 2004.
64 pp., pbk. & cl., $12.95 (pbk.), $21.95 (cl.).
ISBN 1-897066-01-5 (pbk.), ISBN 1-897066-00-7 (cl.).

Subject Headings:
Cosmetics-Juvenile literature.
Handicraft for girls-Juvenile literature.
Gifts-Juvenile literature.

Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.

Review by Julie Chychota.

*** /4


No matter how much you grow, you have to stay comfortable in your own skin. This body lotion will leave it feeling soft and supple. The light, rich fragrance of the rose water makes smoothing on this lotion a treat.

The Girls' Spa Book is one of four books currently comprising Maple Tree Press's “Girl Zone” series, a series for 'tweens and teens that advocates a holistic approach to female health and beauty. Like Body Talk, a previous title in the series by Ann Douglas and Julie Douglas, The Girls' Spa Book appears to be the result of a mother-daughter collaboration -- this time with co-authors Mary Wallace and Jessica Wallace. Together, along with illustrator Claudia Dávila, they have designed 20 activities for girls 9 to 13 who have a recreational interest in, and knack for, handicrafts.

     It is delightful to soak up the vitality in these pages. Dávila is once again at her finest, matching up the subtitle's “20 Dreamy Ways to Relax and Feel Great” with psychedelic colors -- bright splashes of orange, pink, purple, green, blue -- for a retro texture. The book's large 22cm x 27cm size allows for just enough white space to keep the colors in check and to balance the potpourri of fonts. For the most part, artwork is functional in that illustrations visually depict written instructions and photographs show samples of finished products. The power of suggestion is at work, too: cartoon drawings of girls looking relaxed and invigorated abound.

     Although the book purposes to teach readers how to manufacture bath and beauty products (bubble bath, shower gel, hand cream, etc.), as well as accompanying cards and labels, its secondary raison d'être is to instill confidence and consideration. For instance, “Getting Started,” the first of five sections, prompts each reader to contemplate who she is and who she pictures herself to be through the completion of “I am...” “I feel...” and “I can...” statements (p. 6). The text encourages readers to “celebrate” themselves even before it ever lists the “Materials” or “Recipes” that figure prominently in this celebration. Once readers master the making of spa products, “The Spirit of Sharing” section suggests that they assemble personalized gift baskets of their homemade creations to share with family and friends. The authors conclude The Girls' Spa Book with a list of additional resources (five books and six websites) on health, beauty, and handicrafts.

     Like Body Talk before it, The Girls' Spa Book is well planned out. The table of contents and the index are, of course, useful tools. However, the book also benefits because of its clear expectations and attention to details. For example, each recipe specifies a yield, and in those rare instances in which a product requires more time for it to absorb scent or to harden, the text clearly denotes this information. Moreover, the book incorporates little extras, such as “That Makes Scents!” fun facts. Here, enclosed in flower shapes of a goldenrod hue and strewn across the sections, are facts on the rate of hair growth, the significance of baths in Ancient Greece, and the skeletal structure of feet, among others. Also decorating pages are the reflections of 25 girls upon beauty and self-worth, reflections like Natalie's affirmation that “Beauty comes from within, and radiates outwards to touch others” (p. 4).

     The book's contents further reveal that the authors are mindful of both simplicity and safety. First, inexpensive and readily available ingredients, accompanied by step-by-step, numbered instructions simplify the manufacture of products from beeswax-based “Luscious Lip Gloss” to Epsom and sea salts- stratified “Fancy Foot Scrub.” In addition, conspicuous “warning” labels advise readers not to taste or eat any ingredients, and counsel those with nut allergies not to use almond oil and almond extract. Furthermore, the book repeatedly cautions readers to microwave mixtures with adult assistance or supervision, and prescribes the use of oven mitts to handle hot containers.

     In general, a pragmatic approach prevails. The authors recommend, for instance, that products be stored in cool, dark cupboards to prevent them from spoiling (p. 11). They also urge readers to dispose of products suspected to be unsafe due to discoloration or other signs of aging (p. 11). More specifically, however, they identify certain products which warrant special instructions; for example, the herbal hair rinse requires refrigeration (p. 37), and candles, of course, should never burn unattended (p. 43). Finally, the book encourages readers to develop an ecological consciousness by suggesting that they use recycled jars and bottles to contain these spa products.

     The Girls' Spa Book not only would make a great gift for girls who enjoy fashioning handmade gifts, but it also might spark ideas in those looking to explore, and experiment in, the field of cosmetics for an upcoming science fair. Additionally, young entrepreneurs designing logos might want to consult “The Spirit of Sharing” for the connotations of shapes, symbols, and colors. Likewise, they might study the names assigned to products in the book to better understand how rhyme and alliteration evoke desire and demand. With its age-appropriate language, its positive, feel good message, its emphasis on the interrelationship of body, mind, and spirit, and its affordable price, The Girls' Spa Book would be a shoo-in for an Oprah Winfrey selection of kids' non-fiction -- or its Canadian equivalent.


For the upcoming academic year, Julie Chychota is happily employed in three capacities at the University of Manitoba's Fort Garry campus.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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