Ivy & Bean Brainstorm.
by Annie Barrows
Until Ivy and Bean was published, in 2006, I didn’t know that I was writing about spunky girls. I thought I was writing about just regular girls. As far as I could tell, Ivy and Bean acted like my daughters, the kids I saw on the playground, and the person I remembered being a long time ago. I was surprised and pleased to find out that my girls were also Strong Female Protagonists, Girls with Guts, and Role Models.
But now I think I’ve hit the Role Model wall. I think I’m going to be run out of town. I think my name will be a hissing and a byword (I don’t know what that means, but it sounds terrible). Because here’s the deal: in the sixth book in the series, which will be coming out this fall, Ivy and Bean take ballet—AND HATE IT.
You would think in this post-feminist era that ballet would be routinely ridiculed in children’s books—too pink, too frilly, too much correlation between physical anguish and aesthetic value. But it’s not. And for good reason, too: ballet rewards practice. It’s the perfect wrapping for the “work hard and you’ll succeed” story, because it’s both true and pretty. In ballet, everyone starts out crappy, and then, if they persevere, they end up jumping around a stage in a lovely tutu before an appreciative audience. My own bookshelves groan under the burden of ballet stories—there are dancing mice, boys who dance, girls who wear their tutus to the grocery store, girls who break their arms but the show must go on, and girls who find out they can pas de deux with someone they don’t like very much.
All of these stories are really about the value of process, perseverance, and patience. As a parent, I am crazy about process, perseverance, and patience. But as a kid, I despised process, perseverance, and patience. Like Ivy and Bean, I wanted magic, which is also known as change without effort. When I sat down to begin the sixth book in the series, I planned to have Ivy and Bean enjoy ballet because, after all, hadn’t I taken ballet when I was seven and enjoyed . . . wait. No. I hated it. I hated it because it was too much work and a girl named Cindy had perfect arches and I didn’t. I took ballet for years, hating it, because I had read legions of stories about the wonders of dance. Why had I put up with it? Why did I want Ivy and Bean to put up with it?
I thought for a long time about ballet and process and who Ivy and Bean are. And I ended up writing a book called Ivy and Bean: Doomed to Dance, a book that is true to my experience and true to my understanding of my characters. Some kids really do take pleasure in practicing and improving, but my girls don’t. My girls don’t want to work hard and succeed. They want to go home and lie down in the grass. In terms of perseverance, they’re terrible role models, but they aren’t ashamed of what they want, and I’ll take that as a role model any day.
Annie Barrows is the author of the Ivy and Bean series; look for Ivy and Bean: Doomed to Dance in Fall 2009.