The World at 13
From the Ukraine to New Zealand to Cuba, teenage girls talk about cell phones, outer space, Harry Potter, divorce, pets, favorite jeans, the Internet, and Spaghettios.
International lawyer Starla Henrichs-Cohen Griffin 88C has traveled for much of her adult life.
She spent her junior year in Paris as an international studies major; taught in Hitachi through the Japan Exchange and Teaching program; went to law school in Washington, D.C.; attended the University of Bologna in Italy; and was based in Paris and New York for an international finance group.
Now living in London with her Irish husband, Peter, who is an international arbitration lawyer, Griffin works for the Emerging Markets Traders Association.
“There was one week when Peter was in China for his job, and I was in East Berlin. When I was a kid, you couldn’t go to either of those places—there was the Cold War, so much of the world was off limits,” she says. “I started thinking about how different things were for kids today, with cell phones and the Internet and improved transportation. It made me wonder if they have an appreciation for how much the world has opened up.”
In response, Griffin compiled the highly readable Girl, 13: A Global Snapshot of Generation e, a book written “by, for, and about thirteen-year-old girls all over the world.”
The detailed profiles of more than forty girls include a brief biography (nationality, religion, languages, siblings, pets, hobbies, favorite sport, book, food, and possession), plenty of photos from their daily lives, and letters or essays written by the girls themselves, as well as thought-provoking questions such as: What do you think of the United States? What do you talk about with friends? What do you want other girls your age to know?
“When I am in a bad mood, my friends always make it better,” says Kate, from Samara, Russia. “They simply say a few nice words that improve my mood. Then, I no longer feel like a white crow in the world.”
Griffin found her subjects by asking everyone she knew with contacts in different countries if they had a thirteen-year-old daughter, niece, cousin, or friend. Her own thirteen-year-old niece, Kirsten, was included as one of three Americans.
After emailing or exchanging letters, Griffin often traveled to a girl’s home to meet her in person. “The families were amazing and so welcoming to me. The parents would sometimes say I knew more about their daughters than they did,” says Griffin.
Many of the girls shared quite personal feelings. One talked about her parents’ divorce; another of her fears for the future.
“Just before the Iraq war started, I sent an email to the mother of Hadil, the girl in the book who was born in Egypt and now lives in Saudi Arabia, saying that I hope you are all safe,” says Griffin. “Hadil wrote me back saying, this is the most horrible thing, women and children will die, tell everyone you know how we feel here. ”
Girl, 13 was named a finalist in ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year for young adult nonfiction, and girls continue to write in to the website (www.hylaspublishing.com/girl13.html).
In a review for the School Library Journal, Elaine Baran Black writes, “Though different from one another, [the girls] seem to share an optimism about themselves and their lives. Thoughtfully presented and wonderfully constructed, the text and the accompanying photographs will be an interesting read not only for middle-grade readers, but also for women’s studies students.”
The inspiration for the book to be about real girls sharing their stories came from Griffin’s own middle-school years.
“My favorite class, when I was growing up back in Valparaiso, Indiana, was World Civilizations,” she says. “We used our Scholastic World Cultures book that profiled real people—‘Dascha and Volchek walked to the commune to collect their meal tickets. . . .’ Those stories fascinated me,” she says. “I especially liked reading about girls my age. So I thought girls today would like that as well.”
As the mother of a two-year-old son, Tobias, Griffin may be writing a Boy, 13 version as well, in a decade or so.—M.J.L.