Monday, March 10, 2008

REVIEW: Juana Meets Gabriel, the Small Business Angel by Daphne Nowell

Juana doesn't want the future suggested in her fairy tales; rather than having a handsome prince to fulfill her every wish, she wants to make her own dreams come true. The Business Angel Gabriel comes and gives her some basic information about learning about businesses. She starts a dog grooming business, and in the end, gets both the satisfaction of a job well done on her own--and the handsome prince she meets when he brings his dog to her for grooming.

Written by Daphne Nowell, the book is illustrated by her mother Esther Nowell. Her artwork is very clean and eye catching. I especially love Juana's face.

I liked the premise of this book and I cheered when I read "she wanted to be proud of doing great things on her own. She wanted to be happy even when there were no handsome princes around." Certainly that’s the message most of us mothers want our daughters to learn. I also appreciated how, once she had achieved independent happiness, she got to have her prince as well. As a happily married woman who left a career as an Air Force officer to have children and begin freelance writing, I applaud the idea of being able to have both. Frankly, I see that as reality should be.

I was disappointed with a three things, however:
* Juana, who doesn't believe in fairy tales, nonetheless calls on "the universe" to help her, because "Well, it's common knowledge that when you ask the universe how to do something, you will quickly get answers." (Quote from book) The angel comes not from God or even heaven, but "the Universe." Religious implications aside, it's a confusing mix of metaphors.

* With all the fabulous opportunities available (and I won't say "to women" because we should be past that now), Nowell's angel suggests service-oriented blue-collar work--dog grooming, check cashing store, coin laundry and day spa--as small businesses Juana might start. These are important businesses, but I would have liked to see a more balanced mix, with some technical/computer fields--web design, computer repair, even accounting or electrical repair. The book is to encourage girls to break female stereotypes, after all. (It might have been nice for Gabriel to suggest getting a college degree, too.)

* I had a hard time determining Juana's age--was she a young girl? Was she grown up in the end? (She looks the same throughout--even to her dress.) That made it hard for me to put Gabriel's advice to her in a proper context. "Learn about these businesses by...taking classes and ...volunteering to work (at a business) for free" is beyond the abilities of the suggested age group, 4- to 9-year-olds. However, if Juana is old enough to take this advice and "soon open" her own business, she probably should have already known to "read books (about businesses) and (research) on the Internet."

My daughter is 12 now, so I gave the book to my neighbor to read with her 7-year old daughter. The mother thought the whole "universe" concept in confusing when combined with angels and was not impressed with the choice of careers. She loved the ending, however. The daughter did not like Gabriel in a business suit, though she liked the dogs. She described the book as "Juana grows up and gets a job." Neither considered this a book to they would have picked up on their own or recommended to friends.

This book is message-heavy and plot-light, so while I wouldn't consider this a bedtime-story book, I think Juana Meets Gabriel has a place in a classroom setting. Elementary school teachers and girls' club leaders for younger ages might consider using this book as a way to introduce the idea of careers and begin discussion.

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