Review

Wild Girl: How to Have Incredible Outdoor Adventures

  • Helen Skelton, Illustrated by Liz Kay
  • Candlewick, 2020

Helen Skelton’s Wild Girl: How to Have Incredible Outdoor Adventures is a delightful book. Aimed at girls nine to twelve, it provides a narration of Skelton’s extreme adventures in snow, heat, water, and air, all told in a plucky, no-nonsense voice. Being the armchair adventurer, vicariously exploring the dangerously frigid Antarctic on a bicycle or the funk of the Amazon in a kayak, makes for an engaging, invigorating read. Through it all, Skelton cheerily encourages readers to get out and try something challenging, frightening, wild!

Helen Skelton has had the chance to take part in some astonishing adventures and acknowledges that her experiences are extraordinary. She notes repeatedly that she has a team of support people, plus friends and family who cheer her on. Interestingly, she also notes, in each adventure, that people told her she couldn’t do the thing she set out to do — which, of course, spurs her on. And while this admission is real and humbling, it may also help girls who have been told “Girls can’t…” and “Girls don’t…” to redouble their efforts to accomplish their own goals, in whatever realm of life they aim to pursue.

There’s a strong habit of directing young readers to books about their own areas of interest — encouraging athletic kids to read about sports, for instance, or encouraging musical kids to read about musicians. There’s nothing wrong with this practice, but it can be limiting. A book like Wild Girl could be valuably put into the hands of a non-athletic but bright girl, who may perceive the parallels between being told a woman can’t run an ultramarathon in the desert and being told a woman can’t succeed at politics, or at physics and math, or at medical research, or … Which is to say that, while Skelton’s experiences may be outlandish and absolutely depend on a support crew to make them happen, the example of dreaming big alongside other girls and women is something I want for all girls everywhere. The mini-profiles of adventurous women around the world may also spur readers to imagine their own wild dreams and the personal and emotional resources needed to accomplish them.

This short book could be enjoyed by boys as well as girls, if boys are given the opportunity to read it. Although girls are Skelton’s audience, Skelton’s adventures will appeal to anyone who appreciates at least the idea of extreme sports — and it may be beneficial for a generation of boys to grow up taking for granted that anyone can have exciting outdoor adventures. Beyond the extremes, the book provides more realistic and scalable adventures one might chase: although most of the “Where to go” locales are out of reach of most readers, there are low-cost and no-cost options that one could try alone or with friends (and reliable adult supervision, of course).

I read an Advance Reader’s Copy of this book and will be looking for the full-colour finished book in stores soon. Liz Kay’s illustrations playfully complement the photographs, and the book is editorially designed for many kinds of readers. In short, Wild Girl is an inspiring, aspirational book that will add importantly to school and classroom libraries. I enthusiastically recommend it.

Originally published on LibraryThing October 2020