So many women are told their dreams “simply can’t be done.” Today, meet a drummer, a mathematician, a primatologist and others, who persisted and realized their dreams.
Plus a tribute to mothers: In our heart of hearts, we often feel overwhelmed at this epic task — nurturing healthy human beings for our world. Women’s History Month would not be complete without celebrating motherhood.
Drum Dream Girl:How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music, by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael López published in 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Hot pepper oranges and Caribbean blues saturate the pages of this poetic celebration of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, the first female drummer in Cuba. As a young girl, the varied drums’ beats tantalized her, but it was taboo for women to play them.
Winner of the 2016 Pura Belpré Illustration Award, the gorgeous artwork in this book explodes with color and Cuban culture, while the text dances along lithely. Superb introduction to Millo, who became a world-famous drummer, and another example of the odd restrictions women have had to overcome with the help of a key insider. Ages 3 and up.
Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine, by Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by April Chu published in 2015 by Creston Books
Ada, daughter of the poet Lord Byron, was a brilliant mathematician. From childhood she was mesmerized by numbers and the inventions made possible by their calculations. Ada was a child of privilege, yet had to overcome family dysfunction, a crippling illness, and her society’s conviction that math was no place for a woman.
Wallmark’s introduction is intriguing and accessible, and Chu’s handsome artwork immerses us in Ada’s world. Read about the woman who wrote the first computer program with ages 5 and up.
Paiute Princess: The Story of Sarah Winnemucca, written and illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray published in 2012 by Frances Foster Books, Farrar Straus Giroux
Sarah Winnemucca was not a princess. And her name was not really Sarah. Yet by assuming an identity the White world invented, she was able to wield her strengths for the good of her Paiute people.
This lengthy, fascinating account by award-winning author and illustrator Deborah Kogan Ray introduced me to an amazing person I had never heard of, who worked tirelessly for justice for the Paiute.
She was a controversial figure, accepted fully by neither white culture nor her own people. I think that is often the case for peacemakers caught in the middle, searching for the best compromise this world offers. A beautiful, thought-provoking read for ages 8 and up.
Irena’s Jars of Secrets, by Marcia Vaughan, illustrated by Ron Mazellan published in 2011 by Lee & Low Books
Irena was a young Polish Catholic woman when World War II broke out and with horror she witnessed the beginnings of the Holocaust. As a social worker, she gained access to the Warsaw ghettos, smuggling in aid for two years until it became clear that Treblinka was in store for all who remained.
Read the story of how this intrepid woman risked her life to smuggle 2500 children out to safety, and find out what role was played by two glass jars hidden under an apple tree. A riveting account with rich, atmospheric paintings, for ages 5 or 6 and up. Obviously, extermination camps are a part of this narrative, so use your judgement as to the appropriateness for young children.
Florence Nightingale, written and illustrated by Demi published in 2014 by Henry Holt and Company
Demi’s characteristically elegant treatment of her subjects turns here to Florence Nightingale, another child of privilege who used her life to benefit the poor and broken in the world.
Demi traces her life from her birth in Florence, Italy, (I never knew that is how she got her name!) through her calling as a young woman into nursing — an objectionable life for a proper lady, careful study of the care of patients, and blossoming as a leader and innovator in nursing care. It’s a brilliant account, never bogging down yet covering a vast amount of information, accompanied by intricate, appealing illustrations. An inspiration for ages 5 and up.
Me…Jane, written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell published in 2011 by Little, Brown and Company
This tender story tells of Jane Goodall’s childhood love of the great outdoors and all the wondrous natural world around her. The entire, sparkling account spins out just a few thoughts, like candy floss, magically endearing us to this dear girl, until with one turn of the last page, she is all grown up, living out her dream in Africa.
Charming and engaging for children ages 2 and up, the story is followed by a bio written for ages 8 and up, and a wonderful, personal message from Jane about the opportunity for each of us to make a difference in our world. If you want to learn more about her, follow this up with another excellent account focusing more on her long work in Tanzania:
The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps, written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter, also published in 2011 by Schwartz & Wade and ideal for ages 3 and up.
Lullaby (for a Black Mother), by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Sean Qualls published in 2013 by Harcourt Children’s Books
Langston’s dark-cherry sweet lullaby, a mother singing to her little dark baby, her little earth-thing, her little love-one, is marvelously illustrated in Sean Quall’s rhythmic, contemporary styling. Twilight purples and midnight blues infuse the pages, anchored in strong shapes, textures, and inky blacks.
A note about Langston Hughes informs us about his sweet connection with words during a childhood of fractured relationships. Qualls conjectures about the comfort Hughes believed a mother’s lullaby could bring to a lonely boy. Read this with children ages 2 and up, and invent your own lullaby to speak your love.