women’s history: truth-seekers and speakers

Hi dear Orange Marmalade readers!
First order of business today is the winner of the Paddington giveaway, and I just have to say  — you all!!  I would like to visit every one of you! What delightful ideas you have for exploring your stomping grounds.  It certainly did my heart a world of good to read your creative responses.
Our winner, chosen at random, is Anne. Congrats, Anne!  If you would e-mail me at jillswanson61@gmail.com with a shipping address, I’ll get this bundle off to you.

Now, it’s March which means it’s Women’s History Month once again!

women's history month from mira costa college

Every year I take joy in discovering these rich lives and stories.
I invite you to savor them along with your children as we grow in understanding the ways women have blessed the world, so often in the face of daunting restrictions.

I’m going to be putting a lot of books before you this month, more than you can read.
My hope is that you’ll come back each week,
find a number of titles that particularly spark your interest,
and meet someone new along the way.

Today I’ve got an eclectic mix of women whose wisdom resonates in their words, ideas, reforms, from a medieval mystic to an iconic American poet.
I’ve listed them in chronological order.

hildegard of bingen cover

Hildegard of Bingen: Scientist, Composer, Healer & Saint, written and illustrated by Demi
published in 2019 by Wisdom Tales Press

I confess to have only heard Hildegard’s name prior to my dipping into this brief account by Demi. I am now sufficiently intrigued that I will certainly be reading more about her. She’s a woman I was hard pressed to categorize in these weekly posts as she was an educator, a scientist, a musician, and more.

hildegard of bingen Demi

In typical Demi fashion, jewel-toned, detailed, Byzantine-flavored illustrations adorn the pages as she introduces us to this saint, born in 1098 in Mainz, Germany, and a true polymath.

hildegard of bingen2 Demi

After an account of her childhood and the visions in disturbingly bright light Hildegard experienced, Demi alights on many of her wide-ranging contributions, from prolific medieval musical compositions to natural history and medical texts. These accomplishments are introduced only briefly, providing a bird’s eye view of this remarkable woman. I’d recommend it for ages 7 and up.

a library for juana cover

A Library for Juana: The World of Sor Juana Inés, written by Pat Mora, illustrated by Beatriz Vidal
originally published in 2002; this edition 2019 by Children’s Book Press

Jump 500 years from Hildegard’s time, sail to the other hemisphere, and meet Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, one of Mexico’s most brilliant writers.

a library for juana illustration Beatriz Vidal

Juana was born in 1648 with an insatiable thirst for knowledge. Despite the fact that university education was considered a male-only prerogative, Juana yearned for schooling and wheedled her way to Mexico City where she received advanced tutoring.

a library for juana2 illustration Beatriz Vidal

Her penchant for learning and crafting poetry earned her a position in the viceroy’s palace where she had access to an enormous library and stunned a group of 40 scholars with her wide-ranging command of academic subjects. Juana later chose to join a convent to afford her the quiet needed to study, write, and continue to amass an enormous library. Read about this charming and brilliant woman in this finely told, sublimely-illustrated story for ages 6 and up.

suffragette cover

Suffragette: The Battle for Equality, written and illustrated by David Roberts
published in the UK in 2018; U.S. edition 2019 by Walker Books
128 pages

Though I’ve previously read a number of books about the suffrage movement, I learned a great deal more in this magnificent survey spanning the years 1832-1928 in the UK and US.

suffragette illustration detail David Roberts

David Roberts’ delightful illustration style brings verve and spunk, the production quality is top notch, the page lay-outs serve up a lovely variety — yet it’s the story of these audacious women (and some men) and the straight-up brutality they endured in order to combat the notion that women’s minds were too silly for the tasks of democracy that makes this such a compelling read.

sufragette David Roberts

The venom unleashed over the seemingly-obvious request that women be allowed to vote is shocking and mind-boggling.  Roberts’ sophisticated and in-depth writing leads me to recommend this book for ages 11 through adult.  Honestly — read this before you go to the polls next time and perhaps genuflect in gratitude for our hard-won privilege.

the oldest student cover

The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read,
written by Rita Lorraine Hubbard, illustrated by Oge Mora
published in 2020 by Schwartz & Wade

My, how I love this book! A book about a woman whose whole life was spent working for others, first as a slave, then after emancipation in long, backbreaking jobs to help support her family.

the oldest student Hubbard and Mora

As the decades passed, Mary was continually tantalized by a desire to learn to read, but there was never time nor energy to devote to it, until at age 114, having outlived her entire family, Mary went to a literacy class. And there she began to read.

the oldest student2 Hubbard and Mora

One of the loveliest stories you’ll come across, with Oge Mora’s gorgeous paper college artwork to boot. Ages 5 and up.

maria montessori cover

Maria Montessori, written by Mª Isabel Sánchez Vegara, illustrated by Raquel Martín
published in 2019 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

This entry in the delightful, ever-expanding Little People Big Dreams series serves up a brief, sunny introduction to educator and doctor Maria Montessori.

maria montessori Vegara and Martin

She was born in Italy in 1870, going on to become a trailblazer in a field thought best-left, only-left, to men — medicine. When she was assigned to a mental health clinic for disabled children she was appalled by the barren conditions, leading her to develop the educational philosophy for which she is best known.

If your children attend a Montessori school, this short-and-sweet bio will be especially interesting. Ages 4 and up.

the power of her pen cover

The Power of Her Pen: The Story of Groundbreaking Journalist Ethel L. Payne,
written by Lesa-Cline Ransome, illustrated by John Parra
published in 2020, a Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster

Born in 1911, Ethel grew up in Chicago, a child of the Great Migration. From childhood, she learned to stand her ground against hostile racism in the struggle to gain the education she craved.

the power of her pen Cline-Ransome and Parra

Gravitating towards writing and activism from her teen years, Ethel set her sights high and began a long, persevering journey to become a groundbreaking, African American journalist. Her story is uncommonly inspiring!

the power of her pen2 Cline-Ransome and Parra

Freedom of the press and broad perspectives — two aspects of a healthy democracy that are under siege today.  If Ethel were still with us, she’d be right in the midst of the fray. This excellent book featuring Parra’s powerful, stylized artwork, is a great read for ages 6 or 7 and up.

rise cover image

Rise!: From Caged Bird to Poet of the People, Maya Angelou,
written by Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Tonya Engel
published in 2019 by Lee & Low

Maya Angelou’s life story is a difficult one to convey for young children, but this picture book rendition threads the needle well.

Written in free verse, the story begins on a forlorn note with two small children, Maya and her brother Bailey, riding a train, “a mass of metal and steel,” all alone, a bit “like luggage…packed and shipped off.” Their smallness and hunger is offset by the warmth of one another’s companionship.

rise Hegedus and Engel

This juxtaposition — of tremendous adversity and grief mixed with the comfort and support of key individuals — carries us through the ups and downs of Angelou’s painfully difficult life including the emotional and sexual abuse she survives, lifts us into the moments when she rises above it all.

rise2 Hegedus and Engel

A lengthy timeline and photos are appended along with resources for those who, like Maya, have been affected by sexual violence. It’s a heartbreaking yet triumphant story, accessible to ages 8 and up.

just like a mama cover

Just Like a Mama, written by Alice Faye Duncan, illustrated by Charnelle Pinkney Barlow
published in 2020, a Denene Millner Book, Simon & Schuster

This book is not your typical women’s history entry, yet it’s an important story about the monumental task undertaken by tens of thousands of women to nurture children not born to them. I want to honor these women right alongside the others today.

just like a mama Duncan and Barlow

Carol Olivia Clementine lives with Mama Rose.  Her parents live “miles away” and though she wishes so much she could be with them, that is just not the way the cards have fallen in her young life. In her child’s-eye account, no other explanation is given.

just like a mama2 Duncan and Barlow

Mama Rose, though, “is just like a mama to me,” and this dear book goes on to showcase the ways that is true. The simple, straightforward narration by Carol dips occasionally into her poignant longing for a home with her parents, but the vast majority is an upbeat telling of the loving care she has with Mama Rose. It’s a story that works equally as a window for some and a mirror for others, ages 3 and up.

Next week, we’ll turn our attention to women in the sciences.
Does this sound dry and boring?  Think again!
Trek through steamy jungles, traipse across towering walkways, dig up ancient bones, spot dazzling comets. Zesty lives and splendid books await you so come on back!
Find dozens more grand books celebrating women’s history on my list here.
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