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If Art History and Art Appreciation sound like dense, musty subjects full of incomprehensible notions and frame after frame of flowers in vases…

…well, prepare to be astonished and inspired!

There are some stylish, captivating, imaginative, exciting, vastly-informative titles out there which will revolutionize the way your children understand, appreciate, and experience art. And you as well, I suspect.

Vincent’s Starry Night and Other Stories: A Children’s History of Art, written by Michael Bird, illustrated by Kate Evans and with art reproductions
published in 2016 by Laurence King Publishing Ltd.

First up, this glorious art history book. Oh, I wish I’d had this when my children were young!

Over 300 pages of marvelously-narrated art history, from the first artists carving creatures out of mammoth’s tusks 40,000 years ago or sculpting enormous statues for emperors, through a worldful of religious art –medieval scribes, West African bronze workers, Muslim calligraphers — then on to the Renaissance, portraiture, neo-classical, romantic, and impressionistic works, modern art and contemporary artists right up to Ai Weiwei’s sunflower seed installation.

It is largely Western in emphasis, but I do appreciate that a number of non-Western works are here. And it is overwhelmingly male though there is, happily, a segment on Artemisia Gentileschi, and a few other female artists are represented in later time periods.

What’s enormously engaging is that there’s not a dry sentence in the book. Instead, this books reads like a collection of stories giving us historical context, biographical detail, technical insights that go down like a nice spiced chai on a hot day. My mind was sparking like a swarm of fireflies with ideas of how this book could be augmented with art projects and further reading to make history come alive for young children ages 5 and older.

One reproduction per artist is included, and then the pages are gracefully, beautifully illustrated in Kate Evans’ watercolors, helping us to see these towns and printing presses, galleries and ziggurats, soaring columns and war-torn countrysides and sunflower fields.

Included are a timeline, glossary of art terms, and listing of artworks which includes their dimensions and locations. Coming to us from the UK, this is a dream especially for homeschoolers or art teachers.

Are You an Art Sleuth? by Brooke DiGiovanni Evans, illustrated with art reproductions
published in 2016 by Quarto Publishing
103 pages

Being an art sleuth means looking carefully at art and noticing all manner of things you might miss at first glance.

The paintings in this book each come with a list of items to find in them, and they’re not so easy! To find just one bracelet in a sea of Renoir figures, spot a pesky fly in a still life, track down 8 red hats in the Peasant’s Wedding or 3 mirrors in a lush interior takes time and patience and sleuthing!

That’s the first benefit of this book. Just the slowing down and careful looking, something that would transfer well to all of life. Noticing that there’s more to this than can be seen with the same rapidity as the zooming images in an electronic game. Learning to see.

After you’ve worked hard to find everything on the list, turn the page and read about the artist, the scene, the special qualities of this piece of art. Be enticed with some questions to use your imagination about the subject matter. In other words, learn to think, surmise, wonder, and understand art a bit more deeply.

This book relies solely on Western paintings, the majority from the 19th century. Inviting page lay-outs will draw in children ages 4 or 5 and up. It could be used independently by kids ages 7 and up to while away the time when traveling or otherwise waiting. Answers to all the puzzlers are included.

Where’s the Artist?: From Cave Paintings to Modern Art: A Look and Find Book, text by Susanne Rebscher, illustrations by Annabelle von Sperber
published in 2015 by Prestel Publishing

This book is a little trickier to use for those less familiar with art, yet it’s an engrossing, oversized book that practically immerses you in art and includes ideas to learn and wonder about together.

Each large, two-page spread ushers us into a new time period. Twelve jumps take us from prehistoric cave dwellers into our contemporary world.  There’s simply gobs to absorb in these illustrations. Surroundings, clothing, architecture, activities, all can be observed and enjoyed and talked about at leisure. Incorporated within these scenes are representations of art from that time — the towering statue of Athena, the girl with the pearl earring, Monet’s house and gardens at Giverny. Even the overall pages have the flavor of the art period — a Mondrian-esque series of rectangles hold the images on one page while a surreal countryside of blue horses and lush wildly-colorful foliage comprises another.

this is just a small section of one large spread

There is no text on these pages. You are on your own to observe. The last pages of the book provide some context about each time period and its artwork — just a small bit. Our attention is drawn to a few particulars in some of the scenes and we’re challenged to find some elements.

The brevity of the text here makes this a great choice for those who want to dip their feet into art without being overwhelmed, while at the same time it means you will likely miss references to particular artists and works of art as there is no attempt to be thorough. That’s okay. Hopefully your appetite will be whetted for more. Ages 3 and up, depending on how you use the book.

Seeing Things: A Kid’s Guide to Looking at Photographs, by Joel Meyerowitz
published in 2016 by aperture
67 pages

This incredible guide to appreciating photography is unusual and insightful. I was fascinated by it and learned a lot, even though it calls itself a “kid’s guide!”

Meyerowitz has selected 30 photographs taken by a roster of photographers he has encountered over the 50+ years he’s worked in that world. He has constructed the book around principles or ways of seeing or tools that make a photograph special. Timing. Noticing something unusual. A sense of humor. Shadows. Perspectives.

Each two-page spread features one handsome photograph — some in color, others black-and-white. Such a wide range of subject matter and composition! Accompanying it are Meyerowitz’s keen remarks that serve to open the photo up for us, teach us to see what’s inside it and underneath it, to observe anew, to understand the remarkable nature of this particular shot.

The conversational tone of the text invites us to learn sophisticated ideas, fearlessly. Because of the author’s concision, he never overwhelms us. The page layouts are unusually elegant, terrifically inviting, pulling us to settle in, read slowly, and keep turning the pages to discover more. A fantastic choice for exploring with ages 7 and up.

Splat!: The Most Exciting Artists of All Time, by Mary Agnes Richards
published in 2016 by Thames & Hudson
92 pages

That’s a fairly heady claim within the title — the most exciting artists of all time?! — but we’ll overlook that and enjoy what is here.

And that’s a mix, a hybrid, between “fact pages” laid out for quick perusal, and “narrative pages” that dig a bit deeper. This format is geared, perhaps, to draw in slightly older children who love those stats and sound bites. For me, I did not love those overview pages. For each artist, we get one sentence (!) describing that artist’s main contribution, and a quick succession of who-what-where, background, and some mini-mini notebook pages with a few quick ideas associated with that artist. There’s also a full-page reproduction of one representative piece.

Turn the page and there are about four stout paragraphs of narrative text telling us about the artist and the piece on the previous page. Side bars  provide the added-bits-and-pieces approach to the subject which middle graders tend to devour.

This book is almost completely Western in focus, with only Hokusai and Kahlo breaking up the all-male, Euro-American club. A large portion of the book — about half — is devoted to modern and contemporary art. In fact the first artist is Michelangelo. So — much briefer than the first book but with a vibe that might appeal to older readers.

I hope you find something beautiful and useful here!

 

All the books in today’s post have one thing in common: they make readers wonder.

 Children love to discuss crazy scenarios, what-ifs, and imagine-thats. Their funny bones are tickled by nonsensicalness. They love to stump one another with riddles. Children also mull all manner of existential ideas. Posing deeply philosophical and spiritual questions is not just something adults do.

All of it is rich food for the mind. Open up the gate to wondering with these curious titles.

Imagine a City, written and illustrated by Elise Hurst
originally published in Australia; first American edition published in 2014 by Doubleday Books for Young Readers

Elise Hurst’s marvelously imaginative realm opens up the boundaries between the real and the magical, fuses them together so seamlessly that you might expect to see rabbits reading the daily news on your next subway trip or carp-zeppelins zumming through the sky over your city.

Imagine this sort of place! Imagine fantastical bridges and a Narnia-like jumble of human and animal citizens. Imagine “a world without edges” and gargoyles taking tea.

Many illustrators would choose to use waterfalls of color to bring such a place to life, but Hurst masterfully captures our hearts with her gorgeous pen-and-ink work. Somehow that makes this dreamland all the more real.

With so much to absorb on every page and so much fantasy to expand our thoughts, this is a gem for ages 3 and up.

If I Was a Banana, written by Alexandra Tylee, illustrated by Kieran Rynhart
first published in New Zealand by Gecko Press in 2016

“If I was a banana I would be that one, all yellow and fat and full of banana.”

What a wonderful thought to think! Of course that would be just the sort of banana to be. Who would want to be one of those brown, oozy, gloopy ones? Yecch. A plump, bright banana would be my choice, too.

Alexandra Tylee clambers right inside a small boy’s mind and considers all kinds of ordinary pieces in his world — a bird, a cloud, a ladybug — from a refreshingly childlike perspective. The honest, artless, vulnerable thoughts here are precious as gemstones and offered only when there is leisure and trust and space for such things.

Rynhart’s handsome illustration work is, again, muted, displaying a commendable respect for these intriguing ideas which might seem otherwise merely shallow and silly.

Quietly happy, I’d love to see this one slow folks down to a pondering pace. Share it with ages 4 and up.

The Liszts, written by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Júlia Sardà
published in 2016 by Tundra Books

I am realizing as I write this post how international this group of authors and illustrators is! No Americans thus far. Hmmm…does that mean anything about this subject matter? I wonder. Here we have a Canadian author and Spanish artist. Fantastic.

This book is pure delight, from the marvelously eccentric characters created by artist Júlia Sardà to the highly-original story of these list-making Liszts.

This offbeat bunch, who somehow resemble a mash-up of Gatsby-era Russian aristocrats and the Addams family, love to make lists. Great lists. Ever-so-long lists of admirers and ghastly illnesses, kinds of cheese and dreaded chores.

The Liszts become so encumbered by their lists, however, that they are unable to entertain any person or notion not on the list. Their lists have become a barricade, as it were, to anything new.

Edward, the middle child (hallelujah for a heroic middle child!) makes quite a different sort of list, however. His is a list of questions. And because his mind is awash with questions and possibilities, his world opens up in startling, wonderful ways.

I love the way this off-the-wall tale unbolts the doors on an exultant, curious, open mindset that welcomes a thirst for new ideas. And I love the handlettered text and phenomenal illustration work here. A clear winner for ages 5 and up.

Why am I Here?, written by Constance Ørbeck-Nilssen, illustrated by Akin Duzakin, translated from the Norwegian by Becky Crook
originally published in Norway in 2014; first US edition published in 2016 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

The most pensive book on today’s list is this highly-unusual title coming to us from Norway.

Crediting children with the deep, soul-searching thoughts which they do indeed muse about if given adequate time, space, and freedom from the noise and frenzy of our culture, Ørbeck-Nilssen poses the existential and important questions of a young child. Duzakin portrays the child in such a way that it could be a boy or girl — a nice touch.

He wonders why he is here, “in this exact place.” She asks what would it have been like if she had been born as someone else, in some far distant place?

What would it be like to be homeless? Or in a land where war rages? What would it be like to dwell in the desert or the Arctic? What would it be like if home was washed away in a flood? Why are we here, anyway? Why am I me?

These heartfelt concerns certainly land on young children, though they may not articulate them in just this way. What a beautiful tendency, to consider what life would look like in someone else’s situation. Duzakin’s dreamy, emotive illustration work conveys wonder and transports us masterfully into others’ scenarios. He imbues the pages with tenderness and respect. A lovely entry point into conversation and compassion for ages 6 and older.

The Curious Guide to Things That Aren’t, written by John D. Fixx and James F. Fixx, illustrated by Abby Carter
published in 2016 by Quarto Publishing

Finally, this quirky (American!) book features riddles — guessing games you might say — all leading to answers that are intangible. No chickens crossing roads. No orange-you-glad-I-didn’t-say-banana. These clues will lead you to answers such as darkness, breath, an itch, or yesterday.

There’s one for each letter of the alphabet. Traipse through the book reading the clues and guessing together — What is it? Flip the page to learn the answer and find out a little bit about air, reflections, fog, and other “things that aren’t” as well as the way we use these words figuratively.

Crammed with curiosity and the odd tidbits that tickle the mind, this book was begun by the author’s parents and lovingly brought to us with Abby Carter’s clever, friendly illustrations and appealing design. For little brainiacs, ages perhaps 5 and up.

Today’s Women’s History Month post highlights motherhood, one of the most challenging, exhausting, all-encompassing responsibilities on the planet, with few accolades and really lousy hours but so much possibility.

Does this qualify as false advertising?!

Often moms in children’s literature are background characters, yet even there we notice some flashes of genius. For instance, there’s Ferdinand the bull’s mother,

who initially worries about her son sitting quietly just smelling the flowers, but “because she was an understanding mother, even though she was a cow, she let him just sit there and be happy.” Way to go, mom. Individuality starts here.

I adore the moms in several of Jonathan Bean’s stories — At Night and Big Snow — who empathetically care for their children while giving them space and freedom to explore and dream and be.

One of my favorite storybook moms is Alfie’s mother, whose house is always unapologetically mussy, whose hair has not seen a salon recently, whose breakfast table is a jumble of milk splotches, egg smears, and the odd sock. Hers is a happy, creative household and she makes no pretense of keeping it all completely under control. Plus, she gets her kids out of doors a LOT!

The women in the following books (gleaned from my archives) are not famous for their accomplishments, yet live quietly heroic lives, nurturing small human beings with love, wisdom, courage, creativity, patience, cunning, fortitude, conviction, selflessness, empathy, resilience, comfort, contentment, and the list goes on.

Represented here are tired mothers, grandmothers, single moms, veiled moms, nannies, adoptive mothers, refugee mothers, harassed mothers, black, white, latino and native mothers, camping moms, berry-picking grandmas, hospitable mothers…

To all of you coping with the demands of motherhood, perhaps quailing before the superhero women featured in most Women’s History Month posts — hats off to you and the epic job you do every day!

Tromping around outdoors moms…

Alfie Weather

Oh so tired moms…

Are You Awake?

taking time to listen grandmas…

The Baby on the Way

uber clever moms…

Bread and Jam for Frances

hardworking single moms…

A Chair for My Mother

deeply religious moms…

Deep in the Sahara

profoundly there-for-you nannies…

The Friend

warmhearted grandmas…

Grandma’s House

bighearted adoptive moms…

Hattie Peck

magically creating spring moms…

How Mama Brought the Spring

incredibly brave refugee moms…

The Journey

wise in life grandmas…

Last Stop on Market Street

harassed but not quitting moms…

Leave Me Alone!

ordinarily awesome moms…

My Mom

spunky world-opening grandmas…

Nana in the City

lively ditch the rules grandmas…

Peeny Butter Fudge

carrying you with me moms…

A Ride on Mother’s Back

creative, content grandmas…

Sunday Shopping

canoeing, camping moms…

Three Days on a River in a Red Canoe

berry-picking grandmas…

Wild Berries

hospitable, merciful moms…

A Year of Borrowed Men

A friend of mine recently related that she had been stopped cold one day when her four-year-old daughter declared, “Girls can’t be heroes. Only boys can.”

This shocked young mama promptly sewed her daughter a cape and held a Hero Day. Together they found lots of ways that even a four-year-old could be a hero-in-training.

Little girls (and boys) pick up the most unfortunate things at such early ages from the ocean of air they live in called our culture. One of those is, sadly, a feeling of limitations on what girls are allowed to dream of doing and becoming.

Enter this gem of a book chock full of heroic women.

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, compiled by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo, illustrated by sixty female artists from around the world
published in 2016 by Timbuktu Labs
203 pages

One hundred, one-page stories of heroic women are gathered in these pages and I am telling you, your heart will burn with gladness as you read them! Women from ancient times and in the news today. Women from all corners of the globe and every race.

Illustration by Elizabeth Baddeley

 Dancers and doctors and film directors. Spies and scientists and war heroes. A race car driver. An orchestra conductor. And my personal favorite, a poet/baker. 

Cora Coralina, Poet and Baker, illustration by Elenia Beretta

The stories are super short. Each takes about a minute to read. They’re written with a hint of the fairy tale about them. Once there was a curious girl…or Once upon a time there was a girl who…making them tasty as can be for a bedtime snack.

It is no small feat to capture these women’s lives and contributions in such a short passage, retaining her individuality, highlighting something that glints with fascination, and reading not like a wikipedia article but rather an enticing sneak peek at a life you’ll certainly want to explore further. I thoroughly enjoyed reading my way through the whole volume but be aware that these are far from in-depth. That’s how we get 100 of them!

Miriam Makeba, illustration by Helena Morais Soares

Accompanying the stories are a-ma-zing full-page portraits created by an international collection of women artists. Oh, their work is stunning. I love the variety of styles and immense strength exuding from each one.  Riveting. 

At the close of these accounts there’s space for the book’s owner to write her own story and draw her own portrait. A brilliant touch. 

I’d peg this book for ages 7 and up. There is one account of a young, transgender girl, but beyond that there is no discussion of sexuality. Issues such as depression, violence, child marriage, the Holocaust, are softened with tact. It was funded by crowdsourcing and is not available through Amazon. You can order a copy by heading to their website here, and I hope many of you will.  

Margaret Thatcher, Serena and Venus Williams, and Michaela DePrince, illustrations by Debora Guidi.

 

When I read biographies of women, I am often flabbergasted by the variety of activities once considered off-limits to females.  Such perverse undertakings as riding a bicycle, voting, being a nurse, were scandalous not so very long ago.

1967 -- Women were not allowed to run the Boston Marathon.

1967 — Women were not allowed to run the Boston Marathon.

What a concerted effort there has been to convince us that women are simply not apt to be strong, athletic, brave, scientific, reliable, level-headed, smart, capable.

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I am grateful for the determined courage of so many women who buck the constraints of gender and racial restrictions to pursue their dreams, gifts, and callings, opening the door for all of us who follow.

Mary Jane Patterson, the first African American woman to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree!

Thankful for women and men who choose to expand opportunity rather than hinder, honor rather than degrade, spotlight rather than ignore, listen rather than silence, empower rather than oppress.

Today I’ve got a dozen+ biographies of women whose stories inspire us. There are lots more in my Subjects index under Biography which I encourage you to seek out. Plus, I’ve put links to last year’s Women’s History posts at the end of today’s blog.

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Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragists, a Kitten, and 10,000 Miles, written by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Hadley Hooper
published in 2016 by Candlewick Press

Roaring with lemon-yellow verve, this is the account of Nell Richardson and Alice Burke, who in 1916 set out in their jaunty yellow car to drive around America. That was a skyscraper-tall order in those days of “bumpy, muddy, unmapped miles” when automobiles were still newfangled contraptions.

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Their purpose was to campaign for the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment giving the vote to women. This creative, lively telling is plum full of optimism and joy in both text and Hadley’s retro prints. Afterwords tell more about early automobiles and the women’s suffrage movement. Fantastic for ages 5 and up.

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Miss Paul and the President: The Creative Campaign for Women’s Right to Vote, written by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Nancy Zhang
published in 2016 by Alfred A. Knopf

Convincing Woodrow Wilson and the U.S. Congress to support women’s suffrage required dogged determination and out-of-the-box creativity so good thing Alice Paul owned copious amounts of both qualities.

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Planning lavish parades, plunking herself down across the president’s grand desk for a chat, unfurling scrolls down the marble steps of the Capitol with banner-large lettering, organizing massive letter-writing campaigns. Check, check, check, and check. This spirited account of a spirited woman will bolster a can-do attitude in all its readers, ages 5 and up!

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark, written by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley
published in 2016 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

This fabulous biography of Justice Ginsburg pulses with strength and determination. Text, typography, and illustrations work together masterfully to present a portrait of one who faced down stinging discrimination based on both her gender and her Jewish heritage.

I loved learning more about how Ruth’s early resistance to narrowly-drawn boundaries prepared her for a career of profound objecting and dissenting.

And, at this moment in our culture, I am especially glad Debbie Levy includes Ginsburg’s dear friendship with one whose ideas were so often adamantly opposed to her’s, Justice Scalia. Oh, for more friendships across the divides. Excellent, lengthy Author’s Note. This is a strong choice for ages 7 and up.

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Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer, written by Diane Stanley, illustrated by Jessie Hartland
published in 2016; a Paula Wiseman Book from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

The daughter of Lord Byron, Ada was an irrepressibly curious tinkerer, an imaginative, out-of-the-box thinker, from childhood on. Her friendship with Charles Babbage, the designer of what was essentially the first computer, led to her brilliant collaboration with him and her writing of the first computer program in 1843.

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Ada’s story has recently been told in two wonderful books. This one, written by Diane Stanley, reads beautifully, effortlessly, and is illustrated in Jessie Hartland’s delightful, colorful, sunny, style, full of quirk and bustle. Largely accessible to ages 6 and up.

Another equally great choice is:

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Ada’s Ideas: The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World’s First Computer Programmer, written and illustrated by Fiona Robinson
published in 2016 by Abrams Books for Young Readers

The text in this book delves a bit more into the mathematics of what Ada worked out and has just a slightly more elevated feel — more technical, more sophisticated language. It’s better suited to slightly older children, I’d say.

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Robinson’s artwork is fantastic, mirroring the creativity and inventiveness of Ada with its cut-paper designs, mechanical and mathematical references; even the end-papers launch us into the story with their spread of hole-punched programming cards. Ages 8 and up.

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Caroline’s Comets: A True Story, written and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully
published in 2017 by Holiday House

Caroline Herschel was another early female scientist. In fact, she was “the first professional woman scientist,” who teamed up with her brother William in the 1700s to make groundbreaking discoveries in the field of astronomy.

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Such obstacles she overcame as a woman in that society to pursue science! Such perseverance, attention to detail, wonder over the skies, and love of learning were hers to enjoy and employ, making her mark on the world. McCully is one of the best of the best in children’s nonfiction. Her beautiful account of Herschel’s life and legacy is a joy to read, easily accessible to ages 6 and up.

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Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse, by Catherine Reef
published in 2017 by Clarion Books
161 pages

This lengthy biography of the groundbreaking nurse, Florence Nightingale, might put you off with its serious look and bulk, but for girls ages 12 and up who are interested in her life or in a medical career, it’s a fabulous, absorbing read. Excellent choice for adults as well.

For me, the images of The Lady with the Lamp somehow reduced Florence Nightingale to a kindly little helper in the soldiers’ wards when in reality she was an incredibly stalwart person who agonized in her struggle against her family’s and society’s small-minded ideas of what was suitable for a woman to do. Nursing the sick certainly wasn’t one of the proper occupations of a lady, but Nightingale felt called to it and would not relent.

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“Why, oh my God, cannot I be satisfied with the life which satisfies so many people?” she asks. The journey was lonely and difficult. Her courage, fearlessness, iron strength and will turned the field of nursing upside down. I loved bumping into others in this account whose stories I’ve included in my blog previously, including Elizabeth Blackwell, Alexis Soyer, and John Snow.

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Joan of Arc, written and illustrated by Demi
published in 2011 by Marshall Cavendish Children

Demi’s regal, detailed, gold-leaf illustration work is perfectly suited to this story of the unlikely medieval French warrior.

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From her childhood in France with her sensitive heart and early devotion to God, we watch stunned as Joan’s teen-age visions propel her to undertake dangerous journeys, deliver messages that appeared crazy, and lead the French army to dumbfounding victories. Her tragic downfall, burning at the stake, and canonization complete this thought-provoking biography. Ages 7 and up.

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Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education, written by Raphaële Frier, illustrated by Aurélia Fronty, translated by Julie Cormier
first published in France, 2015; first US edition 2017 by Charlesbridge

Aurélia Fronty’s stunning artwork zooms this account of Malala straight past previous children’s biographies about her. Wow. Gorgeous pages, exploding with brilliant color and gorgeous textile patterns make it irresistible!

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Frier unreels a lucid, strong narration of Malala’s life, her relentless pursuit of education for girls. Journey from her childhood, past her attack, through the Nobel Prize, before dipping briefly into her current activism. 8 pages of back matter provide lots more information about Pakistan, the Pashtun people, worldwide education for girls, Islam, other historical peacemakers, and Malala’s ideas. Inspirational and eye-opening for ages 7 and up.

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Tallchief: America’s Prima Ballerina, written by Maria Tallchief with Rosemary Wells, illustrated by Gary Kelley
published in 1999 by Viking

Maria Tallchief was born on an Osage Indian Reservation in 1925 and went on to become one of the greatest American-born ballerinas.

Music and dance coursed through her from the time she was a little girl. Maria was fortunate enough to have parents who supported her dreams. Against all odds, with a fierce work ethic, years of relentless practice, and a love of the dance-music language of ballet, Maria rose to the top.

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Rosemary Wells sat down with Tallchief before her death and helped record her life experiences through her joining the Ballets Russe at age 17. It’s a lovely, fascinating narrative, handsomely illustrated. Ages 7 and up.

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Night Flight: Amelia Earhart Crosses the Atlantic, written by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Wendell Minor
published in 2011; a Paula Wiseman Book by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

When I was a little girl, Amelia Earhart was one of my great heroines. I loved reading about her.

This poetic account of her solo night flight across the Atlantic in May, 1932, illustrates the grit and marvel that mark Earhart’s life. Terrible storms. Broken instruments. Iced-over wings. Seemingly certain disaster. Freezing cold. Toxic fumes.

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With skill and tenacity, Earhart manages to pull through this tremendously difficult adventure. Taut, gripping text from an award-winning author and images from Wendell Minor that strap us right in the cockpit make this a winner for ages 7 and up.

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Nothing by Trouble: The Story of Althea Gibson, written by Sue Stauffacher, illustrated by Greg Couch
published in 2007 by Alfred A. Knopf

Althea Gibson broke the color line in international tennis, winning the Grand Slam in 1956 and the Wimbledon in 1957-58.

All that strength and energy had to be channeled in the right direction, however. As a child, she was “the tallest, wildest tomboy in the history of Harlem,” so they say, who ran right into trouble every way she turned. Sport was just what Althea needed, yet even there, learning to reign in her high emotions and carry herself like a true champion — those were tough lessons.

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Stauffacher spins a vivid account and Couch’s meaningful, vibrant illustrations swirl with the mad energy and spirit of Gibson. Great read about an athlete I knew nothing about. Ages 6 and up.

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America’s Champion Swimmer: Gertrude Ederle, written by David A. Adler, illustrated by Terry Widener
published in 2000 by Gulliver Books, Harcourt Inc.

Gertrude “Trudy” Ederle didn’t learn to swim until she was seven years old. At that time, immediately following her near-drowning in a pond, her father tied a rope around her waist, plunked her in the river and told her to “paddle like a dog.”

Turned out Trudy was a masterful swimmer who loved competition! She began long-distance swimming when she was just 16 years old, swam on the 1924 Olympic team, and then began work on the ultimate challenge — the English Channel. When a newspaper chided her, saying that she and other women ought to forget such things and admit they would “remain forever the weaker sex” it spurred Ederle on all the more.

americas-champion-swimmer-illustration-terry-widener

But what a formidable challenge! Read her harrowing experiences and triumphs in this riveting biography. Handsome illustrations capture the tumultuous swim and the 20’s era. Ages 6 and up.

Here are links to last year’s Women’s History posts. There are many more bios in the Subject listing as well so don’t miss out!

Baby, we’ve done a lot for the world

Frailty, thy name is not woman!

Marching to our own heartbeats

Embracing a worldful of callings

March is Women’s History Month.

I suppose a gamut of responses are possible ranging from indignation over injustice, to celebratory joy, to resolve. As I’ve read and reflected on the topic this year, my thoughts have revolved around gratitude. Gratitude for people who have encouraged and fueled me along my way.

here I am…needing a lot of fueling…in my very 1960s pants!

I’m thankful for my dad who, although he was a pretty conservative guy, was my chief exhorter during my growing up years in the 60s and 70s to believe in my abilities and push myself farther.

Dad would brook no nonsense about school, especially when it came to math. My moans of “I’m just not good at it!” invariably raised his hackles. “I don’t want to hear that! You are perfectly capable of excelling at math.” Confidentially, I still think math is not my strong point…but oh, how glad I am Dad didn’t say, “Well, after all, you’re a girl.”

my dapper dad

Dad did not support the Equal Rights Amendment but wow, he really wanted me to become a lawyer. Dad did not help with the housework, but thought if law was not what I wanted, probably I should head into business. Why did this traditional guy encourage me to fly high, to pursue powerful careers? I don’t know, but looking back I am profoundly thankful for his affirmation, confidence, and big dreams. Thanks, Dad, for never limiting me based on my gender.

I’m thankful for my mom, a traditional post-war happy homemaker, who made me wear patent leather shoes and act like a lady on Sundays, but the rest of the week turned a blind eye while I grubbed about with frogs, climbed trees, and created stinks with my junior chemistry set in the basement.

my happy parents

Growing up in poverty, Mom was not able to get a college education. It was her lifelong sorrow. Her frugality enabled me that opportunity and she insisted early and often that for us girls, a degree came first. Keep those boys at bay! After we finished college we could think about marriage if we wanted to. Thanks, Mom, for holding a sky-high view of education for women.

I’m thankful for my husband who has been happy to walk through life as equal partners in this thing called marriage. Who never called it babysitting when he energetically parented our children. Who has worked hard to understand what white male privilege looks like from other vantage points. Who taught his girls how to fix their bike chains and his son how to make perfect Swedish pancakes.

everyone gets a pack…and Dad get’s two

I’m thankful that both my dad and my husband freely shed tears of happiness, gratitude, sorrow, so that neither I nor my children ever grew up with the notion that women are the emotional ones. Thanks, Kurt, for resisting squinchy boxes that weaken both sons and daughters, husbands and wives.

I’m thankful for Elsie, my mom-in-law, who raised her son to be at home in the kitchen! Thankful for my brilliant son who finds it normal to work with and for women scientists as he pursues his doctorate. Thankful for my keenly insightful daughters who keep teaching me about hidden, costly assumptions I and our society make about women and men.

I’m thankful to belong to a church full of strong men who are not threatened by equally strong women. For my soul-sisters, J., A., and L. — together we have lifted one another and challenged one another to flourish despite the sexism we have faced. Thankful for Alvera, my favorite college professor, who blew the doors off the ideas of gender inequality I had absorbed to that point.

And I’m thankful for writers who dig out stories of smart, talented, brave, determined women who did not have the support I’ve had but who nevertheless blessed the world. Their contributions have at times been squelched, lost, or under-reported because of their gender. Hearing their stories inspires me. No kidding.

I’ll be highlighting some of these books over the next couple days. I hope you’ll come back to find some gems that fuel awareness and gratitude for women throughout history.

Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille, written by Jennifer Bryant, illustrated by Boris Kulikov
published in 2016 by  Alfred A. Knopf

On one hand, Louis Braille doesn’t need any introduction. His name speaks for itself. It must be among the most recognizable in the world.

On the other hand, the story of his childhood, appalling accident that led to blindness, quest for learning, and sheer brilliance and dogged persistence in developing a written code to uncloak the world for the blind — this fascinating story does need telling and hearing.

And there are numerous biographies of Braille for children. This newest one by Jen Bryant, though, tells it exceptionally well, ushering us right into Braille’s experience. As Bryant says in her Author’s Note, she wanted to answer the question, “What did it FEEL like to be Louis Braille?” By digging into the emotions of Braille’s story rather than only the facts, she gifts us with this superb book.

Boris Kulikov’s inspired illustration work plunges us into darkness right alongside Louis, then gorgeously illuminates his world.  Little wonder it received a 2017  Schneider Family Book Award, a category honoring the artistic expression of the disability experience for children.

Braille spent years slaving over his code, determined to craft one efficient enough to give the blind opportunity to read anything and everything available to sighted persons. And he did this as a child, producing his nearly-final code at age 15. What a fitting story to share with children, ages 6 and up.

A Q&A at the end of the book reveals lots more about Braille and his marvelously curious, inventive mind.

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