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Posts Tagged ‘women’s history month’

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

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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.

 

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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.

carolines-comets-illustration-emily-arnold-mccully

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.

florence-nightingale

“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.

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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

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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.

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images-25Western notions of femininity have traditionally been a bit frilly and swoony, with a generous ladle of helplessness thrown in for good measure.

The title of my blog today comes from Jane Austen, who famously said, “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us wants to be in calm waters all our lives.”

The women in today’s list, my final Women’s History Month post, were anything but preening, wispy li’l thangs. Intrepid, strong, courageous, daring, determined — those aren’t words for the Boys Only Club. Read their stories, beginning with:

the bravest woman in america cover imageThe Bravest Woman in America, by Marissa Moss, illustrations by Andrea U’Ren
published in 2011 by Tricycle Press

Ida Lewis grew up with the ocean for a backyard. Her father was lighthouse keeper on Lime Rock off of Newport, Rhode Island. Ida hankered to share in his work from the time she was a young girl, and her keen father was good enough to hand her the oars and tell her to row for all she was worth.

the bravest woman in america interior moss and u'ren

Years of blisters and aching muscles later, with her father too ill to help, Ida’s stamina, courage, and lessons in ocean rescue paid off as she manned the lighthouse and rowed out into tumultuous seas time and again, dragging shipwrecked sailors out of the icy water to safety. This epic story will rivet the attention of kids ages 5 and up. U’Ren’s arresting artwork echoes the valor of Lewis, who once said, “Anyone who thinks it is un-feminine to save lives has the brains of a donkey.” Amen, Ida!

nurse soldier spy cover imageNurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds, a Civil War Hero, by Marissa Moss, illustrations by John Hendrix
published in 2011 by Abrams Books for Young Readers

Sarah Edmonds just might win the award for Most Audacious Female on the list today. At age 16, in order to escape an arranged marriage, Edmonds chopped off her hair, pulled on some trousers, and began living life as a man. Three years later we find her enlisting in the Union Army as private Frank Thompson.

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Frank/Sarah was a sharp-shooting, good-natured soldier, a nurse with nerves of steel, and an intrepid friend, dashing into hails of bullets to rescue his/her mates. And that’s just the beginning of it! I promise you do not want to miss the story of this patriotic, kindhearted, determined woman. John Hendrix’s engaging illustrations are packed with period detail and vivid characters. Don’t miss the author and illustrator notes where you will learn more about Edmonds and about how better to appreciate the art of picture books. Ages 5 and up.

Fearless Flyer cover imageFearless Flyer: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine, by Heather Lang, illustrated by Raúl Colón
published in 2016 by Calkins Creek

Ruth Law was an aviator who performed theatrical acrobatics in those early, flimsy-looking bi-planes, dipping and loop-de-looping and spiraling towards earth in death-defying dives. Yet her greatest accomplishment, requiring the most courage, endurance, strength, and nerve, was a flight from Chicago to New York City.

Fearless Flyer interior lang and colon

That may not sound like much to us today, but this account of her journey in which she broke the record for longest non-stop flight, brings us right into the cockpit with her, icicles dangling from her hair and all! to discover the painful hardships and narrow scrapes involved in her venture. Witness Law’s keen mechanical knowledge of her plane which paved the way to success, and her outstanding perseverance. All this in an inferior plane to what male pilots were flying, because they wouldn’t sell the newest model to her as a woman! Colón’s artwork is ravishing, as always, flooded with the golden, sunlit fields and turquoise skies Law surveyed as she flew. Ages 6 and up.

how kate warne saved president lincoln cover imageHow Kate Warne Saved President Lincoln, by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk, illustrated by Valentina Belloni
published in 2016 by Albert Whitman and Company

In 1856, Kate Warne showed up at the famous Pinkerton’s Detective Agency offices, told them she was looking for a job, and convinced them that she, as a woman, would make the ideal addition to their force.

how kate warne saved president lincoln illustration valentina belloni

Warne was right — she could slip into female company and winkle out information like nobody’s business. And she played a key role in saving President-elect Lincoln’s life from murderous conspirators. This intriguing, upbeat story of the country’s first woman detective is just right for ages 5 and up. For older readers, hand them The Detective’s Assistant, a delightful piece of historical-fiction about Warne that I reviewed here.

the daring nellie bly cover imageThe Daring Nellie Bly: America’s Star Reporter, written and illustrated by Bonnie Christensen
published in 2003 by Alfred A. Knopf

Nellie Bly shouldered her way into the world of journalism when women were normally assigned the tea-party beat. Nellie wanted to cover serious news. Beginning by investigating the real lives of working women, she went on to expose corruption in the Mexican government, then took perhaps her most risky assignment, going undercover in an insane asylum, a world filled with horrific abuse.

the daring nellie bly interior bonnie christensen

It was Bly’s venture to beat Phineas Fogg’s around-the-world travel record that made her much more than a household name — she was “the best known and most widely talked of young woman on earth” after her triumph. Bly made use of her journalistic opportunities to draw attention to critical social issues. This handsomely-illustrated account is a bit on the long-ish side; try it for kids ages 7 or 8 and up.

skit scat raggedy cat cover imageSkit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald, by Roxane Orgill, illustrated by Sean Qualls
published in 2010 by Candlewick Press

Ella Fitzgerald did not battle ocean storms, enemy soldiers, murderous villains, or frustrating shipping delays. Her struggles were with poverty,  the early death of her mother, a father whose ill-treatment drove her from home, an abusive orphanage, and a desperate longing for love.

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Fitzgerald had to be tough. This isn’t the kind of toughness we wish for anyone to need, but it’s the kind of toughness required of too many young women. Fitzgerald worked the crowds, overcame the embarrassment of her raggedy appearance, pressed on despite fear and nervousness, and rose to stardom. Share her tail of grit and glamour, illustrated in Sean Quall’s striking, cool-urban artwork, with ages 7 or 8 and up.

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One of the joys of writing these posts for Women’s History Month is seeing, in this condensed moment of time, the array of callings women have embraced through time and around the world. I hope you enjoy discovering the women in today’s post, starting in Kenya with…

wangari maathai cover imageWangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees, by Franck Prévot, illustrated by Aurélia Fronty
first published, 2012 in France; first U.S. edition published in 2015 by Charlesbridge

Wangari Maathai’s calling was to help heal her land, Kenya, from the rapid deforestation and resulting soil depletion, water contamination, loss of wildlife, and agricultural impoverishment. For this, she needed to be a stalwart person, unflinching in the face of huge odds, discrimination, and hostility.

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Maathai was immensely successful, adding work for women’s rights and a more democratic government to her pursuits, and winning the Nobel Peace Prize for her work using environmental restoration to rebuild communities.

This engaging biography is gorgeously illustrated with ravishing color and includes a timeline, photographs, and websites for further investigation. Ages 6 and up.

miss mary reporting cover imageMiss Mary Reporting: The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber, Sue Macy, illustrated by C.F. Payne
published in 2016, a Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Mary Garber’s calling was to tell stories about athletes to the public, and particularly to give equal attention to stories of black athletes at a time when segregated sporting events meant they were largely ignored. She endured criticism, slights, and countless hurdles as she broke into a field previously reserved for men, yet after 50 years of sportswriting, she was voted into the sportswriters’ hall of fame.

miss mary reporting interior macy and payne

I loved learning about Mary and her unflagging interest in the sporting world. I especially loved hearing how her own unappreciated status gave her empathy and awareness of other under-represented people, and of how she brought them into the spotlight. It’s lovely to see someone turn her hurts into good rather than bitterness. Magnificently warm, human illustrations flood these pages with period atmosphere. A delight for ages 7 and up.

Bon Appetit cover imageBon Appétit!: The Delicious Life of Julia Child, written and illustrated by Jessie Hartland
published in 2012 by Schwartz & Wade

Julia Child’s calling was to make delicious food for the delight of others and to teach them to cook it as well. Her bubbly enthusiasm, irrepressible can-do attitude, boundless optimism made the world fall in love with her.

Jessie Hartland’s illustration-saturated, hand-lettered pages reflect Child’s ebullience marvelously.

bon appetit interior jessie hartland

Sheer delight from the end-papers right on through, from Julia’s birth in 1912 to her death in 2004. Plus — a recipe for crêpes so you can dabble in a little French cooking yourself! A joyous offering for ages 6 and up.

of numbers and stars cover imageOf Numbers and Stars: The Story of Hypatia, by D. Anne Love, illustrated by Pam Paparone
published in 2006 by Holiday House

Hypatia’s calling was to scholarship in mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy. Though she lived in 4th century Egypt — an era and location in which few women ever learned even to read or write — Hypatia had a father who believed in educating girls equally to boys. Hallelujah!

of numbers and stars cover image

Revel in the wondrous span of ideas and pursuits opened to Hypatia, until she took her seat as a robed scholar, lecturing “a constant stream of students” from Egypt and regions beyond. I love this extraordinary person and I love her open-minded, open-hearted father. Beautifully illustrated in child-friendly acrylic paintings, this is ancient history that’s accessible to children ages 4 and up.

mother teresa cover imageMother Teresa, written and illustrated by Demi
published in 2005 by Margaret K. McElderry Books

Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu’s calling was to care for the poorest of the poor, treat the dying with dignity, tend to those who felt unwanted, all in the name of service to God. As Mother Teresa, she worked tirelessly her whole life to translate her faith into acts of charity.

mother teresa interior by Demi

Demi’s biography incorporates a number of Mother Teresa’s prayers and direct quotes as she traces her life from childhood in Macedonia and Croatia, to an abbey in Ireland, and then a long life in Calcutta. Demi’s intricate illustrations are splendid as always. Included is a chronicle of Mother Teresa’s journey toward canonization. An inspirational read for ages 8 to adult.

who says women can't be doctors cover imageWho Says Women Can’t Be Doctors?: The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell, by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
published in 2013 by Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company

Elizabeth Blackwell’s calling was to become a doctor at a time when only men were allowed in that profession, and to use her medical skills to treat many female patients who preferred the care of a woman.

Most children today cannot fathom the non-existence of women in medicine. Think of the skilled, compassionate, cutting-edge, and female,  pediatric oncologists, psychiatrists, family physicians, who take such tremendous care of us.

who says women can't be doctors interior stone and priceman

Of course, this has not always been the case. When Elizabeth Blackwell decided to become a doctor, most people found the idea either ridiculous, impossible, or scandalous. Thank goodness she, like Hypatia, had a father who valued an equal education for his daughters, and that she also had the guts, intelligence, and perseverance to become the first woman doctor in America. This biography has all the verve of Blackwell herself, illustrated in Priceman’s fabulously-energetic line and color. A brilliant read for ages 5 and up.

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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 cover imageDrum 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.

drum dream girl illustration rafael lopez

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 cover imageAda 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.

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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 cover imagePaiute 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.

paiute princess illustration deborah kogan ray

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 cover imageIrena’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.

irena's jars of secrets illustration ron mazellan

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 cover imageFlorence 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.

florence nightingale interior by demi

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 cove imageMe…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.

me...jane illustration patrick mcdonnell

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, the watcher cover imagepersonal 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 cover imageLullaby (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.

lullaby for a black mother illustration sean qualls

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.

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