In honor of Women's History Month, we're spotlighting a group of books that will entertain and inform young readers about some important females who helped shape our world. From authors to pilots to politicians, women have with courage, knowledge and yes, muscle! filled a variety of roles throughout history. These books celebrate their special contributions.
The dark, gothic cover of Sharon Darrow's Through the Tempests Dark and Wild: A Story of Mary Shelley, Creator of Frankenstein beckons the young reader with the promise of a dark tale. The book doesn't disappoint. The narrative of Mary's childhood is a sad one, more like a Cinderella story, but without the happy ending. Mary's mother, the radical thinker Mary Wollstonecraft, died in childbirth. Her father remarried to a woman who did not care for his stepdaughter. Mary was sent to Scotland to live with the Baxters, family friends with whom she spent two happy years, growing close to the Baxter children, Isabel and Robert. Later, Mary's marriage to the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and the too-late proposal of Robert Baxter add to the general sadness of the woman who went on to write one of the most famous books of all time. The fascinating details, accompanied by Angela Barrett's dark, overcast watercolors, made me want to blow the dust off of my old copy of Frankenstein and read it again with greater understanding of its author.
There has been a growing interest in women overlooked by the history books. Nikki Grimes examines one such figure in Talkin' About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman. Grimes presents the tale as a series of fictional voices from Bessie's life and such unique and varied voices they are! From her parents and siblings to an unnamed field hand, the author's free verse monologues paint a complex picture of the aviator and her times. Grimes works in references to Jim Crow laws, World War I, discrimination against women and many other fascinating details of life in the early 1900s. She paints a picture of a real character vibrant, stubborn, publicity-seeking, tough and proud. "Queen Bess," one reporter called her. Accompanying Grimes' words about this little-known figure are stunning watercolors by E.B. Lewis, which recently earned him the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award. This is a beautiful book about an unforgettable woman.
The pitcher is in the box, winding up with a fastball but wait, this player is different! She's wearing a dress! Deborah Hopkinson (a frequent contributor to BookPage) has written Girl Wonder: A Baseball Story in Nine Innings, the fascinating tale of Alta Weiss, a woman who pitched for a semi-pro men's team in 1907. Terry Widener's stylized acrylic illustrations add to the tall-tale feel of Hopkinson's first-person narrative. Whether it's Alta's dead-on strike with a well-thrown corncob or her delightfully oversized glove, Widener captures the larger-than-life story of the doctor's daughter who defies social norms to pitch with the Vermillion Independents of Ohio. A timeline highlighting the role of women in baseball follows the story.
Cheryl Harness is back with Rabble Rousers: 20 Women Who Made a Difference, 20 short, informational essays about famous women in history. Much more than the traditional resource for school projects, this volume celebrates the lives of women who changed America by seeking equality of opportunity for all. The book is full of names that most people will recognize: Sojouner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Eleanor Roosevelt. But what will make the reader stop and explore further are the lesser-known faces of history. Ida Wells-Barnett's feisty life as a black newspaper writer and publisher is told in its boldness. And who knew there was a woman like Mary E. Lease ("Yellin' Mary Ellen, the Kansas Pythoness") who worked for the rights of Kansas homesteaders being gouged by bankers and became a lawyer for the Populist movement. Harness includes many memorable details that will hook readers. More than just a fine historical resource, this is captivating reading.