Power isn't always the exclusive privilege of males. Lives of Extraordinary Women (ages 8-12) proves this with captivating, concise, and entertaining stories of 20 of the world's most powerful women. What sets this book apart from other attempts to redress the balance of male vs. female contributions to world history is style. A fresh slightly cheeky, yet ultimately respectful tone describes these fascinating folks, and the appealing artwork borders on caricature. The portraits display disproportionately large heads, but with historically accurate renderings of costume and accouterments a combination in keeping with the light-hearted but serious mood of the text. All of the selected personalities may be seen cavorting on the cover in an anachronistic array, spurring curious readers to open the book and identity them. Kids will think all of this is cool.

The entries are in chronological order, from Cleopatra and her donkey milk baths and world-famous library, to Rigoberta Menchu, the Guatemalan leader who became the first Indian to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Kids will recognize a few right away: Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth, Harriet Tubman, for example, but will no doubt be surprised by many facts hitherto unknown. Other entries may be entirely new, such as: Hung San Suu Kyi, the revolutionary Burmese leader; Gertrude Bell, the British spy and liaison to Iraq; and Wilma Mankiller, the first elected female chief of the Cherokee Nation.

Each entry receives about three large pages of text with illustration just enough to lay out big facts and sprinkle in juicy details that make an historical personage seem more "real." Readers may be delighted or dismayed to find out that women leaders are not necessarily any nicer than the men who usually get top billing. For example, Nzingha, the 17th century "king" (she preferred this title to "queen") in Portuguese West Africa was so opportunistic she converted to cannibalism to impress another tribe.

Although every female leader may not be an ideal role model for our youth, at least Lives of Extraordinary Women supplies a few more honest, detailed portraits of candidates to consider in the first place.

The result is a wonderful, all-too brief book that entertains as it instructs, and will no doubt whet appetites for further exploration and research.

Joanna Brichetto lives her extraordinary life in Nashville.

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