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Kids Book Review for Women’s History Month – Remarkable Women

WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH
A ROUNDUP OF THE BEST BOOKS FOR KIDS

 

The wonderful thing about nonfiction biographies is that, when done well, they will take us on a journey full of facts, stories, and struggles that will not only enlighten us but also keep us glued to the page, even when we know the outcome. The following books we’ve selected to share for Women’s History Month are excellent examples of recent biographies about extraordinary, trailblazing women whose legacies are enduring and whose contributions remain invaluable serving as powerful role models for generations to come. Find out more about Hedy Lamarr, Susan B. Anthony and Ada Byron Lovelace below.

 

cover art by Katy Wu from Hedy Lamarr's Double Life by Laurie WallmarkHEDY LAMARR’S DOUBLE LIFE: 
Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor
Written by Laurie Wallmark
Illustrated by Katy Wu
(Sterling Children’s Books; $16.99, Ages 5 and up)

Wallmark’s chosen a fascinating woman to profile in her illuminating picture book biography of Hedy Lamarr. The Hollywood legend was more than dazzlingly beautiful actress, she was a secret inventor whose “greatest invention was the technology known as frequency-hopping spread spectrum” which has played a crucial role in keeping “our cell phone messages private” and keeping our computers hack-free. Although she knew she was more than just her looks, Lamarr chose to hide this talent from public and didn’t sell her inventions.

Born in Austria in 1920 (100 years after Susan B. Anthony), Hedy was a curious child who, when other kids would likely be out playing, was pre-occupied with how things worked. Her father encouraged her interest in science and technology which no doubt had a positive impact on the young girl. She also had a love of cinema and pretending so it was no surprise she gravitated towards a career in the movies. “I acted all the time … I was a little living copybook. I wrote people down on me.”  Eventually doors opened for Hedy when a famous film producer offered her a seven-year film contract. She left her homeland for the bright lights of Hollywood, had her name changed to Hedy Lamarr from Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler and went on to star in films with some of the industry’s most popular leading men including Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable.

With her wondering mind at work all the time, even after a day of filming, Lamarr always was thinking about a way to improve on things already in existence or to create something new. That was especially true during WWII. So when she met composer George Antheil, a former weapons inspector, she learned from him that the U.S. Navy, like the European ones, had trouble with the enemy jamming their weapons’ radio signals. Hedy wondered if there was a way to counter this. With the piano as the impetus for a new idea, Hedy thought there might be a way to change frequencies like playing the same keys on a piano in different octaves, and by doing so build a secure torpedo guidance system. And so, after a lot of hard work, they did. Together with Antheil they shared their invention and were told it was “red-hot” but it still needed more work to operate effectively. While the pair eventually received their patent, the Navy “refused to develop” this ground-breaking technology and even classified it as secret so no one else could use the idea. Ultimately they never earned a penny from this breakthrough.

Undeterred by her thwarted efforts to help her adopted homeland, Hedy found success by getting behind the war bond effort, selling millions. Lamarr also took time to meet with servicemen at the Hollywood Canteen and pitched in any way she could. She retired From the movie business in the late 50s and only in the last twenty years has been earning the recognition long overdue. Wu’s artwork is just the right amount of subject and space, and pulls us into every illustration, my favorite being the one where Lamarr and Antheil first meet at a dinner party. Her simple depictions of Lamarr’s big green eyes, sculpted nose and brown hair are terrific. Wallmark’s added a “Timeline” and “Secrets of the Secret Communications System” in the back matter for young readers to learn more about “jam-proofing” technology. I love how even the endpapers are filled with artwork and details about Lamarr. Plus readers will find a “Selected Bibliography,” “Additional Reading About Other Women in Stem” and a list of “Hedy Lamarr’s Films.” Award-winning author Wallmark’s also written picture book biographies about Ada Byron Lovelace and Grace Hopper.  Add Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life to the list of must-read biographies.

Susan B Anthony The Making of America by Teri Kanefield book cover image and artSUSAN B. ANTHONY:
The Making of America #4
Written by Teri Kanefield
(Abrams BYR; $16.99, Ages 10-14)

Prepare to be impressed by the tireless commitment and inroads Susan B. Anthony made for women’s suffrage as detailed by Teri Kanefield in Susan B. Anthony: The Making of America, book #4 in this inspiring series in which each volume “tells the story of an American leader who helped shaped the United States” that we know today. My review copy is so dog-eared to mark the countless passages I wanted to return to. What Kanefield successfully does from the Prologue forward is thoughtfully convey the most important aspects of Anthony’s life so kids will see the evolution of her beliefs beginning with her Quaker upbringing, her teaching years and all the way through to her time lecturing across America as an abolitionist and women’s rights activist.

What comes across to the reader is that Anthony, born in 1820, prior to the Victorian era, from an early age held strong convictions that everyone should be treated as equals. At that time in our country’s history women were supposed to raise families and keep their noses out of politics and practically everything else unless it concerned homemaking. They were only allowed to work in a limited amount of jobs: teacher, seamstress or nanny. They were prohibited from owning property and, in the case of estrangement in a marriage, the man gained custody of the children. In fact, it was not uncommon for a man to have his wife committed to an insane asylum if he wanted out of the marriage.

The immoral slave trade was the most divisive issue, even among Quakers at that time. To Anthony, people of color as well as women were not second class citizens, destined to remain subservient to white men. This was considered a radical idea in the early 19th century and she did not have an easy path as she tried, along with her friend and fellow activist, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, to bring about change and a new amendment to the Constitution giving women the vote. Frederick Douglass was a friend with whom she worked to help first abolish slavery and then gain constitutional protection for free slaves. However, before slavery was abolished and even after, prominent politicians and leaders cautioned her to put her agenda for women’s rights on hold. This was unacceptable. Anthony, along with her friend and staunchest ally, Stanton, challenged the notion that women had to forgo their wants and needs and remained determined “to ride roughshod over obstacles, ignore critics, and take help wherever they could get it.” The support of Anthony’s large family was a constant throughout her life and I wonder how she’d have managed without them during the numerous times she was broke or in debt. Her intelligence and quick wit made her the ideal person to speak on behalf of the suffrage movement but it’s worth noting that she also gravitated towards defending anyone whose rights were being abused.

This well-researched biography is filled with maps, photos, flyers, posters and advertisements that help paint a picture of American society during Anthony’s life. Even something like a lady’s corset could be symbolic of the self-imposed restrictions 19th century women placed upon themselves due to societal norms that a woman should have an hourglass figure. “Girls as young as seven were laced into overly tight corsets.” Also included are Notes, a Time Line, Selected Writings of Susan B. Anthony, a Bibliography, Acknowledgments and an Index.

By the time she died at age 86, four states allowed women to vote but it wasn’t until President Woodrow Wilson and the start of WWI that an amendment to give women the vote would gain traction, ultimately becoming the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, also called the Susan B. Anthony amendment, in 1920, fourteen years after her death. Kanefield’s invaluable biography paints a portrait of an American hero whose convictions  changed the course of American history

 

book cover illustration from Dreaming in Code Ada Byron Lovelace Computer PioneerDREAMING IN CODE
Ada Byron Lovelace, Computer Pioneer
Written by Emily Arnold McCully
(Candlewick Press; $19.99, Ages 12 and up)

I told everyone about Ada Byron Lovelace after finishing Dreaming in Code. I had heard her name in regards to code but it ended there. I knew nothing of the back story that led to this brilliant woman’s presaging today’s computer era almost two centuries ago!

Ada Byron Lovelace was born in England at the end of 1815, just five years before Susan B. Anthony. Augusta Ada Byron, was the daughter of the celebrated poet George Gordon, Lord Byron, and his “prim, religious” wife, Anne Isabella Noel, called Annabella, a woman of wealth and intelligence. The couple did not remain together due to his philandering and squandering of money among other things so Ada, as she became known, was raised by a single mother. Annabella was a self-centered hypochondriac yet quite philanthropic at the same time and left it to nannies, governesses and tutors to raise her child while she spent time away visiting her newly inherited holdings and helping the coal miners under her employ. McCully engagingly details how Ada flourished from her education although she remained removed from society until her mother deemed it necessary to find her a husband.

Around this time Ada met Charles Babbage, “famous inventor, philosopher (as scientists were then called) and mathematician”  who held Isaac Newton’s chair at Cambridge University. Theirs was to be a long and intense, though completely platonic, relationship as they discussed big ideas since both were passionate about math and science. Their friendship provided Ada with the outlet she needed for stimulation. However things grew complicated when she married William, Lord King who became the Earl of Lovelace and soon became a mother. Though not as cold as her own mother, Ada, too, found it difficult to parent when her loyalties lay elsewhere. These chapters were some of the most fascinating ones yet sad at the same time. She often felt ill and, as was common in the early 19th century, was prescribed Laudanum, a tincture of opium viewed as a cure-all. That addiction had to have contributed to her early death at age 37.

As Countess of Lovelace, Ada mixed with a cross-section of society and attended talks on science given by brilliant minds of the era such as Michael Faraday. Ada also wanted to help Babbage and his Analytical Engine and at the same time make her own mark in the science and math fields. Here’s where her genius shone through. While Babbage saw his invention as “arithmetical and numerical, rather than algebraical and analytical,” Ada believed the machine could do more than compute … “that numbers were symbols and could represent other concepts, is what makes Babbage’s engine a prototype-computer.” Sadly, Lovelace lived in era when women were overshadowed by men and women’s freedoms were limited. We can only begin to imagine what miraculous achievements she’d have made had she only lived longer.

With the very readable Dreaming in Code highlighting her meticulous research, McCully has shed light on Ada Byron Lovelace, an important historical figure whose contributions to the field of STEM are finally getting the recognition they deserve. I recommend this young adult nonfiction book for anyone seeking to get a better understanding of the era in which Lovelace lived and how she was inspired to think outside the box.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Read about the friendship of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass here.
Read another book, Dare The Wind, illustrated Emily Arnold McCully here.

 

 

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Getting Away With Murder: The True Story of The Emmett Till Case by Chris Crowe

GETTING AWAY WITH MURDER:
The True Story of The Emmett Till Case
Written by Chris Crowe
(Speak/Dial BYR; $10.99, Ages 12 and up)

 

cover image from Getting Away With Murder by Chris Crowe

 

Author Chris Crowe first wrote Getting Away With Murder: The True Story of The Emmett Till Case, a riveting and award-winning nonfiction book, back in 2003. Today I’m reviewing a revised edition that “has been updated to reflect the newest information about Emmett’s life and untimely death …” which should be read by every teen to understand the Jim Crow era South and “the hate crime that helped spark the civil rights movement.” 

In the L.A. Times on Friday, July 13, I read that the Emmett Till case has once again been reopened based upon new information that has come to the attention of authorities. I needed to know more. Over the years I only learned snippets about the case because, like a majority of students to this day, I was never taught the Till case in school. Now that I’ve read Crowe’s engaging, well-crafted and meticulously researched book, I know about the grave miscarriage of justice that occurred in Mississippi in 1955. In an intro, eight chapters, a detailed time line plus back matter, Crowe examines events leading up to the brazen and brutal murder of 14-year-old African American, Emmett Till, the subsequent trial and later developments that culminated in the exhumation of Till’s body. Crowe’s also tied in the Black Lives Matter movement that grew out of the senseless Trayvon Martin killing. For those yet to read Getting Away With Murder, Crowe puts all the events that take place into historical context by educating us about current events of the time period. For example, the heinous, racist crime against Till took place three months prior to Rosa Parks’ historic bus activism and was an important catalyst in the civil rights movement. Covering the case should be part of every school’s curriculum especially given that innocent black lives continue to be taken 63 years on.

Emmett Till and his mother lived in Chicago, but when his Uncle Mose Wright, a sharecropper from the Mississippi Delta region, invited him for a visit, he jumped at the opportunity to spend time with his family. It was the summer following eighth grade and fun-loving Emmett was feeling good. His mother, on the other hand, felt nervous. Mrs. Mamie Till Bradley knew that, while she and her son lived in a segregated Chicago neighborhood, theirs was a relatively racial violence free existence. Emmett didn’t have to deal with the harsh realities and repercussions of the Deep South Jim Crow era laws. But Mamie was from Mississippi. She worried Emmett wouldn’t take the law or her advice seriously and sadly she mother was right. He found her cautions silly.

Once with his southern family, Emmett was boastful about his life in Chicago, about how he interacted with and claimed to date white women. Not long after his arrival, in the nearby town of Money, Till was egged on by his cousins. He went into Bryant’s Grocery & Meat Market, a small white-owned store belonging to Roy and Carolyn, to chat up the woman. Bryant was out of town on a delivery and his wife was alone in the store. Things turned bad quickly when Emmett, who didn’t “appreciate the seriousness of this Southern taboo …” entered Bryan’t market, asked for some candy and then made a pass at Carolyn. According to her statement, “… when she held out her hand for his money, … he grabbed it, pulled her toward him, and said, ‘How about a date, baby?'” Some other interaction occurred as well. This was followed by a wolf whistle after Emmett had been pulled from the store by his friends.

When nothing happened for several nights everyone thought Emmett was in the clear. As we know, such was not the case. When Bryant returned from his trip, he and his half-brother, J. W. “Big” Milam, kidnappped Emmett in the middle of the night. The men felt retaliation was required to defend Bryant’s wife’s honor and teach the boy a lesson so they tortured him. When he was defiant, they killed him. One of five lawyers, J. J. Breland, who eventually took on the defendant’s case said they all felt intense pressure to “let the North know that we are not going to put up with Northern negroes ‘stepping over the line.'” As the title implies, the men were acquitted. While in their minds justice prevailed, it clearly had not. The case won national coverage due to multiple reasons, but one of the most crucial ones was Mamie Till Bradley’s decision to have an open casket at Emmett’s funeral so the world could see just what had been done to her son.

Getting Away With Murder explains how much of what happened that summer was driven by racism, fear and anger. Bryant and his fellow Southerners were unhappy about the recent Brown v. Board of Education decision mandating desegregation in schools. The majority of the population in the segregated South did not want their way of life to change, especially if dictated by Northerners. But it was truly the beginning of the end for them.

There were many surprises in the book for me but I don’t want to share them all here. While their significance is of the utmost importance, I think they have to be read first hand to appreciate the implications and feel the outrage. What’s sad about this pivotal event in our country’s history is that while a lot has changed, a lot has unfortunately remained the same in regards to racism. Last night I described the Emmett Till case to my husband who had never heard of it. My 17-year-old son had. My son said he found out more details from me than what he had originally learned. My husband thanked me. We must keep sharing the story. I recommend picking up a copy of Chris Crowe’s book for your teens. They will thank you .

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein by Lita Judge

MARY’S MONSTER: LOVE, MADNESS,
 AND HOW MARY SHELLEY CREATED FRANKENSTEIN
Written and illustrated by Lita Judge
(Roaring Brook Press; $21.99, Ages 15-18)

 

Starred Review- School Library Journal

 

cover illustration from Lita Judge's Mary's Monster graphic novel

 

I find it fitting that on this night there is a dark storm blowing outside my window. I can almost imagine that I am writing this review of Mary’s Monster by candle light in the mid 1800s. But I’m not. I’m sitting here at my compu​t​er preparing to describe to you a story that has haunted me since I first saw the cover of this gripping YA graphic biography about renowned English novelist, Mary Shelley.

Prologue spread from Mary's Monster by Lita Judge

Interior artwork from Mary’s Monster written and illustrated by Lita Judge, Roaring Brook Press ©2018.

Author/illustrator Lita Judge has woven an impossibly romantic and tragic story. From the chilling prologue, written by the monster himself, to the fascinating back matter, this is an extraordinary account of the life of Mary Shelley, creator of the literary classic, Frankenstein. Judge’s writing is lyrical and yet full of history and meaning. To know that the story is based on historical documents, such as Mary Shelley’s writings, makes it all the more fascinating. The sparse and poetic text, combined with the beautifully haunting black and white artwork, invites the teen reader to think deeply and become immersed in Shelley’s world.

Interior spread by Lita Judge from Mary's Monster

Interior artwork from Mary’s Monster written and illustrated by Lita Judge, Roaring Brook Press ©2018.

The reader is subtlely but thoroughly introduced to the social and political influences that shaped Mary Shelley’s beliefs and choices. Lita Judge masterfully unfolds the events of Shelley’s life, from the abuse and loss she suffered in childhood, to her forbidden love affair with a married man, to the madness of opium addiction, to her experiences as a woman in an oppressive society. In all of this, Judge shows us Shelley’s inspiration. Mary Shelley’s monster took shape as an expression of herself. Not just of her creative mind, but also of her struggles, her nightmares, her fears for the future, and her desire to heal her pain.

The Dead Back to Life int. spread from Lita Judge's Mary's Monster

Interior artwork from Mary’s Monster written and illustrated by Lita Judge, Roaring Brook Press ©2018.

I applaud Lita Judge for her thoroughness and her gift of storytelling. In what is the 200th anniversary year of Frankenstein’s first publication, Judge’s timely and relevant book belongs alongside Shelley’s Gothic horror tale as an ideal companion guide to understanding her monster and her world, as well as ours.

As Judge writes at the end of Mary’s story, “We can affect the lives of generations to come if we are brave enough to open the wings of our imagination and create!”

And so you have, Lita Judge, and we thank you!

See Judge at the Tucson Festival of Books/
University of Arizona
1200 East University Boulevard
Tucson, AZ 85719

Saturday, March 10, 2018
1:00 PM

More on Lita Judge:
Twitter
Author Blog
Author Web Site

 

Here’s a link to another recent YA book review.

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Pure Grit by Mary Cronk Farrell

Pure Grit: How American World War II Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific by Mary Cronk Farrell, (Abrams Books for Young Readers 2014, $24.95, Ages 12 and up), is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

“I wondered if I would die and how I would die. I hoped to be quiet and brave.” – Nurse Maude “Denny” Williams as U.S. Troops surrendered to the Japanese (p. 67).1386116620

Pure Grit  is the gripping story about the 101 U. S. Army and Navy nurses taken prisoner by the Japanese during World War II. Farrell demonstrates that while women’s military service has been basically ignored by historians, their contributions have been enormous. These unsung heroes faced the same dangers of war that the male soldiers did, while caring for the wounded and comforting the dying.

In the early 1940s, the U.S military assignments in the Philippines were pretty routine and included a swinging night life. That quickly changed following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and the Philippines. Nurses, inexperienced with treating battlefield wounds, rose to the occasion and assisted huge numbers of wounded and dying soldiers under grueling and frightening conditions. Malnutrition, due to severe rationing, and unsanitary conditions became very serious issues. One nurse wrote:

“This morning I sat down to “breakfast” which consisted of a tablespoon of cold beef hash on a dirty plate (no water for washing dishes) … and nothing more available until 6pm …” (p. 65).

The American and Filipino troops surrendered to the Japanese on May 6, 1942. Although some of the 101 nurses were safely evacuated, 77 were taken prisoner by the Japanese. Despite horrific conditions and declining health, the nurses cared for each other and civilian prisoners incarcerated with them. By October, 1944, Farrell notes the prisoners at St. Tomas Internment camp were down to six ounces of food per day.

After their February, 1945 liberation, the nurses faced other obstacles. When the nurses sought compensation for medical conditions resulting from their internment, the Veterans Administration often refused or limited much needed health care. When some official recognition for their sacrifice finally came it was too late for many. Farrell notes that a lot of the nurses whose stories she included in this book were already dead by the early 1980s. Thanks to Farrell’s meticulous research and compelling narrative based on first person accounts, the nurses’ stories now have a chance to be heard.

This nonfiction book includes an excellent page layout with fairly wide margins and spacing, abundant period photographs, illustrations, and other primary source documents, making the dynamic text easier to read. End materials include a glossary, timeline, list of nurses, an extensive bibliography which references many first person accounts including the Oral History Program of the Army Nurse Corps.

Visit Farrell’s web site to see a book trailer, read an excerpt, and download a teacher’s guide with project ideas that relate this book to Common Core Standards.  A highly recommended read.

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The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia

by Candace Fleming is reviewed today by Ronna Mandel.

⭐︎Starred Reviews in Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist and The Horn Book

9780375867828.jpg.172x250_q85I spent several evenings during my recent vacation immersed in the late 1800s and early 1900s thanks to the riveting writing of Candace Fleming. Her latest historical nonfiction young adult novel reminded me of why I devour these types of books. I may know the ending, but it’s getting there that’s the best part, and essentially every chapter of The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia ( Schwartz & Wade, $18.99, Ages 12 and up) is the best part!

How many teens know the fascinating story behind the last Russian royal family – the real story, not the glamorized version of films and legend? While I’ve traveled to Russia a handful of times, I clearly was not aware of all the details and all the players Fleming wrote about. I felt certain that The Family Romanov would fill in all the gaps and enlighten me so I couldn’t wait to head off on holiday for some quality reading time. I just didn’t realize how conflicted my feelings would be about this fateful period in world history and have been thinking about the book and its characters ever since.

Reminiscent of an Erik Larson novel with its intertwining plot lines, in-depth character exploration and deft mixing of current events and first hand accounts, The Family Romanov takes readers on a journey through history that eventually leads to the rise of Lenin, the disastrous Romanov downfall and the Russian Revolution.

Nicholas II, Imperial Russia’s last tsar, we learn, was not only unprepared to take the throne in 1894 following his father’s death, but he was uninterested in the role as well. That alone explains his pathetic attempt at running of his country. In fact, Fleming takes us further back to “a frosty March day in 1881 …,” for it was on that day that thirteen-year-old Nicholas’s grandfather, Tsar Alexander II, was killed by a bomb that “landed between his feet,” laying the groundwork for events that would ultimately change the course of the 20th century geopolitical world. The deceased liberal tsar was replaced by Nicholas’s father, Alexander III, whose harsh autocracy would reign for 13 years only to be succeeded by the ill-equipped son for whom he held contempt.

We are also introduced to a young Alexandra, granddaughter to Queen Victoria of Great Britain. Once married to Nicholas, the Empress Alexandra bears him four daughters (including Anastasia) and a hemophiliac son and heir to the throne, Alexei. She also encourages her husband to retreat from public life and begins depending more and more on a charlatan named Rasputin whose alleged healing powers help keep Alexei alive. This mystic manages to wield much influence on the Romanovs and, despite the scandal that their dependence on Rasputin brings, they naively allow him to dictate many political decisions that further alienate the family from the Russian people.

Add WWI and immeasurable loss of life to this scenario of two immensely wealthy and privileged “Imperial Majesties” who are in total denial as to the deplorable lives the vast majority of their citizens lead, and you have the classic makings of a truth is stranger than fiction story guaranteed to keep your eyes glued to the page. Get ready for a gripping novel that warrants more than one read and a place on every bookshelf.

 

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