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Celebrating Women’s History Month – A Roundup of 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.

 

 

For Women’s History Month – Away With Words: The Daring Story of Isabella Bird Blog Tour

AWAY WITH WORDS:
The Daring Story of Isabella Bird
Written by Lori Mortensen
Illustrated by Kristy Caldwell
(Peachtree Publishing; $17.95, Ages 6-10)

 

cover illustration by Kristy Caldwell from Away With Words by Lori Mortensen

 

Before Nellie Bly or Amelia Earhardt there was Isabella Bird and, thanks to this eye-opening new picture book biography, Away With Words: The Daring Story of Isabella Bird, children can read about what impressive inroads this English explorer made at a time in history when a woman’s place was in the home not out globetrotting around the world, and writing about it to boot!

This “unlikely candidate for adventure,” who never felt well as a child, was born in the Yorkshire countryside in 1831. Isabella Bird suffered from a multitude of ailments and rarely left the house. That worked for awhile because, according to Victorian societal norms that she would eventually challenge, “Young ladies wore dresses. / Young ladies didn’t go to school. / Young ladies stayed home.” Countless doctors couldn’t diagnose her with anything until one doctor recommended she get some fresh air. Her father took Isabella out with him on his horse and, with his encouragement, she made discoveries that would forever change the course of her life. “Out in the wild, Isabella forgot about her aches and pains. / She breathed in new ways to see and describe everything around her.”

Captured beautifully by Caldwell’s spread below, letters from relatives abroad and other news from overseas sparked a flame in Isabella. She felt deep inside that travel would feed her soul and she yearned for the possibilities it would provide but some days she could barely get up. The tide turned for the better when her doctor suggested a sea voyage and her parents agreed.

 

interior illustration by Kristy Caldwell from Away With Words by Lori Mortensen

Interior spread from Away With Words: The Daring Story of Isabella Bird written by Lori Mortensen and illustrated by Kristy Caldwell, Peachtree Publishing ©2019.

 

She boarded a mail steamer for Nova Scotia and from then on there was no looking back for this intrepid young woman. Her red leather notebook accompanied her wherever she went. I love how Mortensen weaves quotations of text from Bird’s own published books wherever it adds atmosphere to the story. Caldwell’s colorful illustrations pair perfectly with those lines. One of my favorites is, “There was a small bed with a dirty buffalo-skin upon it; I took it up and swarms of living creatures fell out of it …”

Her first book, The Englishwoman in America, was published in 1856, smack in the middle of Queen Victoria’s reign. But when her father passed away Bird chose to end her explorations. That ultimately led to a flare up of her ailments and an onset of doldrums that, at her sister’s urging, could only be allayed by journeying across five continents. It took grit and guts and bravery to gallivant solo around the world to myriad destinations lacking in creature comforts, but Isabella persevered. Thanks to her detailed record keeping of all the places she visited, the nine additional books she wrote became bestsellers. People craved reading about the exotic locales and peoples that they’d never see in their lifetime whether that be climbing up Kilauea volcano in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), trekking across the dangerous frozen Persian “desert at the roof of the world,” or befriending a “notorious outlaw.”

 

int illustration by Kristy Caldwell from Away With Words by Lori Mortensen

Interior spread from Away With Words: The Daring Story of Isabella Bird written by Lori Mortensen and illustrated by Kristy Caldwell, Peachtree Publishing ©2019.

 

As Mortensen’s story vividly demonstrates, the world was indeed Isabella’s home so it’s no surprise that in 1892, Bird was the first woman to ever be inducted into the Royal Geographical Society of London and a year later was presented to Queen Victoria. In 32 pages of lyrical prose, Mortensen shows young readers the personal growth and happiness that can come from travel and exposure to a vast range of cultures. Caldwell’s artwork includes just the right amount of soaring spirit a name like Bird implies.

Picture book biographies, when done well, provide a much needed window on the world of important people from the past that we might ordinarily never hear or read about. Away With Words: The Daring Story of Isabella Bird, does that and more. It offers inspiration and a role model for children who, long after Women’s History Month has ended, will no doubt want to seek out Bird’s impressions by turning to her original books to learn more about this trailblazer’s 19th century daring journeys. The back matter including an author’s note, a timeline of Bird’s travels and publications, Bird’s text quotations, and a bibliography make this nonfiction book ideal for both home and school. In fact, I’d give it as a gift to a child along with a journal to get them started on documenting their own travels, even if that’s just an outing to the zoo or a trip to another city.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Visit other stops below on this enlightening blog tour from Peachtree Publishing:

3/5: Let’s Talk Picture Books

3/6: Pragmatic Mom

3/7: Geo Librarian

3/8: Kid Lit Frenzy

 

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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Dare the Wind by Tracey Fern

DARE THE WIND:
The Record Breaking Voyage of Eleanor Prentiss and the Flying Cloud

Dare The Wind: The Record Breaking Voyage of Eleanor Prentiss and the Flying Cloud, (Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, $17.99, Ages 5-8), written by Tracey Fern and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully, is reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

9780374316990.jpg

DARE THE WIND: The Record Breaking Voyage of Eleanor Prentiss and the Flying Cloud, written by Tracey Fern and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully, Farrar, Straus Giroux, © 2014.

In celebration of Women’s History Month, I am thrilled to recommend Dare The Wind, an exciting picture book biography of a brave and inspiring naval pioneer, Eleanor “Ellen” Prentiss. Born in 1814 in the maritime hub of Marblehead, Massachusetts, Ellen “had always felt the sea tug at her heart, strong as a full-moon tide.” Her father, a schooner captain, said she had saltwater in her veins and gave her lessons in the fine points of sailing and navigation.

While other girls stitched samplers and swept floors, Ellen learned that “A true navigator must have the caution to read the sea, as well, and the courage to dare the wind.” She sailed and raced for fun, then married a man given command of a clipper ship called the Flying Cloud. Ellen accompanies him as navigator on an exciting voyage from New York, around the tip of Cape Horn, and into San Francisco. Despite a broken mainmast and a fierce storm, she charts a course that led the Flying Cloud to set the world record for speed along that route, 89 days and 21 hours.

Interior image from DARE THE WIND:
The Record-breaking Voyage of
Eleanor Prentiss and the Flying Cloud
Tracey Fern, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully,
© 2014 Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The best picture book biographies transport the reader into a new time, place or perspective. Dare The Wind pairs vivid description and elegant illustrations so effectively that you can almost feel the spray of salt water on your face, and hear the weighty snap of thick canvas sails overhead. McCully’s fabulous seascapes masterfully depict the roiling, dangerous journey through grey-green storms, and the deadly blue calm of equatorial doldrums. Fern’s lovely turns of phrase keep readers deeply rooted in the nautical world, as Ellen’s face “turns white as whalebone” and her heart races “like a riptide.” The tale zips along at an engaging, page-turning pace despite the highs and lows of their daring voyage.

An author’s note and glossary provide supplemental information about Ellen Prentiss’ life and the technical tools of her trade as a navigator. There are suggestions for further reading as well as endpages detailing the 1851 voyage of the Flying Cloud. While wind-driven clipper ships became obsolete in the late 1800s, Fern and McCully’s skillful storybook will ensure that the accomplishments of Ellen Prentiss will continue to inspire young readers to pursue their own groundbreaking journeys.

–  Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where obtained: I received a review copy from the publisher and received no other compensation.  The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

 

A Grosset & Dunlap Who Was…? Contest & Giveaway for Women’s History Month

Read on to learn about a cool new Grosset & Dunlap contest along with a Good Reads With Ronna giveaway!
Let’s celebrate Women’s History Month together!

Jane_Goodall.jpg

Who Is Jane Goodall? by Roberta Edwards with illustrations by John O’Brien, Grosset & Dunlap

When I was growing up the biographies for kids were awful. They looked like they had been on our local library’s shelves for decades, in other words, as old as the famous people they were about! Plus, they weren’t engaging, and there’s nothing worse than a boring biography (insert yawn here). Had they pulled me in the way the Grosset & Dunlap Who Was…?  biography series for young readers does, who knows, I might have become an historian. That’s also why the contest Grosset & Dunlap is running is not-to-be-missed!

CONTEST: WHO WAS…? 100th Book Contest! (Scroll down for the GRWR giveaway, too!)

Harriet_Tubman_Image.jpg

Who Was Harriet Tubman? by Yona Zeldis McDonough with illustrations by Nancy Harrison, Grosset & Dunlap

Grosset & Dunlap’s Who Was…? series, with over 50 titles featuring famous thinkers, politicians, and history-makers published to date, is particularly interesting. This past summer I reviewed Who Is Bob Dylan? by Jim O’Connor and learned a lot of things I didn’t know about the musician and song writer. (Click here to read the review.) A recent fave is Who Was Christopher Columbus? by Bonnie Bader. The eclectic biography collection includes everyone from George Washington to Walt Disney to Dolly Parton. With their quirky cover art, interior illustrations, and novel-like prose, the books make learning about important figures exciting and accessible for middle-grade readers, both in the classroom and at home. The success of the series has inspired the spin-offs What Was…? and Quien Fue…?, for Spanish language readers. And now having Common Core Curriculum in 45 states makes these nonfiction books all the more relevant. Click here to learn more about the What Was…? series.

Frida_Kahlo.jpg

Who Was Frida Kahlo? by Sarah Fabiny with illustrations by Jerry Hoare, Grosset & Dunlap

WHAT: Penguin Young Readers recently announced that the subject of their 100th Who Was…? biography (to be published in Summer 2015) will be chosen by their readers! How cool that kids can have a hand in helping to select who will be written about. Perhaps they’d like to see a biography written about former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor or author Louisa May Alcott? Think hard. Will it be Diana, Princess of Wales or maybe scientist and two-time Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie? They can choose from Mother Teresa, Margaret Thatcher or Catherine The Great. There are so many deserving individuals and these are just the women. Kids can also choose an important male, but since we’re celebrating Women’s History Month, I just picked female candidates. Believe it or not, they can even cast a vote for a teacher, an athlete, a rockstar, a movie star or their very own mom or dad. Click here to find out more.

WHEN: From March 1 – June 1, 2014, readers will be able to cast their vote for the figure of their choice. Voting will take place at bookstores, libraries, schools, book fairs, and online at www.whowasbookseries.com. The winning subject will be announced on July 1, 2014.

Good Reads With Ronna Giveaway

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Who Was Eleanor Roosevelt? by Gare Thompson with illustrations by Nancy Harrison, Grosset & Dunlap

In conjunction with Grosset & Dunlap’s 100th Who Was…? book contest, we’re happy to offer our readers a Women’s History Month giveaway (for US only, through the end of March) – 1 prize pack of 3 women’s history titles. The winner will receive a copy of Who Was Frida Kahlo?, Who Was Eleanor Roosevelt? and Who is Jane Goodall? To be eligible to win, you must first LIKE us on Facebook or FOLLOW us on Twitter. Doing both gives you an extra entry. Click here to enter via email and give us your address. Remember to also write Who Was…? in the subject. This giveaway will run through March 31, 2014. One winner will be chosen on April 1, 2014 by Random.org and notified via email. Good luck!

 

 

 

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