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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.

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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!

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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!)

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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.

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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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