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March-April 2011 Selected Content

Good Stuff

- Rebecca Rupp

Women's History - Not Just For The Girls


March is National Women's History Month - for which, I am tickled to report, there are resources galore.

Among these is Emily Arnold McCully's picture book The Ballot Box Battle (Dragonfly Books, 1998), a wonderful discussion-promoting introduction to the women's rights movement for ages 5-8. Set in 1880, the story centers around a determined little girl named Cordelia, her down-putting brother ("No votes for pea-brained females!"), and their indomitable next-door neighbor, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who continues to try to cast her vote every year, despite the taunts of the local men. Appendices include information about Stanton's life, and instructions for making a ballot box and writing a "Kids' Declaration of Rights."

For more on Stanton, see Elizabeth Leads the Way: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Right to Vote by Tanya Lee Stone (Henry Holt, 2008), a picture book for ages 5-9, with a brief catchy biographical text. "What would you do if someone told you that you can't be what you want to be because you're a girl?" the book begins. "Would you talk back? Would you fight for your rights? Elizabeth did." For ages 8-12, a more in-depth read is Jean Fritz's You Want Women to Vote, Lizzie Stanton? (Putnam Juvenile Books, 1999), a marvelous 96-page chapter biography, filled with human interest, engaging details, and superbly presented history.

Linda Arms White's I Could Do That!: Esther Morris Gets Women the Vote (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005) is the picture-book story of a less well-known but equally exciting suffragist for ages 5-8. Feisty Esther's can-do philosophy - which starts at the age of six when she convinces her mother that yes, she can so make tea - eventually propels her to start her own business, to help get women the vote in the Wyoming Territory, and to become the first woman in the country elected to political office.

Shana Corey's flamboyantly illustrated You Forgot Your Skirt, Amelia Bloomer! (Scholastic, 2000) for ages 5-8 is the story of Amelia Bloomer - "NOT a proper lady" - who revolutionized women's restrictive 19th-century clothes by introducing the puffy pants that bear her name. (She also started her own newspaper and worked to get women the vote.) Anne Kamma's If You Lived When Women Won Their Rights (Scholastic, 2006) for ages 7-11 is an overview of the women's rights movement in America from the time of the first European settlers on. The book is written in a conversational question-and-answer format: "Which laws upset women most?" "What did women wear?" "Why weren't women allowed to go to college?" "How did women earn money?" "What happened at the Seneca Falls Convention?"

For ages 5-9, Betty Hearne's Seven Brave Women (Greenwillow Books, 2006) is the tale of seven of her female ancestors, starting with her great-great-grandmother who (bravely) sailed to America on a wooden ship. It's reminiscent of Robert Lawson's 1941 Caldecott-winning family history They Were Strong and Good (Viking Juvenile, 2006). (Try both - and write a family history of your own?)

Lynne Cheney's A is for Abigail (Simon & Schuster, 2003) is an "Almanac of Amazing American Women" for ages 6-9, with scads of adorable cartoonlike illustrations by Robin Preiss Glasser. Despite the suggestive title, this is not a one-woman-per-letter alphabet book, but instead, in clever capsule fashion, covers dozens of remarkable women. P, for example, is for performers (lots); W for writers (ditto); F for First Ladies; and D - thought ostensibly for Emily Dickinson - covers a long list of other female poets. Cynthia Chin-Lee's Amelia to Zora: Twenty-Six Women Who Changed the World (Charlesbridge Publishing, 2005) for ages 8-12, on the other hand, is a one-woman-per-letter alphabet book, running from A is for Amelia (Earhart) and B is for Babe (Didrikson) though Z is for Zora (Neale Hurston). For each featured woman, there's a one- to two-paragraph biography, an illustration, and a quotation. (There's a companion volume: Akira to Zoltan: Twenty-Six Men Who Changed the World (Charlesbridge, 2006).)

Kathleen Krull's Lives of Extraordinary Women: Rulers, Rebels (and What the Neighbors Thought) (Harcourt Children's Books, 2000) is a witty and information-packed collection of short biographies for ages 9-12. Arranged in chronological order, the book begins with Cleopatra and proceeds through 19 others, among them Eleanor of Aquitaine, Joan of Arc, Catherine the Great, Queen Victoria, Harriet Tubman, Tzu-Hsi, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Golda Meir.

Recommended for ages 10-14 is the "Outrageous Women" series, including Mary Rodd Furbee's Outrageous Women of Colonial America (Jossey-Bass, 2001), Outrageous Women of the American Frontier (John Wiley & Sons, 2002), and Outrageous Women of Civil War Times (Jossey-Bass, 2003). Each 128-page book has chatty and detailed biographies of over a dozen influential women. (Not all are exactly outrageous, but they are all interesting.) 33 Things Every Girl Should Know About Women's History: From Suffragettes to Skirt Lengths to the E.R.A. (Crown, 2002), edited by Tonya Bolden, is a beautifully designed collection for ages 12 and up, packed with photos, essays, quotes, timelines, bios, poems, and short stories, covering a wide range of compelling issues. Included, for example, are an excerpt of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" and Abigail Adams's famous "Remember the Ladies" letter. This one is well worth a look - for boys as well as girls.

For ages 12 and up, the National Academy of Sciences has sponsored the "Women's Adventures in Science Series," an excellent collection of 128-page photo-illustrated biographies of modern women in different branches of science. Titles include Jordan Brown's Robo World: The Story of Robot Designer Cynthia Brazeal (Joseph Henry Press, 2005); Lorraine Jean Hopping's Bone Detective: The Story of Forensic Anthropologist Diane France (2006); and Renee Skelton's Forecast Earth: The Story of Climate Scientist Inez Fung (2006). An accompanying website at has supplementary info, interviews with women scientists, a question forum, science-based games, and a women-in-science timeline.

Also see:

National Women's History Project
A wealth of varied information on women's history topics. For example, click on "Resource Center" and "Links" for extensive lists of online information on Women's Rights, Politics, African-American Women, Art and Music, Math and Science, Resources by State, and more. Also see the NWHP's (free) catalog of books, games, and other resources.

Women Who Changed History
From Scholastic, information and activities to complement National Women's History Month. The site, for example, has writing suggestions, research starters, quizzes, and webquests.

National Women's Hall of Fame
This site includes biographies of hundreds of famous American women, each with a list of recommended supplementary resources.

The First Ladies
Biographies of all from Martha Washington to Michelle Obama.

Celebrate Women's History Month: Recommended Reading's_history.cfm
From the NY Public Library, lists of books (etc.) related to women's issues, categorized under Folk and Fairy Tales, Non-fiction, Picture Books, Fiction Stories, and Recordings and Videos.

Women's History and Children's Books
Short lists of kids' fiction and non-fiction books with related activities categorized under "Women Who Expanded Traditional Roles," "Women in the Arts," "Women Who Protested," and "Women's Rights."

It's a Book

Lane Smith's It's a Book (Roaring Book Press, 2010) is a wickedly hilarious picture-book defense of books - real books - in the face of the increasingly overwhelming digital world. The characters are a monkey and a floppy-eared jackass. The monkey is a reader, and the jackass, who clearly isn't, peppers him with questions about his book - " Where's the mouse? How do you scroll down? Does it need a password? Can you blog with it? Can you make the characters fight?" - to all of which the exasperated monkey replies, "No. It's a book."

Finally the monkey lets the jackass take a look at his book - Treasure Island - and the jackass is hooked. There's a wonderful double-page spread of enthralled reading - ears up, ears down, eyes wide - as a clock on the wall shows the hours ticking by.

A couple of librarian friends worried about the use of the word "jackass," which I'll leave up to you. My guess is that most kids will think it's screamingly funny and that most parents can cope.

For ages 5 and up. From bookstores, online book suppliers, and enlightened libraries.

Octavia Boone's Big Questions About Life, the Universe, and Everything

My latest children's book (Candlewick, 2010) which - I am beside myself - was picked by Publisher's Weekly as one of the top kid's books of 2010. It's being highly recommended as a book-club discussion book. Here's the PW review:

_Questions of theology, science, and how to live responsibly in community confront seventh-grader Octavia in Rupp's (Sarah Simpson's Rules for Living) unsettling, thought-provoking, and sensitive exploration of the intersections of faith, work, and family. When Octavia's mother, a lifelong "seeker," abandons her law practice to join a fundamentalist Christian sect, Octavia contends with rival interpretations of religion offered by her various smalltown Vermont neighbors and the prescriptive rules of the Sunday school she's forced to attend. Parallel science fairs highlight conflicting worldviews, offering moments of irony, such as when a female Christian student employs charts and graphs to demonstrate women's unscientific nature; humor, when experiments go awry; and frustration at the limits of scientific inquiry, exemplified by Octavia's inconclusive results. Octavia's synesthetic sensibilities (she sees letters with color and texture), help her integrate divergent viewpoints, but cannot erase the crushing grief that comes as beloved holiday traditions unravel in her broken home or her bewilderment at her parents' inexplicable choices. This hopeful novel highlights the resilience of children and the courage of those who seek truth in a complicated world.

For ages 9-12. Available from bookstores, online book suppliers, and libraries.

Archie's War

Archie's War by Marcia Williams (Candlewick, 2007) is written in the form of a World War I scrapbook kept by Archie Albright of London's East End, from the beginning of the war in 1914 when he was 10, until the Armistice in 1919. It's an enthralling compendium, a mix of Archie's narrated panel cartoons, period newspaper clippings and photographs, facsimile letters and postcards, Archie-drawn maps and diagrams. It's a tough topic - Archie's Uncle Teddy is killed; his friend Tom's street is bombed; the Lusitania goes down - but as described from the point of view of a bright and observant kid, it's an immediate, immersive, and sensitive account of the war that really should have ended all wars.

For all ages and highly recommended. From bookstores and online book suppliers.

Also see Williams's My Secret War Diary by Flossie Albright: My History of the Second World War 1939-1945 (Candlewick, 2008).

Also see everything you can get your hands on by Marcia Williams.

More on World War I:

NeoK12: World War I

Maps, quizzes, puzzles, and a list of links to selected YouTube videos on World War I.

© 2011, Rebecca Rupp


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