Monday, March 6, 2017

Women's History Month: Telling Herstory (FAMILY magazine reviews)

Often spring arrives with a bounce. May this year be no exception. Brought along on the season’s muscular rising are several new picture book biographies of women who hurdle the difficulties and complexities in their lives with grace and power. Take a look at these dynamic and wonderful women as you share these titles with young people who make a difference in your own life. 

Trudy’s Big Swim: How Gertrude Ederle Swam the English Channel and Took the World by Storm 
by Sue Macy 
illustrated by Matt Collins
            Author Macy is known for her well-researched and dynamic sports biographies, especially of women. Once more she has chosen a determined achiever to feature, in this dramatically illustrated picture book. Collins’s striking images highlight the difficulties Gertrude Ederle faced, in her history-making swim. His brilliant artwork was created with Prismacolor pencils, and completed with Adobe Photoshop.
            As she dodged driftwood, jellyfish, and sharks, Trudy also had to navigate choppy water and strong currents. Instead of the 21-mile crossing, Ederle swam 35 more miles, because the current threw her off course. The Olympic swimmer was in the water for more than 14 hours, on August 6, 1926.
The logistics of how she ate, kept warm, and stayed focused will captivate young readers. Her endurance and single-mindedness stand out, adding depth to the story of her swim across the English Channel.
This is a vigorously illustrated and skillfully written picture book biography, of a groundbreaking event in women’s sports history. Clearly apparent in the end matter is the vital research noted in an afterword, an author’s note, a sources and resources page, and source notes.

Holiday House, $16.95
Interest Level: Grades 2-4

Caroline’s Comets: A True Story 
by Emily Arnold McCully
            This dramatic picture book biography shows the life of the first woman to discover a comet. Caldecott Award-winning author and illustrator McCully has emphasized comments from Caroline Hershel’s memoirs and correspondence to share her story. Readers are, therefore, able to “meet” Caroline in her own words.
            She was born into a family of royal musicians. However, she was expected to be the maid. Because Caroline became ill first with typhus and then with smallpox, her parents thought she would never marry. But her favorite brother, William, took her to England, launching her singing career. William was also very interested in the stars. He wanted to build a better telescope than any other before.
            Caroline, then, became William’s assistant inventor, as well as housekeeper. Looking at the night sky through the telescope they built, William would call out observations, and “Caroline wrote them down.”
            Together, Caroline and William worked on a star catalogue. This work required that she learn math from him. As a result she “discovered fourteen previously unknown nebulae and star clusters, and two new galaxies.” She also became famous as the first professional woman scientist. Later, she discovered eight comets!
Vivid ink and watercolor illustrations support the text. Expressive paintings highlight important details in the story. Broad double page spreads help to frame and expand Caroline’s life and experience.
Written from a feminist viewpoint, this tale of exciting scientific discovery is inspiring; in part because of the many barriers Caroline overcame. Back matter includes a note from the author, bibliography, glossary, and timeline.

Holiday House, $16.95
Interest Level: Grades 1-3

Anything But Ordinary Addie: The True Story of Adelaide Herrmann, Queen of Magic 
by Mara Rockliff 
illustrated by Iacopo Bruno
            Especially for girls who didn’t think there was a woman magician? Meet Addie – Adelaide Herrmann! Determined to dazzle, secretly Addie joins a dance troupe, shocking her family. Later, she learns to ride a bicycle, which while not especially extraordinary now, was then. Her travels to perform lead her to meet, and later marry, a magician known as Herrmann the Great (who’s real name is Alexander Herrmann). When she begins working as his assistant, and then takes over after he dies, life is never ordinary again.
            Not only does Rockliff’s story keep readers engaged, but also the fonts vary in both size and style, maintaining the energy of the tale. Additionally, Bruno’s pencil and digitally colored illustrations are brightly lit, on large double-page spreads. He uses a cutout style that reminds one of old fashioned paper dolls. Layers of art add gusto and spirit. While the dynamic interplay between text and art drives the story, and strengthens its impact.
            Redhead Addie begs her husband not to do the dangerous bullet-catching trick. He complies. But after his death, she wants to keep her magical shows shocking, despite being led by a woman. She successfully catches the bullet, as the final act of this out-of-the-ordinary picture book biography. Details at the end provide biographical research information in an author’s note.

Candlewick Press, $17.99
Interest Level: Grades 2-5



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