Book review: What Every Girl Should Know: Margaret Sanger’s Journey, by J. Albert Mann

Mann, J. Albert. What Every Girl Should Know: Margaret Sanger’s Journey. Atheneum, 2019. $18.99. 228p. ISBN 978-1-5344-1932-2. Ages 13-16. P6Q7

Born into poverty in the late 1800s, Maggie Higgins grows up rebelliously helping her mother with the other 10 children while she dreams of being a writer. Her alcoholic freethinking father drives her mother into the grave with his lack of jobs and her many pregnancies, several of them ending in miscarriages, and Maggie is forced to leave nursing school to care for her father after her mother’s death. Although many of the episodes are fictional, Maggie’s life as a child and young adult shows why she becomes a strong advocate for birth control to save other women from the misery that her own mother suffered.

Verdict: An afterword explains why Sanger, a believer in eugenics, did not deserve the stain of racism given her throughout history because she provided birth control for minorities and poor people. The focus on Sander’s childhood without showing how she developed into become an activist leaves a gap in her life.

March 2019 review by Nel Ward.

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Book review: Jane Austen: Her Heart Did Whisper, by Manuela Santoni, translated by Matteo Benassi

Santoni, Manuela. Jane Austen: Her Heart Did Whisper. Trans. by Matteo Benassi. Graphic Universe/Lerner, 2018. $9.99. 96p. ISBN 978-1-5415-2366-1. Ages 9-12. P8Q9

An Italian graphic novelist has added to the canon of the famous 19th-century English author, this graphic book creating fictional events about her early life and love for Tom Lefroy through strong black-and-white ink scenes about this relationship.

Verdict: The sister of the famous author burned Austen’s letters about ?; this is an excellent imagination of her young rebellion in a time when “Women must marry!” and females were restricted in their sphere of influence.  Some of the drawings have a manga influence and costumes are not always consistent with the English Regency period, but the book is a refreshing change from the more restrained perspectives of visual books about Austen’s life. The view of Austen may lack depth, but it is a fun read about a young romantic girl in a time when women’s role was highly restricted.

Fall 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Walking in the City with Jane: A Story of Jane Jacobs, by Susan Hughes, illustrated by Valerie Boivin

Hughes, Susan. Walking in the City with Jane: A Story of Jane Jacobs. Illus. by Valerie Boivin. Kids Can Press, 2018. $18.99. unp. ISBN 978-1-77138-653-1. Ages 7-10. P5Q5

As a child, Jane Jacobs was curious about her surroundings, and as an adult she was an activist who explored the ecosystems of cities and tried to preserve them. One of her success stories is keeping an expressway from invading a Manhattan community.

Verdict: The book lacks a sense of place or time. Although it begins in the early 20th century, the clothing styles don’t reflect the era. The dress worn by Jane’s elementary school teacher is almost identical to the one Jane wears decades later. The colored photoshop illustrations with grotesque faces have a flat feel as does the narration that gives no sense of her character. Hughes concentrates more on her activism to the detriment of any understanding about her personality, and the gaps in her personal life, for example little information about her marriage. The font is also very small for that proposed age of readership.

March 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Tru & Nelle: A Christmas Tale, by G. Neri

Neri, G. Tru & Nelle: A Christmas Tale. Houghton, 2017. $16.99. 291p. ISBN 978-1-328-68598-8. Ages 10-13. P7Q9

This sequel to Neri’s first book about Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, and Trump Capote, author of several books and short stories, covers two Christmases during the 1930s in the small town of Monroe (AL). The first Christmas surrounds a custody battle when 11-year-old Tru picks his neglectful mother in hopes she will love him. Two years later when Nelle is 11, he runs away from a military boarding school and returns to his relatives, only to see their house burn down. The mélange of characters shows their love for one another while they follow the segregation and Jim Crow values of the time as the two white children befriend black characters and seek their help. Although Nelle plays an integral part, Tru’s development is a focus as he talks about his first kiss with a boy, fights the son of a KKK leader, and comes to terms with his relationship with his mother. He also witnesses the trial of two black men that inspired the scene in Lee’s novel. A final chapter describes how Nelle is given the money to take a year off in New York City where she writes her famous novel.

Verdict: A clear picture of the South as it struggles with prejudice of class and race is set against a warm friendship between two young people.

December 2017 review by Nel Ward

Book review: Girl with Camera: Margaret Bourke-White, Photographer, A Novel, by Carolyn Meyer

Meyer, Carolyn. Girl with Camera: Margaret Bourke-White, Photographer, A Novel. Calkins Creek, 2017. $17.95. 234p. ISBN 978-1-62968-574-3. Ages 12-15. P5Q5

Bourke-White became one of the most famous photographers in the world, especially with images of the people suffering in the Dust Bowl and those in the midst of World War II, but she grew up planning to be a herpetologist. Meyer uses much of her narration to tell about her struggles with a stern mother who restricted her clothing and behavior before continuing with the protagonist’s perseverance in developing her chosen career. As a teen, “Peggy” was unpopular, but she learned to become glamorous as an adult and drew great attention that led to two different—and brief—marriages, one while in college and the other over a decade later to the novelist Erskine Caldwell. The book dwells on her passion for her subjects and her drive to accomplish whatever she set out to do. Two of her photos, including the magnificent first Life cover of Fort Peck Dam, are included.

Verdict: Although the subject is interesting, the author presents a flat, almost stereotyped character and concentrates on her earlier life. The later years are more glossed over, and her siblings receive little notice in the last decade of the book. The novel ends with World War II although a note gives brief biographical information about the last 25 years of her life. Teen readers who enjoy a dashing female protagonist in an historical setting may enjoy the book.

May/June 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton Reveal’d, by Mary Losure

Losure, Mary. Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton Reveal’d. Candlewick. 2017. $19.99. 163p. ISBN 978-0-7636 -7063-4. Ages 12-15. P5Q9

Considered by many to be on the forefront of scientific advancement, Newton, one of the greatest scientists of all time, actually based his exploration on magic, studying alchemy that was supposed to create gold from other metals. Always a loner and self-taught, he so carefully observed the world around him that he figured out the laws of motion that provide the foundation to an understanding of the physical world.

Verdict: Historical details and perceptions of human behavior enhance a biography about a person about much is not known. Illustrations include engravings and pages from Newton’s notes lighten the sometimes heavy text. Interesting pieces include his tasting poisonous mercury in experiments that should have killed the man who lived to an old age for that time. The English mathematician, astronomer, and physicist died in 1727 at the age of 84. Back matter provides excerpts from his journals with other texts of the time as well as the author’s note explaining how she researched these primary sources. This is a book that adults would also enjoy.

March 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Sphinx’s Princess, by Esther Friesner

Friesner, Esther. Sphinx’s Princess. (Sphinx’s Princess series, #1) Random House Books for Young Readers, 2009. 384 pages. ISBN 978-0-375-95654-6. Gr. 4+. P7 Q7

friesner-sphinxs-princessThis novel is narrated by Nefertiti, a young girl who secretly learns to read with the help of a mischievous scribe. Very few people can read in ancient Egypt and she sees her talent as a gift. However, when Nefertiti learns that her aunt, the evil queen, exploited her late mother’s literacy, she is forced to hide her skills. The queen eventually learns her secret and pulls Nefertiti into a web of scheming, flattery, and danger.

September 2016 review by Carrie Lipnick.

[Editor’s note: Esther Friesner’s trilogy introduces Nefertiti, a commoner who became Queen of Egypt and is still known as one of the most beautiful women in the world.   A romance, spying, and adventures along the fabled Nile will satisfy those wanting to read about princesses.]