Book review: Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women, by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo

Favilli, Elena and Francesca Cavallo. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women. Timbuktu Labs, 2016. $35.00. 212p. ISBN 978-0-7798958-1-0. Ages 8-10. P8 Q9

Heroic women of all seven continents from the past four millennia are celebrated in two-page spreads that include a charming narrative about each woman and a full-page colorful illustration in a variety of artistic styles depending on the subject. Each description includes a short descriptor of the “girl,” birth/death dates, and country of origin.  Names of the 60 women providing the artwork are listed in the back. Selection of these pioneers varies from ten-year-old transgender Coy Mathis, brave enough to fight to use the bathroom of her gender identity, to Hillary Clinton, strong enough to survive sexist attacks in her campaign for U.S. president. In feminist tradition, the alphabetical order uses the women’s first names. Through crowdfunding, 20,025 backers from over 70 countries provided more than $1 million for the book published by a children’s media innovation lab.

Verdict: Advertised as “bedtime stories,” these brief accounts of the subject’s life and adventures should whet the appetite of readers who will want to know more about them, inspiring further research. Some of the women included are famous, but others are everyday women who managed to accomplish “extraordinary” things. This is recommended for all collections for youth and as gifts for all young girls.

May/June 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Grover Cleveland, Again! A Treasury of American Presidents, by Ken Burns, illustrated by Gerald Kelley

Burns, Ken. Grover Cleveland, Again! A Treasury of American Presidents. Ill. By Gerald Kelley. Knopf, 2016. $25. 94p. ISBN 978-0-385-39209-9. Ages 7-11. P8Q7

burns-grover-cleveland-againJust in time for the 45th president, the brilliant creator of award-winning historical documentaries has written this book with two-page spreads on every U.S. president, inspired by the tales he told his daughters about the people who led the nation. Included for each of the 43 men is a column of factual information with the official portrait, digital action illustrations reminiscent of watercolors featuring each in a variety of backgrounds, snippets about presidential information set against red or blue backgrounds, and a few paragraphs about their presidencies.

Verdict: Burns maintains a balance for his information, for example, addressing both Andrew Jackson’s racism against Indians and his adoption of a Creek orphan. The book would be useful as a reference source and teaching tool.

January 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse, by Catherine Reef

Reef, Catherine. Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse. Clarion, 2016. 184p. $18.99. ISBN 978-0-544-53580-0. Ages 12-14. P7Q9

reef-florence-nightingaleAlmost two centuries ago, the famous “Lady with the Lamp” was born into a time when women were expected to get married, have children, and stay home. Nightingale did none of these: instead, she taught the world how to save lives through excellent nursing, starting with the wounded British soldiers of the Crimean War in the 1850s who suffered from deadly, gruesome conditions. Despite her wealthy parents’ disappointment, she continued her work, despite her fragile health, and developed nursing methods still used today.

Verdict: Reef depicts the subject of her book honestly, including her coldness and occasional estrangements with her sister. Another value of the biography is its demonstration of how the rigidity of the Victorian era held back women, even Nightingale who fought these traditions. The black and white, sepia, or colored drawings are joined by a few photographs and a diagram to show the people in Nightingale’s life and the conditions under which some of them worked. Notes, a three-page bibliography, picture credits, and an index complete this nuanced look at an inspiring woman who changed health conditions in the nineteenth century.

January 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White, by Melissa Sweet

Sweet, Melissa. Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White. HMH Books, 2016. $18.99. 176p. ISBN 9780544319592. Ages 9-12. P7Q10

sweet-some-writerA two-time Caldecott Honor winner has produced a fascinating biography and visual treat about the author of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. Family ephemera, White’s photos and letters, excerpts of White’s writings, and Sweet’s whimsical watercolors and collages blend with text to tell the story of the author from his birth in 1899 to 1985, when he died. An afterword by White’s granddaughter, Martha White, is a bonus, telling about the author of children’s books who was also a journalist and contributor to New Yorker. Sweet has provided information about the influences for White’s books as well as his love for animals and nature although young readers may find information about The Elements of Style by White and William Strunk may appeal to them a bit less. Many readers, however, may be interested in White’s shy personality who succeeded because of a strong drive. Sweet’s biography may not be for all young people, but it’s an important addition to libraries and a book that can be used in many ways.

Fall 2016 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Let Your Voice Be Heard: The Life and Times of Pete Seeger, by Anita Silvey

Silvey, Anita. Let Your Voice Be Heard: The Life and Times of Pete Seeger. Clarion, 2016. $17.99. 112p. ISBN 9780547330129. Ages 11-15. P5Q10

silvey-let-your-voice-be-heardBorn into a privileged family, this noted folksinger became a social activist because of his parents’ influence and spent his life fighting injustices. He was surrounded by other musical activists, mentors Alan Lomax and Woody Guthrie, as well as his performances with the Weavers, who were attacked by the infamous Sen. Joseph McCarthy in his witch-hunt for Communists in the 1950s. After being blacklisted because of this persecution, he traveled throughout the country to play at schools where he gained a huge fan base of youth who cared about folk songs. Seeger protested the Vietnam War, participated in the civil rights movement, and eventually led a cleanup of the Hudson River. Silvey’s passion for her subject is shown through her extensive research and use of primary source materials and photographs, and her lively writing brings Seeger’s past to life. Through this biography, young people can see that music can be an important piece of activism.

Fall 2016 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: She Stood for Freedom: The Untold Story of a Civil Rights Hero, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, by Loki Mulholland and Angela Fairwell, illustrated by Charlotte Janssen

Mulholland, Loki and Angela Fairwell. She Stood for Freedom: The Untold Story of a Civil Rights Hero, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland. Il. Charlotte Janssen. 64p. Shadow Mountain, 2016. $14.99. 64p. ISBN 9781629721774. Ages 8-10. P7Q8

mulholland-she-stood-for-freedomBorn to Virginia segregationists, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland—a Southern white female—was determined to fight for equal rights, participating in lunch-counter demonstrations and becoming a Freedom Rider to help black people register for the vote at a time when this was extremely dangerous. Being jailed for two months didn’t deter Mulholland even when the Ku Klux Klan put her on a list to be killed, and she followed that by enrolling in the black Tougaloo College. In 2013, her son, Loki Mulholland, produced a film about her called An Ordinary Hero which he followed with this biography composed of vignettes, photographs, and cut-paper-collage illustrations. Although extremely simple, the book shows the bravery of a woman who followed this message:  “Find a problem, get some friends together, and go fix it.”

Fall 2016 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Women Who Changed the World: 50 Amazing Americans, by Laurie Calkhoven, illustrated by Patricia Castelao

Calkhoven, Laurie. Women Who Changed the World: 50 Amazing Americans. Il. Patricia Castelao. Scholastic,. 2015. $8.99. 96p. Ages 8-12. P4Q5

calkhoven-women-who-changed-the-worldThe recent emphasis on the importance of women has resulted in a large variety of books with brief biographical information and drawings. This paperback lists several of these women. Calkhoven has adopted a traditional list with no unusual additions to make this book stand out, and many of Castelao’s drawings are not particularly attractive. This book could be used in libraries with extremely large collections.

Fall 2016 review by Nel Ward.