Book review: Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World, by Pénélope Bagieu, translated by Montana Kane

Bagieu, Pénélope. Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World. Trans. by Montana Kane. First Second, 2018. $17.99. 296p. ISBN 978-1-62672-869-0. Ages 13+. P8Q10

These short graphic biographies about 30 spirited females from many places and times begin with a “portrait,” followed by nine cartoon panels on each page and finished off with a grand two-page spread collaging their achievements. The lack of chronological order keeps the reader wondering about the next entry, as does the shifts in geographical locations. Some of the choices were overshadowed by historical information about males such as Lozen, a Chiricahua warrior whose brother Victorio was more recognized as an Apache chief. Some of my favorites whose drive led them to overcome adversity—i.e., Temple Grandin, Peggy Guggenheim, and Annette Kellerman—are introduced to younger readers through Bagieu’s book.

Verdict: Quirky colorful drawings and playful comedic comments highlight the politics, love, and sometimes sensuous joy of these women. Diverse choices of subjects, including some lesser celebrated women, help make this book a delight. The energy of the book may lead readers to look into more background on them, and Bagieu has also listed “Thirty More Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World.” Parts of the book were originally published on Bagieu’s blog, “Culottees” about “audacious women” who decide to take charge of their own destiny.

March 2018 review by Nel Ward.

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Book review: Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad, by Ann Petry

Petry, Ann. Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad. Amistad/HarperCollins, 1955. $16.99. 255p. ISBN 978-0-06-269130-9. Ages 11-14. P8Q9

Reissued 67 years after its original release, this timeless view of an escaped slave who grew up in the Maryland before the Civil War and spent over ten years of her life constantly in danger covers her childhood before she went to the North in her 20s. Determined to save her family members from being sold further South, she rescued them in several trips and then continued to lead more slaves from their miserable lives to safety, first in the northern United States and later in Canada after the law determined that, as property, slaves could be returned to their owners. Her abilities to conceal them from “paterrollers” caused people to call her “Moses,” after the man who led the Israelites out of Egypt.

Verdict: The rich description of Harriet’s surroundings and her experiences are fascinating reading with a flow like fiction. Petry, the granddaughter of an escaped slave, wrote the book in a time when biography incorporated invented dialog to add interest to the books. It is possible that these quotes came from the speeches given by Tubman. The custom has largely disappeared, causing current reviewers to classify it as historical fiction. No matter the belief about biographical approaches, the book is brilliant.

January/February 2018 book review by Nel Ward.

Book review: More Girls Who Rocked the World: Heroines from Ada Lovelace to Misty Copeland, by Michelle Roehm McCann

McCann, Michelle Roehm. More Girls Who Rocked the World: Heroines from Ada Lovelace to Misty Copeland. Aladdin, 2017. $11.99. 309p. ISBN 978-1-58270-641-2. Ages 11-15. P6Q7

Using the same format as Girls Who Rocked the World (2012), these 45 short biographies are of young women who became important before they were 20 years old.

Verdict: Although a bit simple at times, for example describing Ada Byron Lovelace as a “computer programmer” instead of a mathematician, the book is an easy read. Some of the information is guessing as in “survivor” Naya Nuki, a Shoshone who was marched with Sacagawea when the 11-year-olds were captured by a rival Native American tribe. Cartoon graphics introducing the chapters and boxes with additional information enhance the accessibility of the book.

January/February 2018 book review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Streetcar to Justice: How Elizabeth Jennings Won the Right to Ride in New York, by Amy Hill Hearth

Hearth, Amy Hill. Streetcar to Justice: How Elizabeth Jennings Won the Right to Ride in New York. Greenwillow, 2018. $19.99. 141p. ISBN 978-0-06-267360-2. Ages 10-14. P7Q9

The author of The Delany Sisters Reach High tells the story of a 28-year-old black teacher integrated the Manhattan streetcar service when she refused to leave, over a century before Rosa Parks started the year-long boycott that led to the year-long boycott of Montgomery (AL) buses and the ensuing integration. Unlike Parks’ orchestrated actions, Elizabeth Jennings wanted to get to church on time on that day in 1854. Physically assaulted and removed from the “whites-only” streetcar, she sued for her rights—and won. The journalist author fills pages with highly descriptive details about the condition of New York at that time, and sidebars provide information connected to discrimination against blacks in both Jim Crow laws of the South and implicit segregation of the North. Hearth’s interest in the subject came from seeing a deserted house, once the summer home of Chester A. Arthur, Jennings’ lawyer and 27 years later the president of the United States. A timeline of Jennings shows that she founded the first kindergarten for black children in the city. Illustrations include photos, maps, and newspaper clippings.

Verdict: The information about Jennings is, of necessity, rather thin because little is known about her, but the well-researched information about the culture and movement toward racial equality makes the book a fascinating read.

January/February 2018 book review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Who Was Jane Austen?, by Sarah Fabiny, illustrated by Jerry Hoare

Fabiny, Sarah. Who Was Jane Austen? (Who Was series) Illustrated by Jerry Hoare. Penguin Workshop, 2017. $16.00. ISBN 9780515157994. 107 pages. Includes time line, The Works of Jane Austen, and bibliography.  Ages 10-14. P6 Q8

This biography of author Jane Austin provides a good picture of her life from 1775-1817.  As the seventh child of a poor reverend, she has to go into foster care and boarding school. The book shares how she works to become a published author. It seems to emphasize her desire for marriage which was expected for young women of the time. She is proposed to, yet she declines even though he is wealthy. Pencil illustrations and easy language make the chapter book accessible to young readers learning this part in history.

Verdict: It is a good addition for school libraries to add to the Who Was series.  Also, it provides an example of woman in history.

January 2018 review by Deborah Gwynn.

Book review: Victoria: Portrait of a Queen, by Catherine Reef

Reef, Catherine. Victoria: Portrait of a Queen. Clarion, 2017. $18.99. 246p. ISBN 978-0-544-71614-8. Ages 12-16. P6Q9

Lush paintings and vintage photos illustrate this biography of the English queen who ruled for 63 years after her 18th birthday. Even her childhood was filled with intrigue as her mother tried to control Victoria with the help of her consort. As a queen, Victoria struggled with the vicissitudes of ruling and her desire to create a better world for her subjects while still bound to the class society in which she was reared. Reef describes her relationships with various prime ministers, her emotional response to the death of her beloved husband Albert when he was only 42, and her attachments to other men after he died. The Victorian Era covered most of the 19th century, a time of great technological and industrial change when the position of royal family was shifting into one of less authority.

Verdict: Although Reef aptly describes the queen’s personality, she sometimes glosses over some of Victoria’s flaws. The subject and treatment of it makes the book better for young readers interested in British history during this period of time. Victoria includes a list of British monarchs, Victoria’s family tree, source notes, and an extensive bibliography including newspaper articles from the 19th century.

December 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Pope Francis: The People’s Pope, by Beatrice Gormley

Gormley, Beatrice. Pope Francis: The People’s Pope. (A Real Life Story). Aladdin, 2017. $17.99. 264p. ISBN 978-1-4814-8141-0. Ages 11-14. P5Q5

As the first non-European and Jesuit to achieve the office, Jorge Mario Bergolio hit the world by storm when the quiet Argentine was named the leader of the Catholic Church in 2013. With adoration, the author follows his spiritual story from childhood throughout his career in the politically disturbed and sometimes violent nation as she emphasizes his compassion for the people and his determination to follow the religion’s directions. Most of the narrative covers his professional life with very little about his family and friends except for their religious connections.

Verdict: Highly one-sided, the book can be used for Catholic teachings in a typical middle-school format.

December 2017 review by Nel Ward.