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Sarah Gives Thanks, by Allegra and Gardner

  • November 10, 2012 5:44 am

Until I read this book, I had no idea how important Sarah Josepha Hale was to our country. She helped make Thanksgiving a national holiday (it was considered more of a New England holiday in the early 1800s).

Although as a young woman Hale was barred from college due to her gender, she studied at home alongside her brother, using his college texts. After the death of her husband, she was able to support her five children with her income as a writer.

As the influential editor of magazines for women, she encouraged education and exercise for women. She frequently wrote about the importance of Thanksgiving as a way to promote gratitude. She sent letters to politicians and businesspeople, and encouraged her readers to do the same. Finally, after five presidents had refused to consider her request to make Thanksgiving a national holiday, President Lincoln proclaimed in 1863 that Thanksgiving would be held nationwide on the last Thursday in November.

Hale’s story is told in simple, engaging language by Mike Allegra, with realistic, colorful pictures by David Gardner. The book also includes a biographical sketch for adults, as well as a list of resources for further reading. This book would be appropriate for elementary students above the age of seven or eight.

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Books

  • May 1, 2010 7:54 am

anna may wongIn honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (May), here is a collection of books from my lists. Click on the titles below to buy these books.

Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story, by Paula Yoo and Lin Wang

Anna May Wong was one of the earliest Chinese-American movie stars. She was born in Los Angeles in 1905, and started working as an actress in the 1920s, during a time when movies portrayed Chinese people in a demeaning way. Because her family was poor and relied on her earnings, she played these kinds of parts for many years and became a successful actress. In 1936, Anna May visited China and learned as much about the culture as she could. While there, she vowed never again to act in a movie that portrayed the Chinese in a negative light. Starting in 1937, Anna May Wong accepted only roles that showed her character in a positive light. These movies include Daughter of  Shanghai (1937), The Lady from Chungking (1942), and Bombs Over Burma (1943). This picture book relates Anna’s ambitions and struggles using text and pictures appropriate for children six years and older.

Mighty Mountain and the Three Strong Women, by Irene Hedlund

Folktale, ages 5 and up. A Japanese tale about a wrestler who, on his way to the capital to compete in the Emperor’s wrestling match, encounters three women stronger than he! They help him train for the competition, he wins, and then he returns to marry one of the women.  A funny story with beautiful color illustrations.

Shower of Gold: Girls and Women in the Stories of India,  by Uma Krishnaswami

Folktales, ages 5 and up. Eighteen folk tales from India, including the story of Chitrangada, who chooses to rule her kingdom rather than remain the wife of a handsome prince; and Supriya, who teaches adults about compassion. Told in a simple, engaging style.

 
Tofu Quilt,  by Ching Yeung Russell

Poetry, ages 8 and up. I’ve never seen a book quite like Tofu Quilt. It is a collection of 38 free-verse poems about the author’s childhood in Hong Kong during the 1950s and 1960s, and her desire to become a writer, despite the fact that she is a girl and is not expected to have a career. The poems are simple, story-like, and heartfelt.

Aruna’s Journeys, by Jyotsna Sreenivasan

Fiction, ages 8-12. Aruna was born in the U.S. and her parents are from India. Aruna hates looking “different.” Just when she finally finds a best friend at her new school, her parents take her to India for the whole summer. There she meets her feminist aunt Vandana who is on a hunger strike to avoid an arranged marriage. Vandana’s example and words encourage Aruna to hold on to her dreams and enjoy being different. Filled with details of urban life in India, and one of only a very few available novels about Indian-Americans. Winner of the 1998 Skipping Stones Magazine Award for multicultural books.

Ela Bhatt: Uniting Women in India, by Jyotsna Sreenivasan

Biography, ages 10-14. Ela Bhatt overcame her shyness and her stuttering to start a union for the poorest women in India. By really listening to the women and helping them implement their own ideas, Ela helped the women start a bank, worker cooperatives, and child care cooperatives. This inspiring book is part of the Women Changing the World series published by the Feminist Press, which also includes Aung San Suu Kyi: Standing Up for Democracy in Burma, by Bettina Ling.

You Can’t Do That, Amelia! by Klier and Kemly

  • March 13, 2010 8:45 am
Amelia

Click on image to buy book

Throughout her life, Amelia Earhart was often told, “you can’t do that!” This accessible picture book uses this refrain to highlight Earhart’s persistence, creativity, and courage. As a child, she built a kind of “roller coaster” in her yard. As a young woman she worked as a nurse and thought about enrolling in medical school, but airplanes and flying fascinated her. Despite the doubts of others around her, she took flying lessons, bought her own airplanes, started an organization for women pilots, and set records for height and distance. Earhart’s compassion is also emphasized: she stops to help a fellow pilot during an air race.

The book ends with Earhart’s successful transatlantic flight, and does not cover her fatal attempt to fly around the world This allows the book to end on a positive note for young readers. However, the appendix includes a complete biography and timeline of her life.

My 7-year-old son used this book as the basis of a biography project for his 2nd grade class. The book led us to watch a short video online about efforts to search for the truth about Earhart’s disappearance.

I have included this book on my girls list.

Black History Month Books

  • January 30, 2010 11:01 am

In Her HandsIn honor of Black History Month (February), I’ve highlighted biographies and picture books about African-Americans from my list. Click on the titles below to buy these books.

In Her Hands: The Story of Sculptor Augusta Savage, by Alan Schroeder

Augusta Savage, a poor African-American girl living in Florida in the 1890s, loved to make figures from the clay she dug up around her house. Her father, a preacher, discouraged this hobby, believing the figures to be profane and sinful. At the age of 27, she won a sculpture contest at the county fair, and used the prize money to move to New York, where she gained entry to the Cooper Union School of Art. She became a noted sculptor and art teacher. Rich paintings by JaiMe Bereal accompany this absorbing biography. This picture book is suitable for kids ages 6 and up.

Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship and Freedom, by Tim Tingle

This picture book tells the story of a Native American girl, Martha Tom, who helps a family of slaves escape into her tribe’s Choctaw territory. Written by a Choctaw storyteller and beautifully illustrated by a Cherokee artist, this is a haunting, magical tale.

Elizabeth’s Song, by Michael Wenberg

This is the true story of the childhood of Elizabeth Cotten, who composed the folk song classic “Freight Train” at age 11. Her unique, self-taught way of playing the guitar (upside down and left-handed) gave rise to the phrase “cotton-picking.” Wonderful illustrations and a memorable story.

Book of Black Heroes, Vol. II: Great Women in the Struggle, by Igus, Ellis, Patrick and Wesley

Black women throughout history are profiled in this easy-to-read compilation featuring famous and not-so-famous women
freedom fighters, educators, artists, athletes, entrepreneurs, policy
makers and scientists. Suitable for ages 10 and up.

Susie King Taylor: Destined to be Free, by Denise Jordan

 Susie King Taylor was born a slave and was just 14 when the Civil War started. Because she had been secretly taught to read, she became a teacher to Black children and adults during the war. She also worked as a nurse. Much later, she was the first Black Civil War nurse to write her own story. This short chapter book is suitable for ages 7 and up.

Almost Astronauts, by Tanya Lee Stone

  • January 18, 2010 2:46 pm
almost astronauts

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In the early 1960s, as white male fighter pilots were being tested to be astronauts, a small group of women pilots was also put through the same tests. These women got the chance to take the tests because a NASA doctor, Randolph Lovelace, was curious about how women would perform. He theorized that since women tend to be lighter and smaller than men, it might be cheaper to send them into space.

Thirteen women passed the tests, including Jerrie Cobb, a record-breaking pilot and the first woman to go through the grueling tests. Her results were even stronger than the men who were eventually selected to be astronauts. However, these women were not permitted to be astronauts.

President Lyndon Johnson told Jerrie Cobb in 1962: “If we let you or other women into the space program, we’d have to let blacks in. We’d have to let Mexican Americans in, and Chinese Americans. We’d have to let every minority in, and we just can’t do it.” So in other words, although these women had what it took to be astronauts, they were kept out in order to maintain the status quo of privilege for white males.

This is an eye-opening, gripping 130-page book about a group of women who had already broken gender barriers in flight, and who showed they were capable of going into space — but were denied that dream. Interwoven with the women’s stories is the social and political history of the era: how women were portrayed in the media; attitudes towards women pilots; and even the story of one jealous woman pilot who testified before Congress against women in space.

In the course of her research, author Tanya Lee Stone developed personal relationships with the women she was writing about. In fact, she became so involved with this project that she took flying lessons herself. Stone’s passion for her subject really comes through in this book.

Although the “Mercury 13″ women did not have a chance to go into space, their stories inspired women who did — including Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space (from Russia), and Eileen Collins, the first American woman to command a space shuttle.

This is a fantastic book to get girls (and boys) interested in science and flight. You can buy this book from my girls list.