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Feminist Folk Tales

  • February 20, 2010 7:28 am

Woman who outshone the sunMany traditional folk tales feature men and boys as the heroes. However, there are a number of traditional folk tales showing women and girls as strong, intelligent, and resourceful. Here is a list of books from small publishers. Both girls and boys will enjoy reading or hearing these tales. Click on the titles below to buy these books.

Watch Out for Clever Women, by Joe Hayes

Five traditional Hispanic tales featuring clever women, including “The Day it Snowed Tortillas,” about a woman who prevents robbers from claiming three gold bags her husband found, and “In the Days of King Adobe,” in which an old woman tricks two rogues who try to steal her ham. English and Spanish on the same page.

Pajaro Verde,
by Joe Hayes

A magical tale based on New Mexican folklore. Mirabel falls in love with a green bird (Pajaro Verde) and marries him despite her sisters’ and mother’s jeering. He is of course a prince in disguise, and when he is injured, she must rescue him. Another twist in the story is that Mirabel’s sisters have various numbers of eyes, from nine to one. The illustrations are gorgeous. English and Spanish text.

Mighty Mountain and the Three Strong Women, by Irene Hedlund

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

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.

Tatterhood and Other Tales, by Ethel Johnston Phelps

Twenty-six fun, absorbing tales featuring strong, brave and/or clever girls and women, including stories from from Norway, southern Africa, England, Sudan, Scotland, Native Americans, Japan, India, Ivory Coast, Ireland, China, Wales, and Ecuador.  A rich treasury for family reading. The same author has also written Maid of the North, featuring more tales of strong and clever women from around the world.

Mother Scorpion Country,
by Rohmer and Wilson

In this tale from the Miskito Indians of Nicaragua, Naklili loves his wife Kati so much that when she dies, he follows her to Mother Scorpion Country, the land of the dead. Kati protects both of them from dangers along the way, and when Naklili realizes he doesn’t belong with Mother Scorpion, Kati sends him back to the living. Beautiful color pictures add to this memorable, slightly spooky story. English and Spanish text.

Clever Rachel,
by Debby Waldman and Cindy Revell

In this retelling of a Jewish folk-tale, Clever Rachel is a girl who loves riddles. A smart boy, Jacob, hears about her and decides to challenge her. He is astonished when she answers his best riddles in no time flat. But when a desperate woman visits Rachel needing answers to some riddles, Rachel and Jacob realize they must work together to help solve the riddles.

The Woman Who Outshone the Sun,
by Zubizaretta, Rohmer, and Schecter

Lucia Zenteno arrives in a village and the animals and plants immediately love her. But the people are suspicious and drive her away. When she leaves, the village’s river goes with her. Humbled, the people ask her forgiveness. She returns the river and reminds the villagers to treat even strangers with kindness. This story is part of the oral tradition of the Zapotec Indians of Mexico. Color pictures, English and Spanish text.

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.

Women Making America, by Hemming and Savage

  • January 9, 2010 10:16 am
Women Making America

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Women Making America tells the fascinating and often overlooked story of women’s lives in the United States from 1770 to the present. The authors, Heidi Hemming and Julie Savage, are two teachers who were motivated to spend five years researching and writing this book because “we could not find a single book wherein young as well as seasoned readers could gain a comprehensive view of women’s multiple roles and many contributions to America’s past.” 

This 360-page book is filled with photos, illustrations, and snippets of  information about the everyday lives of women, including African-American women, Native American women, and other ethnic minorities.

This history book comes alive with the stories of individual women: “In 1780 a slave woman named Mumbet heard the Declaration of Independence read in the public square of Sheffield, Massachusetts. . . .   The day after the reading in the square, she and another slave stepped into the law office of Theodore Sedgwick, one of her master’s friends. She asked him if all were born equal, did that not mean her as well. Sedgwick agreed to represent her case. Surprisingly, the ensuing lawsuit was found in favor of the two slaves. Mumbet, now a free woman, chose to be called Elizabeth Freeman.”

I highly recommend Women Making America for girls and boys ages 12 and up. You can buy this book from my girls list.

Rose O’Neill: The Girl Who Loved to Draw

  • November 21, 2009 6:40 am
Rose O'Neill

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I had never heard of Rose O’Neill before picking up this book, although I was familiar with “kewpies,” her most famous creation.

Rose O’Neill was a commercial illustrator and comic artist in the early 1900s, at a time when most commercial illustrators were men.

This children’s biography of Rose O’Neill concentrates on her childhood. Her father was a bookseller who had difficulty supporting his growing family, so Rose and her siblings moved often and lived in small, cramped homes in Nebraska and Missouri. However, the family was happy together. Rose never had formal art lessons: she taught herself to draw by copying illustrations from the stacks of books always around the house. 

When she was 13, one of her drawings won a prize from an Omaha newspaper. At the age of 19, she went to New York City to begin her career as a freelance illustrator for magazines and books. In 1909, when she was 35, she created the first kewpie character for Ladies Home Journal. This character proved so popular that Rose wrote and illustrated weekly kewpie stories and cartoons, and oversaw the manufacture of a kewpie doll.

Rose’s wealth allowed her to support her parents and siblings. Rose worked for the right of women to vote, and she mentored young artists.

This 68-page biography is in an oversized 10″ x 12″ format. It is lavishly illustrated with over 100 drawings and photographs. The author, Linda Brewster, skillfully pairs Rose’s adult drawings with the childhood events that may have inspired them. The book is based on Rose’s unpublished memoirs, so the writing comes alive with dialogue and Rose’s memories.

You can buy this book from my girls list.

Judy Bolton mystery series

  • September 26, 2009 8:01 am
Vanishing Shadow

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The 38 books in the Judy Bolton mystery series, written by Margaret Sutton, sold millions of copies from 1932 to 1967. These books are now being reprinted by Applewood Books. I was curious to read The Vanishing Shadow, the first in the series, because the publisher claims that “Judy is a feminist in the best light — smart, capable, courageous, nurturing, and always unwavering in her true beliefs — a perfect role model.”

All of the Judy Bolton books are based on actual events. The Vanishing Shadow involves a new dam in a small Pennsylvania town. Judy, a high school girl, overhears some suspicious remarks regarding the dam construction, and she is kidnapped early in the book in an attempt to prevent her from revealing what she knows. The plot moves along briskly, with plenty of suspense.

I also enjoyed the varied and complex characters in this book. Judy is indeed fearless and intelligent. Yet she is also fallible. For example, she dares her meek brother to ride a dangerous horse, and when he takes her up on the dare and ends up lost when the dam breaks and floods the town, she experiences remorse at her rash words.

I don’t want to reveal too many of the plot features, because this really is a fun book, and I don’t want to ruin anyone’s enjoyment. Readers will also learn something about the social life and culture of small-town America in the 1930s.

The Judy Bolton mysteries are apparently the longest lasting juvenile series written by one author. There is even a web site for Judy Bolton fans.

You can buy this book from my girls list.