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

  • March 13, 2010 8:45 am
Amelia

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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.

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.