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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.

Tofu Quilt, by Ching Yeung Russell

  • December 19, 2009 3:56 pm
tofu quilt

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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.

At the age of five, Yeung is rewarded with a special dessert called “dan lai” for being able to recite Chinese poetry from memory. The reward awakens in her a desire to become educated and have enough money to buy more dan lai.

Her mother sends her to a private school, despite the fact that the family is poor. At the age of eight, Yeung writes letters for her illiterate grandmother, and at the age of 10, she does piecework for factories in order to earn money to buy books. At 12, she sells a story to a local newspaper, and this is the beginning of her writing career.

The poems are simple, story-like, and heartfelt. Some are humorous. Here is a poem about Yeung’s favorite teacher.

Secret Wish

I remember Mr. Hon

once said that

a person should see more things

and open his eyes

if he wants to write a good story.

Ma cannot afford to send me off

to see things.

So I decide that

when I grow up,

I will not marry a doctor,

or a lawyer,

or a teacher,

or a businessman.

I will marry a bus driver,

who can drive me everywhere

to see the world

and it will be

free.

And he must look like

Mr. Hon.

You can buy this book from my girls list.

Picture Books with Gay Parents

  • December 12, 2009 7:29 am

Asha's MumsA New York school librarian has compiled a list of over 80 picture books featuring gay parents and/or a gay theme. Gay-Themed Picture Books for Children lists books from large publishers and small, and even some publishers outside the U.S.

Included are many books like Asha’s Mums, featuring gay parents. Also included are books in which children deal with relatives or close friends who are infected with AIDS; several books about non-traditional families in general; books in which gay parents adopt a child; and a few books about boys who are teased for being a “sissy.”

The list is so long that it seems somewhat overwhelming at first, but if you scroll down and look on the right side, you will see that the books are categorized, so if you’re looking for books about, for example, lesbian mothers and their sons, you can click on that link and up pops three relevant titles.

The site also has links to other gay-themed book lists.

The list is compiled by Patricia Sarles of the Jerome Parker Campus Library in Staten Island, New York.

Playing War, by Kathy Beckwith

  • December 5, 2009 7:21 am
playing war

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A group of five children (four boys and a girl) decide, one summer day, to play “war” with pine cones for bombs, and sticks for guns. One boy, who has recently come to the United States from another (unnamed) country, starts to play but decides to go home when his friend Luke declares, “I’m going to blow their heads off.”

The next day, Luke suggests playing war again, and wishes he could be in a real war. Sameer reveals that, in his home country, he lived in the middle of a war, during which a bomb destroyed his house and killed his parents and brother. The friends are shocked at Sameer’s story of the tragedy of war. Luke decides that they ought to play basketball instead.

This picture book reveals the horrors of war in a gentle, sympathetic way. It would be a good book to get elementary-school kids talking about issues of war and peace.

You can buy this book from my boys list.