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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 The book is based on Rose’s unpublished memoirs, so the writing comes alive with dialogue and Rose’s memories.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.

The Goat Lady, by Jane Bregoli

  • October 31, 2009 12:45 pm
The Goat Lady

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The cover of The Goat Lady captured my attention right away: a full-length, detailed portrait of a strong, cheerful elderly woman in baggy clothes, with a goat by her side. How often does one see a carefully-done portrait featuring an older woman who is clearly not wealthy?

The book tells the true story of Noelie Houle, a French Canadian who found work in a Massachusetts factory as a young woman. When she developed arthritis, a doctor suggested she try drinking goat’s milk. She bought a goat, found the cure worked, and added to her flock, giving away extra goats to Heifer International, a nonprofit organization which donates farm animals to the poor. 

Yet her neighbors did not see Noelie’s determination and selflessness. They only saw her run-down house and her unruly animals.

One day, two children befriend Noelie and visit her often to help with the chores. The children tell their mother, an artist, about Noelie, and the mother decides to paint a series of portraits of the over 90-year-old woman. Once the paintings are shown in the town hall, the neighbors come to see Noelie’s strength and character, and to appreciate her way of life.

To me, this book is really about two strong, determined, forward-looking woman: Noelie Houle, and the author, Jane Bregoli, who took the time to see beyond the conventional stereotype of a poor old woman, and to showcase what was beautiful and special about her.

The story is told through the eyes of one of the author’s children, and is illustrated with several portraits of Noelie, as well as other pictures showing scenes of her home, animals, and her interactions with the author’s children.

This is a very special book, and I highly recommend it. You can purchase it from my girls list.

That’s Not Fair! by Tafolla and Teneyuca

  • October 3, 2009 8:36 am
that's not fair

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This picture book tells the true story of Emma Tenayuca, who at the age of 21 led thousands of Mexican-American pecan shellers in a successful strike.

The authors, Carmen Tafolla and Sharyll Teneyuca, focus on Emma’s childhood and her awakening empathy with Mexican-American laborers. Emma was not born poor: she attended school in San Antonio, Texas, and had enough clothes and food. Yet she encountered children who could not learn to read because they were working  as farm laborers. She saw kids who didn’t have enough to eat, and not enough clothes to keep them warm.

Even as a schoolgirl, Emma taught a friend to read, and gave food and clothing to children in need. As a teenager, she began to give speeches about the injustices suffered by Mexican-American laborers. In 1938, she led 12,000 pecan shellers in a two-month strike that resulted in higher wages.

Because it focuses mostly on Emma’s childhood, his book will appeal to kids in the lower elementary grades. Kids may not understand the concept of labor unions, but they do understand fairness, and that’s what this book emphasizes. The pictures by Terry Ybanez are colorful, simple, and appealing. The text is printed in both English and Spanish.

You can buy this book from my Girls list.

Elizabeth’s Song, by Michael Wenberg

  • September 12, 2009 7:11 am
Elizabeth's song

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This picture book for ages 5 and up is based on the true story of Elizabeth Cotten, who composed the well-known folk song “Freight Train” at the age of 11.

Elizabeth was born in 1893 in North Carolina. She loved music and taught herself to play her brother’s guitar — but since she was left-handed, she played it upside-down and backwards. When her brother left to look for work and took his guitar with him, Elizabeth saved money from odd jobs and bought herself a guitar.

While the story ends with the composition of “Freight Train,” in fact Cotten was not “discovered” as a musician until much later in her life. According to the epilogue, from her mid-teens until her early 50s, Elizabeth almost gave up music — she was busy with work and raising a family. In the mid-1940s, by chance she got to know the folk-singing Seeger family, and they encouraged her to pick up her guitar again. She released her first album in 1958, at the age of 66.

After my kids and I read this book, we wanted to hear her music. We bought the album Freight Train, which includes her famous composition as well as other folk songs that she learned as a child.

You can buy Elizabeth’s Song from my Girls list.

Native Women of Courage, by Kelly Fournel

  • August 23, 2009 4:22 pm
Native Women of Courage

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This 82-page book contains short biographies of 10 native women from the United States and Canada. Some of the women are fairly well-known, such as Wilma Mankiller (first woman chief of the Cherokees), Winona LaDuke (environmentalist and vice presidential candidate), and Maria Tallchief (ballerina for the New York City ballet). Others I had never heard of, such as Suzanne Rochon-Burnett, a Canadian radio broadcaster, and Lorna Williams, an educator who developed a native-centric curriculum.

I enjoyed reading the stories of all of these women. The author describes the challenges these women faced as well as their triumphs. I learned that Pauline Johnson-Tekahionwake, a poet and performer, had written down legends told to her by Chief Capilano of Vancouver, British Columbia. These are collected in a book called Legends of Vancouver, first published in 1910. I was able to request this book from my library to read to my kids. I also learned about Susan Aglukark, an Inuit singer who has won 3 Juno awards (the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy award). I’m glad to know about a new singer I might like to listen to. 

This book is part of the Native Trailblazers series from Book Publishing Company in Summertown, Tennessee. You can buy this from my Girls list.