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

  • March 13, 2010 8:45 am

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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.

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.

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.

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.