20 Rulers

Lives of Extraordinary Women: Rulers, Rebels, and What the Neighbors Thoughtlives of extraordinary women_hres
By Kathleen Krull
Illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt
(Sandpiper, 2000,   New Paperback 2013, Boston, $12.99)

So often historical figures and even present-day leaders appear remote and one-dimensional. In Lives of Extraordinary Women, Kathleen Krull and illustrator Kathryn Hewitt bring twenty women leaders, from Cleopatra to Guatemalan human rights advocate Rigoberta Menchu, to life. This collective middle-grade biography consists of short pieces about each woman; an imaginative portrait accompanies each entry. These biographical sketches succinctly summarize their accomplishments and offer human details about the women: their animals, hobbies, attire, and vulnerabilities. At times,  given the book’s audience, some adults may wish for less detail: Krull includes juicy gossip about the women’s affairs and presents a violent legend about Underground Railroad rescuer Harriet Tubman as fact. Hewitt’s portraits use humor to build character without ever resorting to real caricature. For example, Marie Antoinette wears a layer cake of a gown topped by two pugs, one of which has nibbled on the elaborate confection. The cards, wineglass, and candelabra in her hands suggest gaiety; however, the girl’s eyes are wide with the desperate anxiety the young queen often felt at Versailles. A lively introduction to some memorable figures, Lives of Extraordinary Women should pique readers’ curiosity and encourage further reading.

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