History and Politics

Standing Up for Education

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Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education
By Raphaële Frier
Illustrated by Aurélia Fronty
Translated from the French by Julie Cormier
(Charlesbridge, 2017, Watertown, Massachusetts, $17.99)

By now, nearly everyone has heard of Malala Yousafza. When she was only eleven, she started blogging about the Taliban’s efforts to suppress education for women and girls in her native Pakistan. Her activism attracted national and international recognition, but it also outraged extremists. One day, when Malala was fifteen, two militants boarded her school bus. One of them shot her twice; a few other girls were also wounded. After convalescing in Birmingham, England, Malala continued her studies – and her efforts to ensure education for all children, male and female, throughout the world. In 2014, at seventeen, Malala became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

In Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education, Raphaële Frier and Aurélia Fronty take a closer look at Malala’s story. Frier’s lyrical present-tense narrative, translated from French by Julie Cormier, brings readers into the young activist’s world. We learn how Malala liked to sit on her roof and listen “to the sounds of the city, the chatter of the birds, and the words her father talking about politics with his friends while they drink cardamom tea.” Frier also explains how the Taliban took advantage of a natural disaster to pretty on people’s fears and provides some contextual information about Pashtun culture. An extensive afterword discusses Pakistan, the plight of girls’ around the world, and Malala’s various role models. Aurélia Fronty’s illustrations use color and texture to celebrate Malala’s achievements and bring her world to life. In one early spread, Malala and her younger brother stand on a red rooftop, flying magnificently multicolored kites. Below them is a patchwork green valley; above them, snow-capped purple mountains. As Malala’s world becomes more dangerous, Fronty’s illustrations become more surreal. One spread shows Malala flying to England after the attempt on her life. A tiny figure lies in, or perhaps atop, a two-dimensional plan. An IV is attached to her. The plane soars over blue mountains patrolled by one armed figure and swirly striped clouds to a pile of letters addressed to her, presided over by a pink kitten. Some fanatics may wish Malala ill, but far more people support her.

Malala is an inspiring story about what one brave person can achieve. The picture-book biography should also make young people – and Westerners of all ages – appreciative of their educational opportunities and spark conversation about how social change happens.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

Angel with a Plan

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Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse
By Catherine Reef
(Clarion Books, 2017, New York, $18.99)

Long considered a founding mother of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale is best remembered for nursing British soldiers during the Crimean War and founding a nursing school after it. However, the “Angel with a Lamp” was also a fierce public health advocate. She argued for – and often obtained – improved medical care and living conditions for Britain’s standing army and better sanitation in India. Eventually, she became a national symbol, but she overcame societal prejudice and familial opposition to start her career.

In Florence Nightingale, Catherine Reef describes the famous nurse’s life and work. She discusses Nightingale’s accomplishments in their historical context, providing relevant information about Victorian society, medicine, and the position of women. Of special interest to Reef is Nightingale’s relationship with her sister Parthenope. Staid and domestic, Parthenope was an ideal Victorian lady – and everything Florence was not. However, Parthenope initially resented Florence’s adventures and career because they separated her from her sister. In this way, Reef explores how nineteenth-century gender roles constrained not only ambitious women like Nightingale, but also those who preferred a quieter way of life as it made them overly dependent on others. And although Reef paints an admiring portrait of Nightingale, she also relates incidents in which the ministering angel was dismissive or manipulative. Far from detracting from Nightingale’s image, these anecdotes suggest she needed a certain single-mindedness to do her work.

Inspiring and thought-provoking, Florence Nightingale is both an intimate portrait of a secular saint and a look at the world that shaped her. Like the best biographies, it asks why someone accomplished so much – and provides a nuanced answer.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

Girl on the Bus

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She Stood for Freedom: The Untold Story of a Civil Rights Hero, Jean Trumpauer Mullholland
By Loki Mullholland
Artwork by Charlotta Janssen
(Shadow Mountain Publishing, 2016, Salt Lake City, $14.99)

The Civil Rights movement included both African Americans and their white allies. Although we typically assume these white activists were idealistic New England college students, some white southerners also participated in lunch-counter sit-ins and Freedom Rides. Among these courageous few was Joan Trumpauer, a university student from Arlington, Virginia.

In She Stood for Freedom, Loki Mullholland, son of Joan Trumpauer Mullholland, tells his mother’s remarkable story. The middle-grade biography follows Joan’s odyssey from child of segregation to committed integrationist. Mullholland’s narrative is not a typical biography; rather, he presents short accounts – written snapshots – of crucial moments in his mother’s childhood and youth. Readers learn how young Joan first became aware of the injustice inherent in segregation; they also join her at some of the most harrowing moments in the fight for equality. Although this episodic approach occasionally leaves readers with unanswered questions, it nonetheless conveys the full extent of Joan’s physical and moral courage as she separated herself from her family and community to join the movement. Photographs, telegrams, letters, poems, and other documents bring her world to life.

Charlotta Janssen’s collage illustrations depict significant moments in Joan’s life. In one, ten-year-old Joan and a friend walk hand-in-hand as they approach a one-room shack that serves as an African-American school. Legs appear behind sheets on clotheslines, suggesting that members of the community are anxious to avoid these white visitors to their community. Portions of the spread are in colorful pastel; others are charcoal drawings while clippings of black and white photographs are positioned over parts of the image. This childhood expedition, born of childish curiosity, is when young Joan first becomes aware that separate means anything but equal. The spread, with its discordant colors and textures, shows Joan’s uncertainty as she takes her first step toward consciousness.

She Stood for Freedom celebrates a little-know, but admirable figure in the Civil Rights movement. The episodic narrative and striking illustrations makes this timeless story especially compelling and timely.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

Sickness and Stigma

TERRIBLE TYPHOID MARYTerrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of Deadliest Cook in America
By Susan Campbell Bartoletti
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015, New York, $17.99)

Today, we remember Mary Mallon as “Typhoid Mary,” a healthy carrier of typhoid who transmitted the disease to others without showing symptoms herself. As a result, the New York City Board of Health compelled her to spend much of her life in quarantine. Mallon herself got lost under the moniker. An industrious Irish immigrant, Mallon had worked her way up the domestic servant ladder to become a sought-after cook for affluent households. She was also a fiercely private woman, a loyal friend, and a quick learner who later worked in health care.

In Terrible Typhoid Mary, Susan Campbell Bartoletti separates Mary Mallon from the urban legends that surrounded her during and after her lifetime. Although little information exists about Mallon’s early life, Bartoletti explores why so many Irish people emigrated to American in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century – and describes the hardships she faced as a domestic servant. Bartoletti intertwines Mallon’s story with other narratives, including that of George Soper, the sanitary engineer who first linked Mallon to a typhoid outbreak. In addition, she places Mallon’s plight in its historical context, educating readers about early twentieth-century advances in medicine and microbiology. Along the way, Bartoletti raises questions about the often dehumanizing treatment Mallon received from the Board of Health and the media. She asks readers to consider whether the Board violated Mallon’s civil rights and offers possible explanations for Mallon’s fervent distrust of the medical profession.

In Terrible Typhoid Mary, Bartoletti deftly mingles biography, science, and history. The result is an often gripping, always engaging look at a chapter in epidemiological history and a woman who was dismayed to find herself at the center of it.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

Drawing from Life

 

DRAW WHAT YOU SEE
Draw What You See: The Life and Art of Benny Andrews
By Kathleen Benson
Illustrated with Paintings by Benny Andrews
(Clarion, 2015, New York, $16.99)

Born to sharecropper parents in 1930s Georgia, Benny Andrews knew grinding poverty, racism, and hard work. But he always drew his world: the fields where his parents toiled, the hot sun that beat on their backs, and the hats ladies wore in church. Later, the G.I. Bill helped Andrews attend art school, and he launched a successful career. However, he never forgot his roots. He used both his paintings and his position to advocate for civil rights and improve the lives of African Americans.

In Draw What You See: The Life and Art of Benny Andrews, Kathleen Benson describes Andrews’ remarkable career. The narrative opens with an elderly Andrews visiting New Orleans soon after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. Andrews came to teach art to displaced children. “He knew that sometimes it was easier to tell a story with pictures than with words,” Benson writes. Fortunately for readers, Andrews’ paintings accompany Benson’s lucid prose and help tell his story. They depict farms, churches, and art galleries Andrews knew as well as the prisons where he taught art. Mostly oil and collage, they are colorful, sometimes poignant, yet always uplifting portraits of African-American life.

Draw What You See is an accomplished introduction to one artist and a reflection on art’s purposes. It also allows children – and adults – to enjoy Andrews’ work outside of the museum.
-Dorothy A. Dahm

Rising Up

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Cesar Chavez
By Josh Gregory
(Children’s Press, 2015, New York, $6.95)
Cesar Chavez is best known for organizing California farm workers in the 1960s. Inspired the peaceful dissent of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., Chavez led a large grape worker strike and fought for the right of farm workers to unionize. In Cesar Chavez, Josh Gregory introduces early middle-grade readers to the activist. In simple, straightforward prose, he describes the injustices laborers faced and the hardship inherent in their struggle for better wages . Photos of Chavez and his contemporaries as well as photos of union posters and buttons make his story more tangible. Although the lives of farm workers may seem distant to many children, with Cesar Chavez, Gregory brings one chapter of labor history vividly to life.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

By Her Own Light

9781585369553_fc-1Miss Colfax’s Light
By Aimée Bissonette
Illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen
(Sleeping Bear Press, 2016, Ann Arbor, $16.99)

For forty-three years, from 1861 to 1904, Harriet Colfax kept the Michigan City Lighthouse. She worked round the clock, fueling and refueling the light, dragging fuel up and down the lighthouse stairs, and maintaining a log of the weather and her activities. Although the work was hard, Colfax reveled in her independence – and took pride in her labor.

In Miss Colfax’s Light, Aimée Bissonette and illustrator Eileen Ryan Ewen celebrate Harriet Colfax’s life. In frugal, vivid prose, Bissonette conveys both nineteenth century constraints on women’s choices and Colfax’s determination to succeed in a man’s world. Excerpts from Colfax’s log appear in several spreads, further illuminating the harsh weather and constant toil that formed her days. Ewen’s illustrations evoke both the coziness of the lighthouse and the exhausting nature of the work. Readers see for themselves just how backbreaking the work was and why Colfax embraced this existence. An author’s note provides additional information about Colfax and includes a glossary of lighthouse terms.

Miss Colfax’s Light is a winning picture-book biography of an unconventional Victorian woman. It is also a look at a vanished way of life and a testament to the satisfaction of a job well done.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

 

Faces of Feminism

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Fight Like a Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World
By Laura Barcella
Illustrated by Summer Pierce
(Zest Books, 2016, San Francisco, $14.99)

What is feminism? Every feminist has a different definition of the concept. In Fight Like a Girl, Laura Barcella profiles fifty women, all of whom project a different image of feminism. There’s a lot to like about this collective biography for young adults: Barcella’s lively voice, Summer Pierce’s engaging black and white portraits of the book’s subjects, and the diverse array of individuals profiled. Barcella’s subjects include artists and scientists, athletes and politicians, activists and writers, white women and women of color, straight women and members of the GLBTQ community.

Still, despite these virtues, some of Barcella’s choices are questionable. In her introduction, she explains that she didn’t include Gloria Steinem and other well-known feminists because she “didn’t want this book to exist solely as a refresher course.” However, it seems unlikely that today’s teens would have significant knowledge of Steinem, Friedan, or other well-known feminists who do not appear in this book. Also, although Barcella profiles some early figures, including Sojourner Truth and Mary Wollstonecraft, others, including Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, and Lucy Stone, do not appear. In fact, not one figure from the American suffrage movement made the cut. Instead, Barcella celebrates pop culture icons (Beyonce, Madonna, Queen Latifah) who have spoken about women’s rights. She also includes notable women who do not necessarily identify as feminists or have connection to the movement (Rosa Parks, Jane Goodall, and Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama). Had Fight Like a Girl merely been a collective biography of influential or pioneering women, these choices would have made sense. As the book exists, however, these selections seem more like an attempt to stretch the definition of feminism than to educate readers about early participants in the movement.

Fight Like a Girl purports to give young adult readers a kaleidoscope view of feminism, and it does show the diversity of the concept and its adherents. However, by spurning early activists in favor of contemporary celebrities, the collective biography inadvertently dismisses the sacrifices women made so that others could vote, own property, work without fear of harassment, and attend school. Singing a song about women’s issues may still be controversial, even in twenty-first century America. However, early activists faced social ostracization and even imprisonment. They had to be braver than today’s boldest artists. Without their efforts, the actions of today’s feminists might not be legal or possible.

– Dorothy A. Dahm

Trees for Peace

Wangari_300ppiWangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees
By Franck Prévot
Illustrated by Aurélia Fronty
Translated from the French by Dominique Clément
(Charlesbridge, 2015, Watertown, Massachusetts, $17.95)

Wangari Maathai lived a remarkable life by anyone’s standards. Born in 1940 to a poor family in rural Kenya, she was the first East African woman to earn a PhD and the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Along the way, she worked both to protect Kenya’s land and people from exploitation; in her mind, environmental protection and human rights were closely aligned. Her environmental activism often took a simple and concrete form: planting trees in deforested areas and encouraging others, especially poor women, to do the same.

In Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees, Franck Prévot and Aurélia Fronty introduce young readers to the pioneering activist. Translator Dominique Clément ensures the picture-book biography retains the understated lyricism of the original French narrative: “In shade of the big mugumo, her mother teaches her that a tree is worth more than its wood, an expression Wangari never forgets.” Fronty’s colorful illustrations reflect the interconnectedness Maathai saw between all life. In one striking spread, a leopard poses gracefully in a tree with a slim, twisting trunk. The tendrils of other trees and even smaller plants intertwine with the trunk; a bird perches on one limb. Nearby, a young Wangari, whose name means “She who belongs to the leopard,” peeps from behind two large leaves. Other illustrations flirt with a symbolic surrealism. One spread shows the shoots of various plants, in vivid red, blue, and green, springing from Maathai’s fingertips. The plants’ veins extend down into her hand and arm; a red heart branches off from a vein in her hand, suggesting the love and interdependence that unite all life. A timeline of Maathai’s life and information about Kenya’s current political and environmental situation follow the narrative.

Both teaching tool and a work of art,  is a passionate look at the difference one person can make. It should inspire children and adults to improve their corner of the world – even if they only plant a tree.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

Bridge to Fairness

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Ruby Bridges

By Simone T. Ribke
(Scholastic, Inc., 2015, New York, Library Binding $23, Paperback $5.95)

Parents of all backgrounds often struggle to explain racism and segregation to their children. Simone T. Ribke’s Ruby Bridges allows parents and educators to introduce these sensitive subjects to beginning readers. Part of Scholastic’s Rookie Biographies series, the book helps children develop reading schools even as they learn about an important figure in the Civil Rights movement.

In very simple prose, Ribke tells the story of Ruby Bridges, who, at six, became the first African-American student to attend an otherwise white elementary school in Louisiana. To put Ruby’s experiences in context, Ribke also provides basic facts about segregation. Photos, a timeline, glossary, poem, and Fast Facts also help bring Ruby’s world to life.

Ruby Bridges became a Civil Rights pioneer when she was six – the approximate age of the students who will read this book. As such, she makes a compelling and admirable subject – and an excellent way for children to start learning about the Civil Rights movement.

-Dorothy A. Dahm