Women Rock the World

To get an idea of the fantastic resources exploring women’s crucial contributions to society, take a look at KidLit Celebrates Women’s History Month, a month-long blogging collaboration hosted by The Fourth Musketeer , a library science student, and Shelf-Employed, a children’s librarian. The site features thirty bloggers and authors from across the kidlitosphere. I am happy to be a part of this project; on March 22, look for my post on the unique children’s book author/illustrator Wanda Gág.

Last week, I featured Frances Hodgson Burnett, the author of my favorite novel for children. Today I’ll highlight five inspiring picture-book biographies that won a place on the 2011 Amelia Bloomer list.

Annino, Jan Godown. She Sang Promise: The Story of Betty Mae Jumper, Seminole Tribal Leader. Illus. by Lisa Desimini. National Geographic, 2010.

Ages 8-12. In an era when many of her people lived “under cabbage palm roofs, without clean water or electricity” and did not understand English, Betty Mae Jumper became the first woman to be elected as a tribal leader of the Florida Seminole Tribe. She surmounted a barrel of obstacles  to become educated and to train as a nurse. After she received her nursing degree, she chose to return to her people, even though the pay was so low she had to supplement it by selling crafts and, occasionally, by wrestling alligators. She helped start the Seminole Indian News and served as an interpreter in courtrooms and emergency rooms. Annino’s respectful, nature-filled free verse is enhanced by the lush, saturated colors of Desimini’s illustrations. Included are an afterword by Jumper’s son, a map, chronology, glossary, blibliography,  and author’s notes. This fine biography will enhance units on Native Americans or women leaders.

Johnson, Jen Cullerton. Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace. Illus. by Sonia Lynn Sadler. 2010. Lee & Low. Ages 6-10.
What a marvel this little biography is: visually striking and quivering with sensual details and a sense of hope and respect for all living things.We see young Wangari and her mother eating sweet figs, just as the monkeys and an elephant are doing. The Kikuyu people of Kenya, we learn, believe their ancestors rest in the tree’s shade, so Wangari promises never to cut down the tree. While few girls in her village learn to read, Wangari’s parents respond to their daughter’s desire to learn, and arrange for her to go to the local school. At age 11, however, she can advance no more. To continue, she must move to the big city of Nairobi. From there, she goes the U.S. to major in biology. When Wangari decides to return home, she finds a world out of balance. Because the government has sold much land to big foreign companies, the forest habitat has dwindled, and native cedar and acacia trees have vanished. The people of her village have abandoned their custom of not cutting down the mugumo (spreading fig trees). Erosion has caused soil to stream into the rivers. Crops are drying out, and people are hungry. Wangari’s seed of an idea will bring the community together and restore the ecology of the land. Sadler’s lush oil and scratchboard illustrations show the belts of green saplings planted by the women. After being arrested by corrupt police officers, Wangari gets out and takes her case to the world. The woman called Mama Miti, mother of trees, helped get 30 million trees planted, making for cleaner rivers, abundant fruit, and healthy crops. She won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize, the first African to do so. Seeds of Change is a great story to include in units on ecology, peacemakers, Kenya, or outstanding women. A brief biographical note and sources are included.

Napoli, Donna Jo. Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya. Illus. by Kadir Nelson. Simon & Schuster, 2010. Ages 5-8.
Napoli employs simple, engaging words and images to tell the story of Wangari Maathai. The source of her wisdom, the author notes, sprang from the stories she heard from the village elders. This biography centers on the role of the community; the land was transformed tree by tree, woman by woman by woman. Nelson captures this aspect with his large, layered images of oil and printed fabrics. Each time Wangari gives a woman a sapling, she tells her, “Peace, my people.” The restoration of the environment takes place alongside the renewal of a strong and peaceful nation. “A green belt of peace started with one good woman offering something we can all do: Plant a tree.” Napoli includes an afterward on Maathai’s life, a Kikuyu glossary, an author’s note with sources, and an illustrator’s note.

Pinkney, Andrea Davis and Brian Pinkney. Sojourner Truth’s Step-Stomp Stride. Disney/Jump at the Sun, 2009.  Ages 6-10.
This dynamic husband-and-wife team has crafted a lively yet sensitive biography of Sojourner Truth, whose slave name was Isabella. She was a big, bold, beautiful woman who booted out her slave name and chose the more evocative one, Sojourner Truth. Andrea Davis Pinkney uses a lively, conversational tone as she traces Truth’s early enslavement and separation from her family, her escape, her abiding religious faith, and how she came to tell her life story to the abolitionist Olive Gilbert. Truth traveled extensively, speaking for the causes of freedom and women’s rights. The author quotes from Truth’s famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech — modulated by a “Bam!” from her strong fists. Brian Pinkney’s energetic dry-brush lines and earthy watercolors match Truth’s feisty spirit. Author’s note and bibliography are included.

Winter, Jonah. Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in Brooklyn/ La Juez Crecio en el Bronx. [bilingual] Illus. by Edel Rodriguez. Atheneum, 2009. Ages 6-10.
The glow of a loving family infuses this story of how Sonia Sotomayor excels at school, becomes a stellar lawyer, and then a Supreme Court justice. The reader gets a sense of the obstacles she had to overcome and the culture shock she experienced at Princeton, where she heard crickets for the first time. She couldn’t help but wonder, “Where were the subways? Where was the merengue music? Where were the people who looked like her?” It was in college that she first felt inferior and self-consciously Latina. But she did not let this deter her from her goal. She read voraciously, graduated at the top of her class, and became the court’s first Latin American judge, distinguished not only by her outstanding record but by her life experience as one who knew poverty and prejudice firsthand. The warm, sprightly illustrations, done in pastel, acrylic, spray paint and oils, provide a pleasing match to Sotomayor’s optimistic approach. Additional details and an author’s note are included, and the Spanish translation allows for multiple curricular uses for this engaging biography.


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jan Godown Annino
    Jan 21, 2014 @ 18:00:56

    It is mighty fine company that the story of Betty Mae Tiger Jumper keeps here on this post, Janice. Thank you so incredibly much.
    The talents here are among my favorite authors & illustrators for young readers. Also, for adults reading this, Sonia Sotomayer’s autobiography is one of my favorite from 2013 – MY BELOVED LIFE. Previously I appreciated the bio for adults on Green Belt creator & Nobel prize winner Wangari Maathai, UNBOWED.

    I hope we can connect one day Janice – we share a shelf of interests. My info is JGAoffice at gmail.com Also find me at http://bookseedstudio.wordpress.com, twitter (BkseedStudio) pinterest (jga) & fb (jan godown annino) Happy New Year!


  2. Janice Floyd Durante
    Mar 23, 2011 @ 10:00:19

    Thanks so much, Alex. I was impressed with the Sotomayor bio, and I hope many girls will read this inspirational book.


  3. Alex Baugh
    Mar 19, 2011 @ 08:48:35

    These look like really interesting, unusual books for kids and a great addition to Women’s History Month.
    These are all wonderful women in their own was, but Sonia Sotomayor is a fellow Brooklynite and Nancy Drew fan, not to mention a liberal, and I am so glad you included her.


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