Women’s History Month is a great time to dive into some wonderful new books. And GeekMoms everywhere can sit down with the kiddos and share tremendous reads that celebrate women’s stories, for a range of ages and reading levels.
For the youngest audience, a variety of new books feature real women who faced serious odds to become what they dreamed. First up is Dare the Wind: The Record-Breaking Voyage of Eleanor Prentiss and the Flying Cloud (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), which was published last month. Written by Tracey Fern and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully, it tells the story of a girl who was “born with saltwater in her veins” and wanted to sail the high seas. She learned all she could about ships and sailing, and she grew into a seaworthy woman. With the Gold Rush on, not only did Ellen, as she was called, sail with her husband from New York City to San Francisco to stake a claim, but she navigated their ship there and set a world record for speed.
Tanya Lee Stone’s Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors?: The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell (Christy Ottaviano Books, 2013) is an eye-opener for young readers who might not blink at the notion of having a woman for a doctor. Such was not always the case, as we know. Illustrated by Marjorie Priceman, it looks at the many obstacles young Elizabeth had to overcome in order to study medicine. She was not one to shy from conflict: “This was a girl who had once carried her brother over her head until he backed down from their fight.”
Told in simple language that lays out the challenges and attitudes of the times (the lone medical school that accepted Elizabeth as a student did it as a bit of joke), Stone’s book is an inspiring story of how one young girl opened the door for generations of women to come.
Patricia Hruby Powell’s Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker (Chronicle Books) hit bookstores in January. Illustrated by Christian Robinson, it looks at the ground-breaking dancer and civil rights advocate Josephine Baker, who worked her way from the slums of St. Louis to the grandest stages in the world. “They all six slept in one bed–Daddy and Mama, heads one way, four kids, the other way–newspapers covering the windows.”
Undeterred by boundaries and categorization, Josephine believed in herself and her abilities. She went on to earn her pilot’s license and worked as a spy during World War II. Later she adopted 12 children from around the world, calling them her Rainbow Tribe. Author Powell and artist Robinson celebrate the story of an extraordinary woman whose life was lived with style and strength.
For older readers, the jaw-dropping Pure Grit: How American World War II Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific by Mary Cronk Farrell hit shelves only last month. It tells the story of U.S. Army nurses in the early 1940s who enlisted for peacetime duty. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor thrust America into World War II, and the 101 American Army and Navy nurses serving in the Philippines were suddenly under fire. Working in makeshift jungle hospitals, the nurses aided wounded and dying American soldiers as bombs exploded nearby.
Most of them were later captured by the Japanese as prisoners of war, where they suffered disease and near-starvation for three years. Of particular note is the treatment they received upon return home, where, with their health ruined and lives utterly changed, they were still not regarded as combatants by the U.S. government.
Also for older readers, the historical fiction of Elizabeth Wein is tremendous. Her Pritz Honor book Code Name Verity (Disney-Hyperion, 2012) has been called the “rare young adult novel entirely about female power and female friendship” as well as one of the great war books. In order to buy time before her imminent execution, a young female spy captured in Nazi-occupied France slowly pens a confession of the part she plays in the Resistance. And as it unfolds, readers learn about two young women from very different classes who become the best of friends, their relationship tested by fire in a secret mission that determines which one of them will live and which will die.
Tense writing along with remarkable voice, this is a book that’s hard to put down. Its follow-up Rose Under Fire, which was published in September and features a female American pilot captured and sent to Ravensbrück, is equally well-received. Wein’s detailed research and devotion to telling the history of real women in aviation, the role of women in World War II, and the women’s concentration camp at Ravensbrück is clear in both books.