Reviews Roundup: Women's History Month

From visionary poets, to fearless eagle huntresses, to inventors moonlighting as Hollywood actresses and more, SLC is celebrating Women's History Month with a list of inspiring women who, whether purposefully or by sheer happenstance of their gifted talents, helped redefine the commonplace attitudes and expectations surrounding women's roles. Read about Maya Angelou, who catalogued in her popular poetry, among other subjects, the experience of the black woman courageously propelling herself against the ongoing legacy of American slavery and the personal pain of a more intimate, private history: "Out of the huts of history's shame / I rise / Up from a past that's rooted in pain / I rise / I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide, / Welling and swelling I bear in the tide." Read the graphic novel memoir of writer Kim Hyun Sook as she reminisces about her years as a South Korean college student under the oppressive military regime of the early 1980s and her boldly subversive decision to join a banned book club. Read the illustrated celebration of Maria Mitchell, who discovered a new telescopic comet and went on to become the first professional female astronomer. Each of the noteworthy titles on this list can be imaginatively woven into an educational unit on women's history or else serve as beloved staples in your permanent collection. Read on, and, above all, rise!

Reviews Roundup Eagle Huntress
Aisholpan Nurgaiv
The Eagle Huntress: The True Story of the Girl Who Soared Beyond Expectations
2020. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Grades 6-8

For as long as she can remember, Aisholpan, a sports-loving Kazakh girl, has wanted to hunt with eagles the way her brother, father, and grandfather did. Her memoir describes her family's nomadic life surrounded by animals and the Kazakh culture that Aisholpan loves. When her brother leaves home to serve his mandatory time in the army, Aisholpan cares for his golden eagle and assists her father when tourists come to stay in their home to experience eagle hunting. Among these tourists is a British filmmaker who is intrigued by Aisholpan's competence with the eagles and who wants to make a documentary about her training to become an eagle huntress. The filmmaker captures Aisholpan being lowered into a cliff-side eagle's nest to steal an eaglet and her subsequent training of the bird to respond to her voice and hunt on command without destroying the pelt of its prey. The film crew is also there when Aisholpan wins the Golden Eagle Festival, an elite competition to determine the best eagle hunter in Mongolia. She is the first female and, at age 13, the youngest person ever to win the prize. Young readers will be intrigued by the details of eagle hunting and the nomadic lifestyle and will empathize with how alien Western culture seems to Aisholpan when the film makes her famous abroad. This is an accessibly written, steadily paced story of perseverance and self-confidence.
—Reviewed by Jan Aldrich Solow, Elementary School Librarian, Retired, Kingston, NY

Reviews Roundup Hedy and Her Amazing Invention
Jan Wahl
Hedy and Her Amazing Invention
2019. Penny Candy Books. Grades 3-5

Hedy Lamarr, once considered the "world's most beautiful woman," was a famous actress in the late 1930s and 40s who had a secret life as an inventor. Born in Austria in 1914, Hedy was always inquisitive. She tinkered as a child at home and began acting as a teenager in the theater. After marrying an overbearing older man, she fled to America and became a movie actress. She continued inventing in America, in the process creating a new Kleenex box and a light-up dog collar. While attending a party during World War II, she came up with the idea for her most important invention: a frequency-hopping machine which would allow torpedo transmitters and frequencies to change in coordination. Once the idea was patented, Hedy and her inventing partner George Antheil's discovery was not put to use until the 1960s. Today Hedy's invention is used in Bluetooth, WiFi, cell phone, and computer technology. Wahl's short biography presents a fairly well-rounded look at Hedy Lamarr. Her seemingly incongruous twin image as glamorous actress and passionate inventor will be intriguing and encouraging to many young readers. Wallace's primarily paper collage artwork is beautiful and adds to the glamour of her biographical subject. The picture book's smaller than normal trim size will appeal to the reader who may think they've outgrown picture books. Libraries can easily add this title to their collections knowing it can be used for many different types of readers.
—Reviewed by Kristin Fletcher-Spear, Administrative Librarian, Foothills Branch Library, Glendale, AZ

Reviews Roundup Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein
Linda Bailey
Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein
2018. Tundra Books, Inc. Grades 6-12

Linda Bailey will inspire young writers with this picture book biography of Mary Shelley, the girl who dreamed up the idea for one of the greatest novels of all time. Through muted colors and a gothic style reminiscent of Edward Gorey, Julia Sarda's illustrations set the perfect tone for this glimpse into the author's life as a young woman. Bailey chronicles Mary's early life, how she meets Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, and the others who inspired the writing of Frankenstein after Byron challenged the group to write a ghost story one summer evening. However, the true focus of this book is ultimately about the creative process itself. Mary was always a dreamer and an unconventional thinker. During her time with Shelley and Byron, she learned about the latest science experiments of the day, including one about electricity moving muscles in a dead frog. Years after Frankenstein was published and became a success, Mary elaborated about the visions and dreams she had during that time and how her experiences and involvement with the artists and scientist friends laid the groundwork for her novel. Bailey includes a page-sized print of the portrait of Mary Shelley found in London's National Portrait Gallery and an extensive author's note providing more information about Mary, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, and their doctor friend, John Polidori. Sardi's illustrations are both a depiction of her life events, but also a fanciful illustration of Mary's imagination of the monster that became Frankenstein.
—Reviewed by Barbara Zinkovich, Media Specialist, Salt River Elementary School, Scottsdale, AZ

Reviews Roundup Proud: Living My American Dream
Ibtihaj Muhammad
Proud: Living My American Dream
2018. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Grades 6-12

Olympian fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad provides readers with an inspiring memoir of her life, challenges, and training that led to her becoming one of the top fencers in the world. As a Muslim American/African American fencer, Muhammad stands out in the sporting field due to her skin color and religious hijab in a sport that is primarily populated with white athletes. Muhammad's memoir begins in her childhood, when her mother initially discovered fencing as a sport in which Muhammad could participate while remaining modestly clothed. The memoir continues through the 2016 Olympics where Muhammad competed individually and won a team bronze medal. Muhammad's writing is conversational in tone while she details her training, the racism she continually faced, her inspirational activism, and the love she has for her religion and her family. Her strength as a role model who continues on in the face of adversity is inspiring. Libraries looking to be inclusive in their biographies and in their sports collections should seriously consider adding this title to their collection.
—Reviewed by Kristin Fletcher-Spear, Administrative Librarian, Foothills Branch Library, Glendale, AZ

Reviews Roundup Banned Book Club
Hyun Sook Kim & Ryan Estrada
Banned Book Club
Illustrated by Hyung-Ju Ko. 2020. Iron Circus Comics. Grades 9-12

Kim Hyun Sook has been working hard at her parents' restaurant to save money so that she can attend the local university. Her dream is to study literature, although her mother is sure she will be corrupted by all the students who spend their time protesting instead of studying. Her father, on the other hand, is sure she will succeed. At the university Kim Hyun Sook braves the protestors and goes to class before innocently joining a dance troupe and book club that are actually fronts for groups protesting the corrupt government. She eventually realizes that sometimes you have to take a stand, especially when an innocent act of reading a classic piece of literature is considered an act of sedition and is punishable with prison time. The year is 1983, and Kim Hyun Sook conveys her memories of those years with a fast-paced narrative that holds the reader's interest and provides historical details for those unfamiliar with the background of the Fifth Republic's military government in South Korea. The memoir ends by recapping what has happened since 1983 and with a warning that democracy doesn't just happen or maintain itself without work and even sacrifice on the part of the people. Violence is not explicitly portrayed, but is communicated in a way that leaves no doubt about what is happening to the victims. Teenagers will relate to Hyun Sook's conflicting struggle between being the good student/daughter and standing up for what she believes in. The narrative detailing her transition into adulthood is honest, fresh, and compelling. The poignancy of Ryan Estrada's black-and-white illustrations capture the brutality of treatment of those protesting the government and are sure to evoke strong emotions in the reader.
—Reviewed by Kyla M. Johnson, Librarian Teacher, NBCT, Farmington High School, Farmington, NM

Reviews Roundup Rise! From Caged Bird to Poet of the People
Bethany Hedegus
Rise! From Caged Bird to Poet of the People
2019. Lee & Low Books. Grades 3-8

This is a picture book biography of Dr. Maya Angelou that follows her life from birth in 1928 in Missouri to her 2014 death in North Carolina. It is the life of a poet rendered in poetry and accompanied with beautiful illustrations. The reader will find colorful acrylics that the illustrator matches to the changing mood and seasons in Angelou's life: dark colors during times of grief and bright colors during happier periods. Traumatic situations that include Angelou's sexual abuse by her mother's boyfriend and the deaths of Malcom X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are written about so as to invite more discussion, but the events are not explained in graphic detail. This biography can be used as a model text for the classroom. Students can research poets (or other influential literary figures) and write poems about their lives, then create their own picture book biography. Before reading this picture book, have students listen to some of Dr. Angelou's poetry so that they are familiar with some of her famous works before reading about them in the book. There is a forward by Angelou's grandson, Colin Johnson, a timeline of Angelou's life with captioned photographs, and a note from the author with resources pertaining to sexual abuse. There is a selected bibliography for further reading, as well as quotation sources for the quotes included throughout the book. An excellent Teacher's Guide has been made available from Lee & Low Books: https://www.leeandlow.com/books/rise.
—Reviewed by Valerie Byrd Fort, Library Media Specialist, New Providence Elementary School, Lexington, SC

Reviews Roundup What Miss Mitchell Saw
Hayley Barrett
What Miss Mitchell Saw
Illustrated by Diana Sudyka. 2019. Beach Lane Books. Grades 3-5

Maria Mitchell was born under an endless sky of stars on Nantucket Island in 1818 to an astronomer father and an encouraging mother. She grew up surrounded by natural beauty among the waving island grasses, and while learning did not come easily to Maria, she was a persistent student, especially regarding the subject of the heavens above her. In October 1847, Maria identified a comet two days before an astronomer at the Vatican noted the same object. Her discovery was accepted as the first sighting, and she was awarded a gold medal from the King of Denmark along with recognition from the scientific community around the world. Beautifully enhanced by illustrations in shades of white in gouache, watercolor, and ink, Maria's island is brought to life as an enchanting world described with words that "sweep the sky" to explain astronomy and celestial sights. Maria's amazing life and career is an inspiring story for budding scientists interested in further STEM research. An included timeline documents Maria's unheard-of (for her time) path in life and her work on behalf of equal rights and education for everyone. A note from the author closes the book by encouraging readers to visit Maria's birthplace, to be careful listeners to all ideas, and to remember Maria's words: "The more we see, the more we are capable of seeing."
—Reviewed by Josie Stanmyre, Retired Elementary Librarian, Fairfax County Public Schools, Reston, VA

Alex Casavant, SLC Reviews Team

MLA Citation Casavant, Alex. "Reviews Roundup: Women's History Month." School Library Connection, March 2020, schoollibraryconnection.com/Home/Display/2244056.

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