Friday, April 3, 2015

Women's History--it's not just for March!

April 3 - Today's post contributed by Margo Tanenbaum and Lisa Taylor

Many thanks to all the participants and readers who have helped make Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month's 5th year a success.  This year we have enjoyed posts from and about contemporary women making history, such as ballerina Misty Copeland and chef Alice Waters, as well as historic figures such as Louisa May Alcott, Melba Liston and Anna May Wong. And let's not forget the women whose names we may never know (see letter X in Rad Women A-Z).  Let's remember these women not only in March, when we celebrate Women's History Month, but throughout the year. Librarians, teachers, authors, parents, and students can advocate to include women in the curriculum all year long, and perhaps we'll see a day when women in history will no longer need their own special month.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Interview with Melanie Crowder, author of Audacity (Philomel, 2015)

March 30 - Today's post contributed by Margo Tanenbaum

Radical Jewish women rabble-rousers are getting their due in young people's books in the past few years. After being featured in the 2013 picture book Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909, by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, labor leader Clara Lemlich is now the subject of author Melanie Crowder's recently published YA novel-in-verse, Audacity.  Clara Lemlich (1886-1982), a Russian-born Jewish immigrant who came to New York at the age of 19 and almost immediately began working in the Lower East Side's garment sweatshops, is best known for sparking the Uprising of 20,000, a huge strike of shirtwaist workers in 1909 and the largest strike in U.S. history up to that time.  

Crowder's terrific novel is a must read for all young people who hope to change the world. Although Audacity deals only with Lemlich's early years, Lemlich continued to advocate for the downtrodden throughout her life; in her last years in a nursing home she even organized the orderlies. She is the embodiment of "tikkun olam", a Jewish phrase meaning "repairing the world," which has become synonymous with humanity's obligation to pursue social justice.

Clara Lemlich, 1910

Q) What inspired you to write a novel about Clara Lemlich?

A) Clara is one of those people who is only given a single line in history books. Her story is so extraordinary, though—I am in awe of her bravery and her strength and the unflagging fight inside her. When I began digging deeper into her history and her origins, I knew I had to share her story with young readers.

Really, I wanted more than just a single line for Clara, and I wanted readers to know more of her as well.

Q) If you could have met Clara Lemlich in person, what would you have liked to ask her?

A) Wow—great question!

I would love to hear Clara talk about the proudest moments in her life. I’m guessing that day at Cooper Union [when she gave the fiery speech that inspired the Uprising of 20,000] would be up there, but I think I would also hear about her family. She lived a full life. She was an activist her entire life. I would love to just sit and listen to her recall the moments when life gave her moments of joy in return for all she gave to us.

Q) Do you see Clara Lemlich as a role model for today's young women?  and what social causes do you think she would be involved in today?

A) Absolutely! There is so much about her experience that resonates with young people today: the immigrant story, the importance of education, her legacy as an activist, the evidence that an individual really can make a difference. I think she is an inspiration and a role model for us all—young and old, male and female.

If I had to guess, I’d say Clara would still, to this day, be fighting for workers’ rights. I think she would be very interested in the fair trade movement, and in the struggle in this country for pay equity between genders.

Q)  Can you comment on how Clara Lemlich might have seen the ongoing struggle for rights for garment workers around the world? In many ways, nothing seems to have changed from the time of the Triangle Fire, except that the worst sweatshops have moved overseas.

A) It wasn’t in Clara to be defeated, but I think she would have been really discouraged by the current state of the garment industry. I know she would have been devastated by the factory collapse in Bangladesh. Clara was an excellent public speaker and I believe she would be out there today, lobbying politicians and working to educate consumers about the origins of their clothing and the social cost of cheap labor.

Q) Why did you choose to tell Clara's story in free verse?

A) You know, I started telling her story in prose and I didn’t get very far. It just didn’t work. It felt flat—not quite enough to capture the intensity and tenacity with which she approached life. When I began experimenting in free verse, I found what I was looking for—a form that amplified the emotion, the struggle, and the triumphs of her journey.

Q) Can you tell us what books you are currently reading? Do you read a lot of YA fiction, or a variety of genres?

A) I do read a lot of YA and Middle Grade fiction—there are so many excellent books out there! Add to that the academic nonfiction I read in order to research my stories and my TBR pile never seems to diminish! A sampling from my nightstand at the moment:

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
Race, Gender and Punishment by Mary Bosworth and Jeanne Flavin
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Melanie, thanks so much for this interview and for participating in Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month.

Melanie Crowder received many honors for her debut novel, Parched, including Bank Street’s Best Books of the Year, a Junior Library Guild selection, a Silver Medal in the Parents’ Choice Awards, and a starred review from the Bulletin. Her second book, Audacity, has received three starred reviews and is an Editor’s Choice at BookBrowse and a Top Pick from BookPage. Her third novel, A Nearer Moon, releases September 8 from Atheneum Books / S&S. The author holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. When she isn’t writing, Melanie can be found teaching, reading, daydreaming or exploring the beautiful state of Colorado where she lives with her family.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Woman Who Faced Amazing Challenges & Succeeded

March 29 - Today's post contributed by Alyson Beecher

Woman Who Faced Amazing Challenges & Succeeded
by Alyson Beecher

If you were asked to name a woman in history who made a significant contribution and who also had a disability of some type, who would you name? Most people would probably name Helen Keller. However, I was curious about other women who had made or were making a difference and who also had some form of a disability. So, off to Google I went.

My simple search produced some familiar names and some names that were new to me. Helen Keller was obviously on the list but so was Harriet Tubman, and Frida Kahlo. Each of these women have numerous biographies written about them in both picture book and long-form. The famous photographer, Dorothea Lange is well known for her photography but lesser known for the limp she grew up with as a result of polio when she was a child. Wilma Mankiller, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, has a chapter in a picture book celebrating famous woman and her work with the Cherokee Nation, but did you know she also served in this position while having a rare form of muscular dystrophy? Really, just a chapter in a picture book?

However, I learned about some other woman who had made notable contributions to their communities and countries and yet, little were written about them.  Jhamak Ghimire who has severe cerebral palsy and considered the “Helen Keller of Nepal” has nothing written about her in the United States, except for her own work of poetry. Judy Neumann, and Harilyn Rousso have had significant careers and lives advocating for individuals with disabilities and yet despite their life's work would not be easily recognized by most teachers and children.

After serving on the Schneider Family Book Award Jury (a children’s and young adult book award committee of the American Library Association) for the past few years, I have read a lot of books featuring individuals with special needs. However, in the category for young children, with the exception of books about Helen Keller, there were no books portraying the lives of any of these other amazing woman and the work that they have done while also living with additional challenges. Do we have a book gap? I would certainly say yes.

Though this is not a comprehensive list by any means, I would like to highlight the lives of just a few of the incredible woman who embody the spirit and essence that surrounds Women’s History Month and who are also powerful role models for our young readers who may be empowered to dream beyond their special needs because of these amazing women.

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford; Illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Despite what I had read on Harriet Tubman in the past, it had primarily focused on her leadership and active role in assisting slaves to escape to freedom. Somehow, I had missed the fact that Tubman suffered from epilepsy along with severe headaches and narcolepsy as a result of a head injury she suffered when she was young at the hands of another slave’s overseer.

Frida by Jonah Winter; Illustrated by Ana Juan
Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales 

One of the things that have always struck me is how Frida Kahlo was able to utilize her pain and life experiences to produce so many amazing pieces of art. As a child, she contracted polio and was left with a limp, then at 18 she was in a serious bus accident, which left her in chronic pain. Kahlo lived a colorful live with her marriage to artist Diego Rivera and her political activism.

Dorothea Lange by Mike Venezia
As a child, Dorothea Lange contracted polio which left her with a limp due to a weakened right leg and foot. However, she did not let this or later health issues impede her work as a photographer and publisher. It was her goal to use her photography to bring attention to injustices, which she hoped would result in a change of action in people. Her depression era photography of rural hardship became her best known work.

Amelia to Zora: Twenty-six Women Who Changed the World by Cynthia Chin-Lee; Illustrated by Megan Halsey, Sean Addy 
Photo of Wilma Mankiller taken at the 2001 Cherokee National Holiday. Photo by Phil Konstantin
Wilma Mankiller was a lifetime activist and advocate for the rights of Native Americans and women. In 1985, she became the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation During her term as Principal Chief, she worked to improve health care, education and government for native americans. After a nearly fatal car crash, Mankiller was diagnosed with a form of muscular dystrophy.

Harilyn Rousso
Harilyn Rousso is not only a disability rights activist but also an activist for the rights of women with disabilities. Highly educated, Rousso has utilized her personal experiences, education, and passions to establish a number of organizations to address issues of gender and disability.

Judith Heumann, Photo from U.S. State Department
As a toddler, Judy Heumann developed polio which left her needing to use a wheelchair for the rest of her life. Heumann has spent her life advocating for the rights of those with disabilities. After college, she fought against New York State in court to be granted the right teach elementary school as an individual in a wheelchair. She later served as the Assistant Secretary of Special Education during the Clinton Administration. Currently, she works as an International Disability Rights Special Advisor advocating human rights legislation for children and adults with special needs.

"Jhamakawarded" by Madan Puraskar org . Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Though Jhamak Ghimire may not be able to speak or use her hands due to cerebral palsy, she has still managed to write poetry and be recognized in her native land of Nepal as an award winning poet.

Helen’s Big World: The Life of Helen Keller by Doreen Rappaport; Illustrated by Matt Tavares
Of course, I couldn’t leave out Helen Keller. Likely of the most recognized influential women who also happened to have a disability, Keller showed that despite being both blind and deaf that you can learn and you can make a difference.

What strikes me about each of these women is how hard they must have worked. Each one of these women shows us what is possible despite our personal limitations. When I think of the headaches that Harriet Tubman experienced or the chronic pain of Frida Kahlo, I am in awe. Pain is hard and yet, neither of these women allowed it to stop them from accomplishing what they were meant to do.

Mankiller, Heumann, and Rousso dedicated their lives to advocating for others. When I look at the accomplishments of these women, I almost feel like an underachiever.  They have not allowed what might be seen by others as limitations to limit them.

Lange, Kahlo, and Ghimire have used their experiences to enhance their artistic expression. Ghimire is particularly inspiring in that her own country as well as her body would have left her without a voice and yet through her writing she has found that voice.

Next time, I find myself thinking I am unable to do something, I need to remind myself how much each of these women have contributed to their communities and even the world by what they were able to accomplish while facing incredible challenges.

Alyson Beecher is an educator, book geek and literacy advocate with over 20 years of experience in education.  Currently, she is the K-8 Literacy Specialist for the Pasadena Unified School District in Pasadena, CA.  Alyson has served as the Chair of the ALA 2015 Schneider Family Book Award Jury and was an Elementary/Middle Grade Nonfiction second round judge for the CYBILS. She can be found on twitter @alybee930 or through her blog

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Mother of Trees Wangari Maathai

March 27 - Today's post contributed by Valarie Budayr

The Mother of Trees Wangari Maathai
By Valarie Budayr

“ It’s the little things citizens do. That’s what will make the difference. My little thing is planting trees.”

She was called Mama Miti ,which means Mama Trees, by many people in Kenya Africa. I first heard of Wangari Maathai when she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy, and peace. She was the first African woman to win this honor.

photo credit
After learning more about her, I became inspired by her quest to re-forest Kenya with her Green Belt movement, how she inspired others and launched a grass-roots movement which spanned de-forestation and land conservation, gender issues, education, and politics.

There is a wonderful children’s book recently published called Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees by Franck Prevot and Illustrated by Aurelia Fronty.

Wangari Maathai was remarkable on many levels. Born in 1940, the eldest of six children, it was thought that she would be the second mother in her family and help raise the other children. When Wangari was 8 years old she moved with her mother and two brothers from the farm in the Kenyan countryside to a village which had a school so her brothers could attend. Her brother asked why Wangari didn’t go to school ? This question prompted Wangari’s mother to let her go to school. Wangari had a full education and in 1960 when British colonialism ended, President Kennedy of the United States invited many young Kenyans to study at Universities in America.

Wangari Maathai studied at Mount St. Scholastica College in Aitchison, Kansas where she received a bachelors degree in Biology. She then went onto graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh where she earned a Masters degree in Biology. After finishing her degrees in the US she returned to Kenya where she worked as a research assistant in zoology. Through travel to Germany and then back again to Nairobi and amid much political strife, Wangari received her Ph.d in Veterinary anatomy from Nairobi University. The first woman to do so.

photo credit Martin Rowe
Throughout her studies she traveled extensively throughout Kenya. The trees and wildlife she had known as a child were simply vanishing due to de-forestation caused first by the British colonists and then by the Kenyans themselves. She found that wild animals had fled the chain saws, women couldn’t feed their children because farms had been made into plantations for rich people, and the rivers were muddy due to the top soil eroding into the river because there were no tree roots to hold it back. She was shocked.

From this point on Wangari knew how to make use of her education. She would tell leaders and her fellow Kenyans about the importance of trees. “A tree is a treasure that provides shade, fruit, pure air, and nesting places for birds. “ Change happened very slowly. In 1977 she created the Green Belt Movement. Traveling from village to village, speaking on behalf of trees, animals, and children, she encouraged villagers to think about their future. Teaching women to plant tree nurseries in each village, she provided women with a financial bonus for each tree that grew. One tree turned into thousands, thousands of newly planted trees turned into millions. To date over 30 million trees have been planted in Kenya creating forests for the future.

As her Green Belt Movement continued to grow she had another problem facing her. The Government made their money by cutting down trees and forests and here was Wangari Maathai planting trees. There was a conflict between Wangari, her Green Belt Movement, and the Kenyan Government. In her quest not to let one more tree be cut down, Wangari rallies her friends to fight the bulldozers which cut down trees for large real estate projects.

photo credit Martin Rowe
She fought the Kenyan government for 24 years. Like the trees she now wanted democracy to grow in Kenya. She knew that if her people worked together to create new laws for Kenya, her country would become stronger.

She ran for office many times opposing President Daniel Arap Moi. In a last ditch effort President Moi tried to divide the people in order to remain president. He knew that if that tribes would start fighting each other they wouldn’t have time to look at how he was governing. Wangari and the Green Belt Movement were onto President Moi and foiled his plans. Wangari suggested to each tribe that they offer trees from their nurseries to neighboring tribes as symbols of peace. Tree by tree, peace and friendships were cultivated between the tribes of Kenya.

Eventually in 2002 President Moi was defeated. Wangari Maathai won her bid for office in parliament and spent her last years creating a fair nation for women, men, children and trees.

photo credit

To this day the Green Belt Movement is planting trees and protects the 2nd largest tropical forest in the world.

Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees is a beautiful tribute to a life well lived. Filled with colorful and vibrant painted illustrations. This book will become a cherished addition to your library as well as an inspiration to make a difference.

Valarie Budayr is publisher at Audrey Press, founder of the award winning website Jump into a Book, and co founder of Multi-Cultural Children’s Book Day: Read Your World.