Friday, March 22, 2013

My Name is Not Isabella

March 22 - Today's post contributed by Terry Doherty of The Reading Tub

As the modern mom of a modern girl, one of my goals has always been to create limitless horizons of opportunity for my daughter. I want to introduce her to women whose sense of beauty came from within and fill her world with women whose greatness comes from hard work, perseverance, dedication … am I preaching to the choir? Sorry.

From women who were ahead of their time to everyday heroes, I have wanted Catherine to not just “meet them,” but also get a sense of their role in history. As all of the posts before this have shown us - there are so many untold and lesser-known stories of women of great accomplishment still to tell. I am so excited about the chances for Catherine and I to continue learning, sharing, and growing together. 

That is now, but what about then? How could I entice a toddler and preschooler with biographies? How do you explain “accomplishment” to a three-year-old? I’ve always loved biographies and read them every chance I get. But biographies for little girls? Do they make them in “half pints” (to paraphrase Laura Ingalls Wilder)! 

The answer is yes! My Name is Not Isabella by Jennifer Fosberry (Monkey Barrel Press, 2008) was our first discovery. It was not only the hook I was looking for, Catherine chose it as the standard against which she measured other books about famous women. 

Catherine, my husband Bill, and I were smitten by the story instantly. We read it for weeks, usually at Catherine’s request. 

My Name is Not Isabella is a picture book that introduces young audiences to six highly accomplished women: Sallie Ride, Annie Oakley, Rosa Parks, Elizabeth Blackwell, Marie Curie, and mom.

When Isabella wakes up, she announces to her mom that she has changed her name to Sally, “the greatest, toughest astronaut who ever was.” By breakfast, she has changed her name to Annie, “the greatest, fastest sharp-shooter who ever was.” As she leaves to board the school bus, she’s Rosa, “the greatest, bravest activist who ever was.” 

After school, Marie Curie, the “greatest, smartest scientist who ever was” enjoys her chocolate chip cook and “discovers” the answers to her homework. Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, “the greatest kindest doctor who ever was” joins the family dinner table; and Mom “the greatest sweetest mother who ever was,” takes a bubble bath before climbing into bed as Isabella, once again.

Having a broad selection of women - and including being a mom as being as equally accomplished - really made the book stand out for us. I also loved how mom’s responses complemented the historical character. For example, when Isabella declared that she was Annie, Mom asked her to “ride over here and eat up [breakfast.]”

The author includes a photograph and short paragraph describing the accomplishments of each of the women, as well as a definition of their profession (astronaut, sharpshooter, activist, scientist, doctor, mother). The bios were particularly helpful. I learned things, too! The biography of Mom is a nice touch.

My Name is Not Isabella, with its bright colors, simple sentences, and repetitive text is a perfect read aloud for one-on-one reading or small groups. The story relies heavily on dialogue, and Catherine quickly memorized her lines as “Isabella” so she could be part of the book … and always had a big hug for mom at the end! I couldn’t offer a better recommendation than that.

Terry is a lifelong reader and lover of historical fiction and biography. She left the work-a-day world of public service when she became Mom, and picked up a new torch: paying forward a love of reading. 

She founded The Reading Tub®, a family literacy nonprofit, when her now 11-year-old was just 18 months. Tired of seeing piles of cast-aside library books that Catherine decided she didn’t want to read anymore, Terry decided to help families find books that their kids DID want to read. 

Today, you’ll find her writing about family literacy on her blog Family Bookshelf, and adding book reviews to The Reading Tub® Web site and Pinterest, as well as chatting about both on Google+ and Twitter


  1. Thanks again Lisa and Margo for the opportunity to be part of Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month!

  2. Terry - thanks for remembering "My Name is Not Isabella" from so long ago. I am happy to say that from that humble start with Monkey Barrel Press it was republished by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky (2010) and has gone on to a bigger audience, hopefully inspiring more girls all over the country and the world (just got a Chinese translation this year!).

    Thank you for so accurately stating the "why" of this book and my hope for the dreams of girls and women everywhere!