Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Giving thanks

MARCH 1 - Today's post provided by Shelf-employed

Were it not for the diligent and talented authors of books for children (many who will be represented here this month), the historic contributions of women who toiled in relative obscurity might be otherwise overlooked. The same may be said for influential women who were cultural icons in their own era but largely forgotten with the passage of time. It is through the efforts of today’s writers that the stories of these women are preserved and reintroduced to subsequent generations.  Today's writers also offer us fresh perspectives on women we thought we knew well.

 Throughout the course of this month, we hope to highlight the achievements of women in history, and call attention to quality children’s books about significant women, and their authors.

Laurie Halse Anderson is not able to join us this month (you will be pleased to hear that she is hard at work on a new YA novel), but I would like to highlight one of her older books that I feel is representative of quality nonfiction picture books for younger readers, Thank You Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving (illustrated by Matt Faulkner, Simon & Schuster 2002). I share this book each year during Women's History Month and again in November.

Until I came across this book, I had never heard of Sarah Hale (1788-1879), but she was, among other things, a writer, poet (she penned the now-famous ditty, "Mary Had a Little Lamb"), and an influential editor.  While Anderson mentions these facts in the book's back matter, Thank You, Sarah's focus is Hale's campaign to have Thanksgiving recognized as a federal holiday.  Petitioning politicians and presidents from Zachary Taylor to Abraham Lincoln, Sarah Hale staged a letter-writing campaign of thirty-eight years in pursuit of a national day of thanksgiving. Abraham Lincoln finally designated the holiday in 1863.

Anderson writes in friendly, easily understood language and gives modern context to the story by equating Sarah Hale with a superhero - her superpower?  a pen! Illustrated with humorous caricatures, Sarah Hale's story encourages children to persevere, espouses the power of the pen (be it quill or blog!), and proves that one person can make a difference.

There is more to a great children’s biography than the number of its pages. Great biographies for kids should, of course, be factual and well-researched,  but they should also be inspirational, engaging, compelling, relevant. Today’s readers may be the subjects of tomorrow’s biographies; they deserve nothing less.

Please join us for the rest of the month as we celebrate Women’s History Month through the lens of children’s literature. We’ve got some great things coming up!


  1. I second your frustration about putting picture-book biographies in the hands of kids. Sometimes there can be as much good information in a picture book biography as in a 100-page biography, and presented in a more attractive format for kids!

  2. I like this book a lot! I also use it as an example of why Sarah's are awesome, because you know, a Sarah helped get us Thanksgiving!:)


  3. Greta title to start off the blog! My kids found the story, and especially the artwork, to be inviting and fun.