Sunday, March 31, 2013

Let's take a walk over to the Biography section

March 31 - Today's post contributed by Paula Willey

"Let’s take a walk over to the Biography section"

Professor Angela Davis

As I was thinking about what I was going to write for Women’s History Month, my mind played that little slideshow that I think plays in every librarian’s mind when report time comes around for the kids. Over the years we compile a mental gallery of Biography People – people that we can suggest when a kid mopes in and mournfully sighs, “I have to write a report.”

It happens a few times a year. Black History Month, Be Your Hero, Halloween, Who Invented That? – all of these topics send kids to the biography section of the public library. The kid stands there looking unenthused while mom and dad pull things off the shelves. “Betsy Ross? She lived right here in Baltimore! No? How about… Helen Keller? She was deaf and blind!”

Whenever I see that happening, I hustle over to help out. As a parent myself, I’d like to spare my comrades in arms the humiliation of trying to get a kid amped up for a project they never wanted to do in the first place. I at least have that interior slideshow to help me out.

Mentally flipping through all those faces and names this morning, the usual suspects popped up: Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt, Amelia Earhart. But then Diana Ross. “What’s Diana Ross doing in there?” I wondered, and then I remembered.

Years ago, a little girl came in with her dad looking for a children’s biography of Foxy Brown. “The…rapper?” I asked. You try to stay pretty neutral while answering questions, but I think we’re allowed a little leeway sometimes. “Not the rapper,” she clarified. “You know, like, Foxy Brown in the movie.” Ah. Foxy Brown, the 1974 blaxploitation film starring Pam Grier, Pam Grier’s bosoms, and a handgun.

Pam Grier as Foxy Brown probably
 wouldn’t recommend this movie
 for a third grader.

While my mind processed this request, and made a sound kind of like tires spinning in mud, I vamped by explaining that not a lot of fictional characters have biographies written about them. Then I got her talking about the requirements of what was obviously a school project. Turns out, part of the assignment was to dress up like their report subject, and she picked Foxy Brown because she already owned an Afro wig.

Not a bad rationale, really.

This is where Diana Ross comes in, of course. I was brainstorming all the famous women – and men, hey, I’ve known little girls to dress up like Popes for this project – who had sported Afros, and it’s not like you can Google that, or maybe you can now, I’ll wait here if you want to try. I get tired of googling stuff - about 75% of telephone reference nowadays is googling stuff for people who are afraid of computers.

 Diana Ross. Probably gets someone
else to google things for her

I suggested Diana Ross. Little girl looked blank and her dad looked skeptical. Jimi Hendrix, but this was before the very nice children’s biography of Jimi came out, and dad nixed Jimi because of the drugs. Lauryn Hill? Michael Jackson? Rod Carew? Then the PERFECT NAME came to me out of the blue, and I knew I needed to sell this one, because next I was going to go to Bob Ross, and nobody needs to go there.

“ANGELA DAVIS,” I said, and bless his heart, dad threw a fist in the air in the Black Power salute – this guy was clearly a 70’s devotee – and said, “FREE Angela Davis!” Kid maintained her blank look, and dad and I set about telling her why she should learn about Angela Davis and printing out articles from our biography database and talking about what a scholar is, and what an activist is, and what Communism is, and oh it is one of my favorite moments from my librarian career.

But then this sweet kid asked, “And can I get a biography of her?” and that’s when I winced. Yeah. There’s no 50-page biography of Angela Davis suitable for a third grader. We gave her the grownup version to hold up during the costume parade, and she wrote her report from the database articles, but here’s the soapbox portion of my Women’s History Month post.

Countess Ada Lovelace. Early adopter

There are more women in the world than Sojourner Truth and Hillary Clinton. In fact, I will venture to say that there have been women making history since the dawn of time. And while I’ve got women in my kids’ biography section – I’ve got Michelle Obama and Ella Fitzgerald and Sally Ride and Clara Barton – I still don’t have enough. I don’t have a kids’ biography of Helen Gurley Brown. Nor Margaret Mead, Shirley Chisholm, code breaker Elizebeth Friedman, astronomer Carolyn Shoemaker, or Jane Yolen.

That’s what I have to say. When I go to conferences, I like to give myself ridiculous job titles on my name badge. You get about 25 letters, why not use them all? So in addition to “Librarian,” my badge might also say “Loudmouth” or “Hypnotist.” This year, my job will be “Exhorter.” I am exhorting us all to write about more women, and to beat on publishers until they publish our picture book biography of oceanographer Sylvia Earle, our 80-page illustrated book Who Was… Ann Richards, and of course, the book I’ll write, Tell Me Again Why We Left Wisconsin? a biography of fictional character Caroline Ingalls. Maybe my library customer will grow up to write Foxy Lady: Pam Grier for the just-invented middle grade nonfiction series “Profiles in Coolness.”

Paula Willey is a librarian, mom, and writer in Baltimore, Maryland. You can read her opinionated reviews of children’s and teen books on her blog Pink Me,, and listen to occasional on-air rants on Maryland’s NPR station, WYPR, .

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The First American Women Illustrators

March 30 - Today's post contributed by Amy June Bates

The First American Women Illustrators

 by Amy June Bates

I suppose it is inappropriate to start this by writing about a man, because it starts with one Howard Pyle, the father of American Illustration.  He is responsible for teaching and honing the skills of the first generation of American illustrators, male and female, through the turn of the twentieth century. Of his 110 students, 40 were women, a ratio that stood out in its day. Notable among that number were Jessie Wilcox Smith, Violet Oakley, Elizabeth Shippen Green, and Sarah Stilwell. Howard Pyle provided them with opportunity by sharing his knowledge and connections based on merit not gender.

Those first women illustrators paved a remarkable path. They built on the opportunities Pyle provided to them with hard hard work. Hard work. They made it possible. They made illustration a career for women. I’ve recently been reading about them in Red Rose Girls, by Alice Carter. It has made me wonder what it felt like to be a woman blazing a trail by making her living in a heretofore man’s profession.

Back to Howard Pyle again. Although he started out a fairly open-minded instructor, he became increasingly frustrated by female students who chose to get married instead of pursuing a career in illustration. He was quoted as saying, “Once a woman is married, that is the end of her.” Although his classes started out with equal numbers of men and women, eventually he focused mostly on his male students. He made no secret of his feelings, and his charismatic opinions bore a great weight and influence on his students. Still, his female students bore much affection for him, though he supposedly secretly harbored a great irritation at their continual knitting in his class.  Probably the lowered female numbers put a considerable pressure on the female students who remained. Jessie Wilcox Smith, Violet Oakley  and Elizabeth Shippen Green vowed never to marry or have children.

Jessie Wilcox Smith said many times that motherhood was “the most sacred occupation,” an attitude which sounds a little patronizing when it is expressed by one who has chosen not to pursue it. It might sound better if it weren’t an opinion usually offered by men in a way that tends to imprison women on a pedestal. She also said, “A women’s sphere is as sharply defined as a man’s, if she elects to be a housewife and mother- that is her sphere and no other. Circumstance may, but volition may not lead her from it. If  on other hand she elects to go into business or the arts, she must sacrifice motherhood in order to fill successfully her chosen sphere.” In case you think her opinions unnecessarily strict, look back at the handful of brilliant woman artists of this time period, an era in which women began to be renowned for their artistic achievements and career in their lifetime: Mary Cassatt, Beatrix Potter, Kate Greenaway, Cecilia Beaux, Rosie O’Neil, Sarah Stilwell, Elizabeth Shippen Green, and the list could continue.  Of these luminescent women, none had children and only one ever married. Maybe Jessie was right. Maybe it was self preservation. Maybe they didn’t want to “end,” as Howard Pyle ominously implied they might.  Curiously, the most popular and famous work of these women, or at least the jobs they were continually hired to do, all feature children or maternal subject matter. I tend to think that this is partly a bias in the market. Perhaps mothers and children were an “appropriate” subject matter for women. 

I had never realized that these turn-of-the-century women artists chose not to marry or have children at least in part as a sacrifice to their careers. And if Jessie Wilcox Smith’s opinions were harsh, well, what she said was true in her world. A woman could have a husband and children, or possibly a career, but not both.  However these women illustrators and artists also chose to define themselves differently than women had in the past. They were not the wife of… mother of…They were the successes that they made of themselves.

I wanted to write about the women above because of their huge mark on my world. I am an illustrator. It makes me proud to be able to say that, and I have worked hard to earn it. But it is in part due to those women that I have my career. I had many wonderful teachers who inspired me and encouraged me. I also had two (male) teachers who told me that I would end up married with children and would never amount to anything more. Thank goodness I also live in a time when I don’t have to take remarks like that seriously. Those teachers didn’t hold my future in their hands.  

I have read the accounts of other women illustrators over the last one hundred years. Women who eventually could choose a family and a career, but could expect little help from any man inside the house. I can say now that I do have children and a career and a husband who is as invested in my career as I am in his. While I am grateful, and looking back makes me feel even more so, I don’t feel like it is too much to ask of the world. I would sort of like to thumb my nose at Howard Pyle, just a little. 

The way we live now is a result of the efforts of hard working people who have changed the world. Their struggles unite our present with our past.  It is possible to be  inspired by and also in disagreement with some of the people we idolize. And it remains important to question the status quo so that we can continue to improve the world for our daughters and sons. Right?

A selection of books illustrated by Amy June Bates

Editor's Note:

This very modest biography is taken from Amy June Bates' website:

When Amy was a kid she loved to draw and read. She spent the time that she wasn't reading and drawing trying to keep her six brothers and sisters from drawing on her pictures and losing her place in whatever book she was reading. She loved the mountains quite a bit.
 She grew up and learned to draw a lot better.
 She currently lives in Pennsylvania with her three children and husband. She reads and she draws quite a bit.

Her blog is Amy June Bates Drawing a Blank 

Friday, March 29, 2013

How High is the Sky?

March 29 - Today's post contributed by Robert Burleigh

How High Is The Sky? The Story of Henrietta Leavitt

Let me state first that I’m not a woman! But as the father of two daughters, a husband, and a friend of many women, I feel both an obligation and a wish to tell the stories of women—whether they were famous and celebrated or forgotten and marginalized (as so many were, and often still are).

How do we bring to light the struggles, triumphs (and even failures) of people who are no longer here to tell us what happened to them—people like Henrietta Leavitt? Why is it important to do so? How did these people think and feel about their experiences? What is the best way to convey this to a child? These are intriguing questions that have drawn me to the biographical form and led me to write many biographies of sports figures, explorers, scientists, artists, and writers for children over the years.

But I define the term “biography” pretty loosely in my biographies! Typically, while attempting to always base them on facts, I try to find a moment or event in a life that I can use to bring that person to life—hopefully conveying a sense of immediacy that will enliven and engage readers. For instance, the story of my recently published biography, Night Flight (illustrated by Wendell Minor, Simon & Schuster, 2011), follows Amelia Earhart’s solo flight across the Atlantic in 1932. She was the second person and first woman to make this crossing. The facts in Night Flight—the horrific weather, the engine problems—are true. But I also wanted to express how Amelia felt. And to do so, I had a helpful start: her own later brief retelling of her dangerous journey, which became the starting point for my own retelling.

Writing Look Up! Henrietta Leavitt, Pioneering Woman Astronomer presented another problem.  Much less is known about Henrietta Leavitt than is known about Amelia Earhart. In a certain respect, Henrietta is a classic example of women in science. You haven’t heard of her?  That’s what I mean. Only a series of accidents—along with her own inquiring spirit—led to her being singled out at all—and at last recognized as a significant player in the history of astronomy.

The book was inspired by my editor at Simon & Schuster, Paula Wiseman, who suggested that I read George Johnson’s fine book (for adults) titled Miss Leavitt’s Stars: The Untold Story of the Woman Who Discovered How to Measure the Universe. I found Leavitt’s story compelling and decided I wanted to attempt a biography of her.

Born in 1868 in Lancaster, Massachusetts, Henrietta first attended Oberlin College and then went to Radcliffe College, graduating in 1892. Little is known about her very early life, though I surmise that she must have had some special interest in the stars. At Radcliffe, she took an astronomy class in her final year, where she was reportedly the only woman in the class.

A year later she was working at the Harvard College Observatory in Cambridge.  Hard to believe, but she started out working for nothing! This was because her family was well off, and was therefore expected to support her. Still, she wanted meaningful work. (She later received a salary: all of $10.50 a week!)

Henrietta was assigned (along with a number of other women working at the Observatory) to review the nightly photographs taken by the Observatory’s male staff members. The women workers—or “computers,” as they were called then— examined the photos and recorded star positions in separate notebooks.

Although her assignment was a routine one, Henrietta took things further. She noticed that certain stars (called variable stars because their light varied, or changed from dimmer to brighter) had fixed patterns to their changes. She slowly realized that the “blink-time” of a variable star was related to the star’s true brightness. And from knowing a star’s true brightness, astronomers can actually ascertain the star’s distance from the earth.

Using Henrietta Leavitt’s discovery, it became possible for astronomers to figure the distance from Earth to more and more stars. The Milky Way was seen to be far bigger than people had earlier thought. And soon it became apparent that it wasn’t the only galaxy in the universe. The new world of twentieth—and twenty-first—century astronomy had been born, due to one woman’s interest, curiosity, and hard work.

But for Leavitt, recognition came slowly. We don’t know the circumstances of her reporting her findings at the Observatory—how they were initially received, and how (if in any way) her findings changed her relationship to the hierarchy there. Even at a later date, the then-director of the Observatory suggested that it was his interpretation of Leavitt’s data that deserved the major credit.

Only years later did a Swedish scientist consider nominating Leavitt for the Nobel Prize.  But he found out that she had died in 1920, and thus withdrew his nomination. (Nobel prizes cannot go to a deceased person.)

Look Up! is beautifully illustrated by the artist Raúl Colón . It is also bookended by a simple phrase, which I like to think Henrietta Leavitt might have uttered both as a small child and a serious scientist: How high is the sky?  If she didn’t ask the question in those words, her life and work—against incredible odds—went a long way toward answering it.

About Robert Burleigh 

Over the past 35 years, I have published poems, reviews, essays, many filmstrips and videos, and around 50 children's picture books. 

Born and raised in Chicago, I graduated from DePauw University (Greencastle, Indiana) and later received an MA in humanities from the University of Chicago. I've published books for children since the early 1990s. My books - including numerous unpublished ones! - run a broad gamut, from stories geared for pre-schoolers to survival stories and biographies aimed at seven to eleven-year-olds. My work is wide-ranging because, basically, I'm a generalist by experience - and inclination! 

In addition to writing, I paint regularly under the art name Burleigh Kronquist (, and have shown work in one-person and group shows in Chicago, New York, and elsewhere around the country.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Louisa May's Battle: How the Civil War Led to Little Women

March 28 - Today's Post Contributed by The Fourth Musketeer

Louisa May Alcott is famous around the world as the author of Little Women, one of the most beloved works of literature for children, but what is less known is that she may never have had a career as a writer at all if not for her valiant service as a nurse during the Civil War.

It is this lesser-known part of Alcott's life that award-winning author Kathleen Krull concentrates on in her handsome new picture book about the iconic author, Louisa May's Battle:  How the Civil War Led to Little Women (Walker Books, 2013).  

Alcott came from a family of dedicated abolitionists, and longed to help the union effort in some concrete way.  Of course educated women from "good families" rarely worked outside the home in those days, but the Civil War gave some women the opportunity to work as nurses, provided they met the requirements:  at least thirty years old, "very plain," single, strong, and with two character references.  Alcott was able to meet all these standards, and soon was on a 500 mile long trip to Washington D. C., where she was assigned to work at a hospital--in reality an old hotel.  Her duties included shocking activities like undressing and bathing the men, bandaging wounds, and most importantly, keeping up the men's spirits.  

Krull describes how Louisa, after just a few weeks of nursing, became desperately ill with typhoid fever, and had to be taken home to recuperate.  While she did not return to nursing, she did return to her writing, which up until that time had been published but did not enjoy much success.

Krull's lively text is liberally sprinkled with quotes from Alcott's colorful and detailed letters home to her family.  These letters were published at the time in an abolitionist newspaper, and later as a book, Hospital Sketches.  This slim volume was her first to be published to critical acclaim.  As Krull points out, the book was Alcott's first to be published out of her own experience, and the success led directly to her being asked to write a "girls' book."  This, of course, proved to be Little Women, which was based on her own family and which she set during the  Civil War, one of the first novels to be set during the turbulent period which forever changed the United States.  The book became a huge hit, and led to a lucrative writing career for Alcott.  

Back matter includes a brief commentary on the early history of women in medicine, a map detailing the Battle of Fredericksburg and a brief description of this "nightmarish" battle, and a list of sources.  Among the sources listed are websites, children's books by Louisa May Alcott, and books about Alcott, including those for young people and for adults.  

Readers will enjoy the old-fashioned look of this large picture book, which is printed on ivory-colored antique style paper.  The illustrations by Carolyn Beccia, created with Corel Painter digital oils on gessoed canvas, also provide an old-fashioned feel.  Her paintings have a realistic yet statuesque quality, and are infused with earth tones that suggest the sepia photographs of the Civil War era.  In many of the illustrations, Louisa wears a red shawl that perhaps suggests the great bloodshed of the war and often provides the only spark of bright color.  Above, in one of the most striking illustrations, Louisa is in the process of writing Little Women, and imagines all the events of her life as a patchwork quilt.

I would highly recommend this new book to introduce young readers to Louisa May Alcott, either before or after reading one of her classics.  It's an inspiring look at a brave and talented woman, one who introduced strong female characters in her classic stories.  Of course, the book would also enhance a unit on women's history or the Civil War.

Margo Tanenbaum is proud to be working as a children's librarian in Southern California, where she loves nothing more than matching children with books whose stories they will treasure.  She blogs about historical fiction and history-related nonfiction for young people at The Fourth Musketeer, and is co-organizer of Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month.  You can also find her reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.  

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What Would Bertha Do?

March 27 - Today's post contributed by Roger Sutton

What Would Bertha Do?

Tucked into a corner of my office is an old spindle-backed chair. It’s too fragile to sit on; I keep it to remind me of the woman who sat there perhaps ninety years ago: Bertha Mahony Miller, founding editor of The Horn Book Magazine.

The Bookshop
While today the Horn Book is a glossy full-color magazine, filled with book reviews and articles about children’s literature, it began as a simple bookstore catalog. With the sponsorship of Boston’s Women’s Educational and Industrial Union, Bertha Mahony opened the Bookshop for Boys and Girls in 1916, helped by (and in no small part helping) the concurrent establishment by publishers of specialty children’s book departments.  The Bookshop ran lecture series, storytelling programs, and art exhibitions; for two summers it even sent out the Book Caravan, a bookstore on wheels that stocked twelve hundred books for sale at beaches from Provincetown to Bar Harbor.  In 1929, the Bookshop held a Doll Convention, attended by eighty-four “dollegates” who took up the vexing question, “Are Animals Replacing Dolls in Home, School and Playground?”
Book Caravan

 In the fall of 1924, the Bookshop ramped up its “Suggestive Purchase List” to become The Horn Book, a (at first) quarterly publication to send to the Bookshop’s customers, who by this time could be found across the country. If there’s one question I’m asked more often than “Is the Horn Book going to review my new book?” it’s “why are you called the Horn Book, anyway?” Here is the answer, from Bertha’s first editorial:

“We chose this title—THE HORNBOOK—because of its early and honorable place in the history of children’s literature, but in our use of it we are giving it a lighter meaning, as Mr. Caldecott’s three jovial huntsman suggest. . . . First of all, however, we are publishing this sheet to blow the horn for fine books for boys and girls—their authors, their illustrators, and their publishers.”

The first issue of The Horn Book contained notice of what sounds like a marvelous cardboard theater (sets of fairytale characters sold separately!), brief recommendations of new books (including an example of that wacky new craze, the crossword puzzle book), and an article about the Bookshop by another great pioneer, Alice M. Jordan, Supervisor of Work with Children at the Boston Public Library. The Bookshop itself closed in 1936, but Bertha remained editor of the Horn Book Magazine until 1951 and subsequently President of the Horn Book Inc. until she was eighty, in 1962. She died in 1969. Throughout her long career, Bertha and the Horn Book were instrumental in establishing high standards for children’s books, bringing attention to children’s literature from other countries (Bertha had a great friendship with Beatrix Potter), and gaining respect for children’s literature among those institutions and people who had dismissed it as formulaic pap or pedagogical tool.

Bertha was a tiny woman but left big shoes to fill, something I never forget. Every time I’m confronted with some new publishing or educational trend or scandal, I look over at her chair and ask myself, “What would Bertha do?” (“Laugh,” suggested Bertha’s nephew Arnold to me once.) When people ask me what the Horn Book does, I give them the same answer Bertha gave in 1924: we blow the horn for fine books for boys and girls. Along with such other such comméres as Alice Jordan and Anne Carroll Moore (profiled here earlier this month at, Bertha Mahony Miller understood that work with children and books was both profession and higher calling, an idealism it serves us well to remember.

For more information about Bertha and the Horn Book, please visit

Roger Sutton is the Editor in Chief of the Horn Book. You may find him on Twitter @RogerReads or at Horn Book's Read Roger blog.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Double Victory

March 26- Today's post provided by Cheryl Mullenbach

Double Victory: How African American Women Broke Race and Gender Barriers to Help Win World War II, by Cheryl Mullenbach

Double Victory stood for victory at the front and victory at home—victory for democracy in Europe, Africa, and Asia and victory for democracy in America. It was a campaign started by a black newspaper—the Pittsburgh Courier—in 1942, and it caught on quickly. Across the nation African Americans flashed the double V sign and stuck bumper stickers that read “Democracy: At Home + Abroad” on their cars. But for women like Louise Miller, Hazel Scott, and Ora Pierce victory for democracy must have seemed unattainable in America in the 1940s.

Louise was an Army nurse returning from service in Australia and New Guinea late in 1945 when she encountered some very undemocratic Americans. Wearing her uniform as she traveled home to Atlanta, Georgia, from overseas duty, Louise went into an airport coffee shop in Texas to grab a quick bite. As she approached the counter, a restaurant worker told Louise she would have to eat at the back of the establishment—because she was “colored.” It didn’t stop there. Louise had just settled in to her seat on the next leg of her flight when the attendant asked her to move to another seat. The white passenger in the seat next to Louise did not want to sit next to a “colored.”

Photo 03-009 Ruth Wade and Lucille Mayo were Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps members who learned to maintain vehicles.
They freed male service members for combat duties. Photo courtesy of National Archives [AFRO/AM in WW II List #145]

Hazel Scott had attained star status as an entertainer by the 1940s. She had performed her special brand of jazzed up classics on piano all across the country—including in Carnegie Hall. She had raised thousands of dollars in war bond rallies. Late in 1945 Hazel was traveling through Missouri on her way to a concert. She was a well-recognized star by this time. But when she went into a small town café for lunch she was told by the person behind the counter that she would have to eat in the kitchen. When Hazel refused, the server agreed to give her food for take out. Later, someone asked Hazel why she didn’t identify herself to the worker—who surely would have recognized the star’s name. Hazel replied, “I don’t want any special privileges. There are 13 million Hazel Scotts in America. They just don’t play the piano.”

Ora Pierce was an Army nurse stationed at Florence, Arizona, in 1945. She headed up a team of black nurses who tended wounded service members at the camp hospital. When the black nurses arrived, a group of white nurses quit their jobs rather than work with Ora and her fellow nurses. That wasn’t the last time Ora and the other black nurses would feel the sting of racism at the camp. Thousands of German POWs were processed through the Arizona camp from which they were sent to work sites across the country. Some of the Germans were kept in Florence at the hospital where Ora and her nurses worked. Ora told reporters that the Germans worked well with the nurses and that “they just accept us.” That wasn’t the case with all the white American Army officers. Ora and the other black nurses were not allowed to eat in the cafeteria with the other military personnel. But that wasn’t the most outrageous insult faced by the black nurses. It was even more infuriating that the German POWs—the “enemy” in the war—were allowed to eat in the cafeteria with the American personnel! The black nurses decided to do something about this injustice. They contacted the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and reported the situation. After some discussion with the Army staff, Ora and her nurses were given permission to leave their segregated cafeteria and join the other white personnel—and the German POWs.

Photo 05-004 The all-black 404th Army Service Forces Band at Fort Des Moines, Iowa.
Courtesy of the Fort Des Moines Museum and Education Center, Vera Campbell Collection.
Thousands of African American women overcame race and gender barriers to help win the war. But it wasn’t easy. High profile women like Mary McLeod Bethune and Lena Horne were names familiar to most Americans at the time and in later years. However, there were many more women who contributed to the struggle for equality and for victory over fascism. Their stories were ignored at the time by the white, mainstream media. And in subsequent years they were forgotten. Some of their stories are told in Double Victory.

From Double Victory:
“Throughout their lives, many of their stories were overlooked. Many of their accounts of victory over racism were ignored. It’s up to the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to recover the stories of the women who have gone—and pay attention to the stories of the women who survive. It is their responsibility to ensure these victorious women are not forgotten. It will be a double victory.”

Cheryl Mullenbach is a former social studies consultant for a state department of education and was a project manager for a public television network. She taught social studies at the secondary level and was a high school librarian. Her book, Double Victory, encourages young adults to recognize the contributions of African American women who faced racism and challenged it to help win a world war.

Monday, March 25, 2013

How I Met Molly ... And Why I had to Tell her Story

March 25 - Today's post contributed by Dianne Ochiltree


As a writer, I’m always looking for a good idea for “the next book”.
However, some of my best book ideas have come looking for me.
That’s just what happened with MOLLY BY GOLLY! The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Firefighter.

I’d just started research for a book about the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.  Because the disaster had set many parts of the city ablaze, I needed to know about historical firefighting methods.  I’d just dug into a stack of reference books and there, on page 42 of Dennis Smith’s History of Firefighting in America: 300 Years of Courage, was my new heroine and work-in-progress:

“While ‘running with volunteers’ is remembered as strictly a male avocation, there were a few highly colorful female exceptions.  One was Molly Williams.  She took her work seriously and was proud to be ‘as good a fire laddie as many of the boys who bragged at being such.’ She is best remembered for the night a fire broke out during a blizzard in 1818.  Only a few volunteers were able to get through to answer the alarm, so Molly took hold of the drag-rope with them and began to pull on it ‘for dear life’, struggling to draw the pumper through the virtually impassable snow.”

Molly and "the runners" in snowy street outside her home
Illustration copyright Kathleen Kemly
The drama inherent in her story, and the heroic character reflected by her actions, captivated me immediately.  Add in the fact that firefighters ‘run’ in our family, including an aunt who’d been the first woman to work with our township fire department as an EMT in the early 1970’s, and I was hooked ! The earthquake manuscript was set aside, and I set out to tell the story of a spunky, strong woman who was not afraid to jump into action when her neighbors needed help.  
Illustration copyright Kathleen Kemly
Flipping to the bibliography page, I noted other firefighting books that might give me more information or sources.  I googled websites, contacted fire museums and firefighting organizations, searching for details about Molly’s adventure. I checked databases to find out if there had ever been a children’s book published about Molly Williams. The answer was no.

I’d also discovered that few picture books had ever been published on historical firefighting techniques and tools.  Another plus---Molly’s legend could also help kids understand how fires were fought in early America.

From early texts on firefighting lore, such as Reminiscences of the Old Fire Laddies and Volunteer Fire Departments of New York and Brooklyn: Together with a Complete History of the Paid Departments of Both Cities, by J. Frank Kernan, 1885, additional bits and pieces of Molly’s story emerged:

Some versions said that an influenza outbreak raged as well as the snowstorm at the time of the neighborhood fire.
Molly worked for either John Aymar or Benjamin Aymar who was a volunteer member of the NYC Fire Company No. 11.
Molly always wore a calico dress and checkered apron.
She was a cook  for both the Aymar family and the fire company, also known as Oceanus 11.
The company volunteers nicknamed her “Volunteer No. 11”.

I also sought firefighting experts to help me tell the story with as much technical accuracy as possible.  Two such experts generously gave me their time, expertise and knowledge:  David Lewis, Curator, Aurora Regional Fire Museum, Aurora, Illinois; and Damon Campagna, director and curator of the New York City Fire Museum.  These patient souls answered my many questions about firefighting tools, machines, methods, and protective gear that would have been common in Molly’s day.

My friendly, neighborhood research librarian helped track down hard-to-find documents and books. Trips to fire museums gave me a real sense of the size and weight of the picks, axes, and pumper engine Molly would have to handle.

Next, a world had to be built for Molly to live in when she was not fighting fires. What clothing did she and her neighbors wear?  What did the houses and streets look like? As I wrote early story drafts, I continued to do research on everyday life in Early America as well as firefighting lore.  

With guidance from my editor and fellow critique group members, I kept writing with the goal of telling Molly’s story in language today’s young reader would easily understand, while sprinkling in terms such as ‘spatterdashes’ and ‘johnny cakes’ to give the text the flavor of this by-gone era.

But how to characterize Molly herself? Little was known about her life, apart from her firefighting adventures.  Here, I drew upon the many strong women from my own life as inspiration for her courage, strength, tenacity, loyalty and dedication to community service.  Their spirit guided Molly’s thoughts, words and action.

Illustrator, Kathleen Kemly, captured Molly perfectly in physical form, from body language to facial expression. Just as I had, Kathleen worked closely with our firefighting experts and relied on historic records and pictures to capture Molly’s story perfectly in beautiful, bright, double-paged spreads.  She also visited the New York City Fire Museum, taking photos and sketching antique firefighting equipment.  

Through the long journey from our ‘happy accident’ meeting I’ve always loved ‘my Molly’.   It has been my pleasure to share her story.   Not every child will grow up to be a firefighter, but it’s my hope that all those who read about Molly’s legendary tale will be inspired to help others as she did long ago, and as modern firefighters do every day.

Dianne Ochiltree

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Mr. Schu interviews author, Shana Corey

March 24 - Today's post contributed by John Schumacher (AKA Mr. Schu) and Shana Corey

I am honored to celebrate Women’s History Month with author Shana Corey. Her name is the first one that pops into my head when someone asks for a top-notch picture-book biography. Thank you, Shana, for answering my questions.

Here Come the Girl Scouts Shana Corey Interview from Expanded Books on Vimeo.

Mr. Schu: Thank you for introducing my students and readers around the world to Annette Kellerman, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, early women’s rights activists, and Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low. What do you hope young readers take away from your picture books?

Shana Corey: Thank you for sharing my books with your students! And for being such a huge advocate for books and for reading. My hope is that kids first enjoy my books on a story level—that they’re fun to read. I also personally love history and get very inspired by the fact that it’s real people that have made and changed our history. We’re so familiar with many of the big names in history, it’s easy to forget they were living breathing, fallible people just like us and to start to see them as stock characters. George Washington crossing the Delaware, Ben Franklin with his kite. I hope that kids come away from my books realizing that the people I’m writing about were real people-things made them happy or sad or angry or scared just the way they do us. And they changed history not because they were marked as extraordinary from birth. Most of them were ordinary people, who believed in something and cared enough to do something about it. I hope kids come away from my books feeling that kind of passion is an admirable thing and something worth aspiring to. I hope they also come away with a sense of empowerment-a sense that if these people were able to make a difference, they can too.

Mr. Schu: Scenario: You’re on the subway headed to work when you overhear two elementary school librarians discussing Women’s History Month. They’re creating a book list to share with their third- and fourth-grade students. You decide to help them out by recommending the following titles…

Shana Corey: Oh fun, I love recommending books! As a rule, I recommend any nonfiction by Penny Colman, Candace Fleming, Kathleen Krull and Sue Macy. More specifically, I’d suggest some (or all!) of the following (some of these may be out of print, but your library might have them). I have more recommendations, and some lesson plans on my website, I love talking about books!

Women’s Rights

Elizabeth Leads the Way: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Right to Vote by Tanya Lee Stone

You Want Women to Vote, Lizzie Stanton? by Jean Fritz (either of these can be paired with my You Forgot Your Skirt, Amelia Bloomer!)

33 Things Every Girl Should Know About Women’s History: From Suffragettes to Skirt Lengths to the E.R.A. by Tonya Bolden

Group biographies

Lives of Extraordinary Women: Rulers, Rebels (and What the Neighbors Thought) by Kathleen Krull
Outrageous Women series by Vicki Leon

Women and Conservation

Me . . . Jane by Patrick McDonnell and/or The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps by Jeanette Winter

She’s Wearing a Dead Bird on Her Head! By Katharine Lasky (my Here Come the Girl Scouts! might also fit in this category and be fun to look at it with these books)

Women in Sports

America’s Champion Swimmer: Gertrude Ederle by David A. Adler (this could be interesting to look at along with my Mermaid Queen)

Dirt on Their Skirts by Doreen Rappaport and Lyndall Callan (which would be fun to pair with my Players in Pigtails).

Mighty Jackie: The Strike-Out Queen by Marissa Moss

She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story by Audrey Vernick

Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World’s Fastest Woman by Kathleen Krull

Women in Music

Jazz Age Josephine by Jonah Winter

Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald by Roxane Orgill

Women in Flight

Amelia Lost by Candace Fleming (which would be fun to pair with Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride by Pam Muñoz Ryan as well as the picture books below)

Fly High! The Story of Bessie Coleman by Louise Borden and Mary Kay Kroeger

Ruth Law Thrills a Nation by Don Brown

Nobody Owns the Sky: The Story of “Brave Bessie” Coleman by Reeve Lindbergh

Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya Lee Stone

Women Explorers

Mrs. Harkness and the Panda by Alicia Potter

Uncommon Traveler: Mary Kingsley in Africa by Don Brown

Other Women Worth Reading about

Bon Appetit! The Delicious Life of Julia Child by Jessie Hartland (this would be fun to pair with Fannie in the Kitchen by Deborah Hopkinson)

Frida by Jonah Winter

Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth by Anne Rockwell

Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving by Laurie Halse Anderson (you could pair this with my historical fiction Milly and the Macy’s Parade)

I’m also a huge fan of historical fiction and think that’s a great way to get kids hooked on history (especially when paired with a nonfiction book). It’s also a great way to get a sense of what women’s and girls daily lives were like at different times in history. For that I’d highly recommend All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor; In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord; Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larsen; and all of Jennifer L. Holm’s wonderful historical fiction novels (disclosure-I have the good fortune to be Jenni’s editor, but I would recommend her books even if I wasn’t-one of my favorites is Penny from Heaven for a seldom seen pov on WWII).

Direct link: 

Mr. Schu: Why is it important for schools and libraries to celebrate Women’s History Month?

Shana Corey: We've made such progress, but the fact is women aren’t automatically part of our historical canon or our cultural knowledge. Kids know about Abe Lincoln and Babe Ruth and Mozart almost by osmosis, and that’s great-they’re certainly worth knowing about. But there are women leaders and sports heroes and musicians too and it’s important for both boys and girls to know that they’re worth celebrating. And because their accomplishments and struggles and the social movements they were part of are part of our shared history, we’re all better for knowing about them. We need to be aware of them in order to really understand how we as a people came to be where we are now, and what historical forces are influencing both current events and the conversation about where we’re going.

Mr. Schu: I read that you used to play olden-days with your sister. How does one play olden-days?

Shana Corey: You've never played olden-days?! I’m sorry to hear it, John. (I will totally play olden-days with you sometime). Ideally you braid your hair. You wear your mother’s skirt that comes down to the floor or if you have a flea market nearby you buy someone's old prom dress. You wear some kind of apron over it (if push comes to shove your dad's "#1 BBQ Chef" apron will do, but if you’re very, very lucky, someone might sew you a one piece pinafore type apron for one Halloween). If you're fortunate enough to have a bonnet, you put it on. Bonus points for anything calico. And then, you play. (If someone is willing to be Nellie you can have dramatic confrontations. But if the weather's nice it's also fun to go outside and forage for acorns or pretend to be lost in the woods).

Please complete these sentence starters: 

*Reading is a way to connect with the world, with others, and with yourself.

*Picture-book biographies bring history and nonfiction subjects to life and ignite kids interest.

*Mr. Schu, you should have asked me if there’s a woman in history I’d most like to write about one day. I’d say Hillary Clinton. (I’m biding my time on that one though because I’m hoping that book will end with an inauguration.)

Shana Corey is an Executive Editor at Random House Kids Books and writes "girl power picture books."  You can find her on Twitter @shanacorey

John Schumacher (AKA Mr. Schu) is a teacher-librarian. He serves on AASL’s Best Websites for teaching and Learning and is a member of the 2014 Newbery Selection Committee. He blogs at Watch. Connect. Read. (

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Deselect that Squaw!

March 23 - Today's post provided by Debbie Reese

Deselect that Squaw!

How’s that for a provocative title? What I mean is that I want to see some solidarity amongst women, with the actions of that solidarity ones in which librarians deselect a children’s book that uses “squaw” as the word for woman.

Let me elaborate.

I’m a Pueblo Indian woman born into a specific Pueblo Indian tribe: Nambe. Our language is Tewa. If I wrote a young adult novel that included our word for woman, I’d use kwee. If I were writing a novel about one of the north Eastern tribal nations that speak Algonkian, I’d use squa or skwa or skwe. Those words, Abenaki scholar Marge Bruchac writes, mean “the totality of being female.”

“Oh!” you may be thinking, “then why do you want us to deselect novels with ‘squaw’ in them?”

Let’s think about the word and how it is used.

Do you remember the scene in Disney’s Peter Pan where Peter, Wendy, and the Lost Boys sing What Makes the Red Man Red? Stereotypes abound in attire, actions, and speech! The scene opens with Tiger Lily, her dad, and Peter sitting cross-legged. Of course, they wear headdresses. Tiger Lily’s dad says “Teach-em paleface brother all about red man.” John exclaims that this will be “most enlightening.” One of the boys asks, “What makes the red man red?” Another asks, “When did he first say ugh” and another asks, “Why does he ask you ‘how.’

In spite of John’s expectation, this is not an enlightening moment for anyone. It captures and affirms several stereotypes of American Indians that, unfortunately, pass as “knowledge.”

In answer to the questions, the Indians sing “What makes the red man red,” beating drums with bare hands (that’s an error, too!), uttering war-whoops (stereotype!) as they dance frenetically (stereotype!).

Wendy jumps up to dance, too, but a large Indian woman stops her, saying “Squaw no dance. Squaw get-um fire wood.” Therein lies the problem with the word. It has taken on an undesirable and derogatory connotation as a drudge. Children don’t tune in to the sexualization of Tiger Lily in that clip, but the rape and exploitation of Native women is something we contend with today. Native people fought for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, and celebrated its passage earlier this month.


Barrie’s original story about Peter Pan, published in 1900, used “squaw” as a derogatory word. James Fenimore Cooper used it, too, in Last of the Mohicans, first published in 1826. The devaluing of Native women, however, goes all the way back to John Smith, who characterized Native men as idle savages whose women did all the hard work. These Eurocentric characterizations were erroneous, but gained traction for Europeans who used them to justify colonization.

In fact, Indigenous women had—and have—a great deal of power. Check out The Hidden Half: Studies of Plains Indian Women (1983) by Patricia Albers and Beatrice Medicine and The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions (1986) by Paula Gunn Allen.

That power, however, is hidden when we ask children to read books like Elizabeth George Speare’s 1983 Newbery winner Sign of the Beaver. In it, Attean—a Native boy—views Native women as squaws whose work is beneath him. Matt—the European boy—thinks Attean is wrong to view women in that way. Speare’s book reflects that desire to justify colonization of Indigenous lands and peoples, and that’s why I ask librarians to deselect that squaw. It misrepresents Native women.

Let’s get rid of misleading books like Sign of the Beaver. You can deselect it using the CREW method of weeding your library.  There are better choices available that accurately portray Native women and girls and our languages in past and present contexts. Here are a few suggestions.

Dine (Navajo) artist Beverly Blacksheep has a beautiful series of bilingual board books. From Baby’s First Laugh through Baby Learns about Weather, we learn about Navajo culture as the little girl at the heart of the series learns words, numbers, colors and so on. The text is in English and Navajo. You can get these board books from Salina Bookshelf.

Two outstanding picture books are Cheryl Savageau’s Muskrat Will Be Swimming, and Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Jingle Dancer. Both are written by Native women, and both feature a young Native girl. Savageau’s protagonist, Jeannie, is being teased at school. Her flagging self esteem is galvanized by listening to her grandfather tell her about Skywoman. In Smith’s Jingle Dancer, the protagonist, Jenna, is going to do the jingle dance for the first time at an upcoming pow wow. Her grandmother, an aunt, and a neighbor woman all play a key role in getting her ready.

Moving up to chapter books, check out Louise Erdrich’s award-winning series of historical fiction. You’ll love the women in it, too. With seven-year Omakayas kicking it off in Birchbark House (the first of four books), you’ll read about a family and tribal nation as they live their daily lives, all the while contending with people who want their lands. Erdrich is a gifted writer who handles those tensions beautifully and honestly, without demonizing anyone.  Birchbark House was the first one, followed by Game of Silence, Porcupine Year, and Chickadee.

For middle school readers, I highly recommend another book by Cynthia Leitich Smith. Her Rain Is Not My Indian Name has a Native protagonist dealing with first love, and loss, too. Through it all, her Native heritage shines through.

To round off my recommendations, pick up Louise Erdrich’s The Round House for high school students. Though not marketed to a youth audience, it works well for older students. Released this year, it is an insider’s look at the violence Native women face and the difficulties in pressing charges on perpetrators of that violence. In this case, the protagonist is the adult Joe, looking back on something from his early teen years. The story is about his mom being raped. It isn’t gratuitous in detail or description, and readers learn a lot about Native law as they travel alongside Joe and his family, trying to figure out the rapist’s identity and the jurisdiction issues involved. 

You can order Muskrat Will Be Swimming, and Jingle Dancer, and all of Louise Erdrich’s books from her bookstore in Minneapolis: Birchbark Books.

I opened this essay asking you to consider deselecting a specific book from your library shelves. If you do, you’ll have room on your shelves for books that accurately portray Native women. Buying the books I recommend sends a powerful message to publishers. We want, and need, books that provide us with real Native women. I hope you’ll order copies of the books I recommended. Send the publishers that message, and stand in solidarity with Native women. 

Debbie Reese is tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo, a federally recognized tribal nation in northern New Mexico. Born at an Indian Hospital and raised on the reservation, Debbie is a former school teacher and professor who publishes American Indians in Children's Literature. (link: Her articles and book chapters appear in publications read by teachers, librarians, and professors in schools of Education, Library Science, and English. 

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