Cool Women to Know

Below are the reviews I wrote for the March issue of Parents Express (Philadelphia.)

Nonfiction continues to flourish and one of my favorite categories, picture book biographies, just gets better and better. People written about previously receive imaginative and skillful new treatments and others’ accomplishments are brought to light for the first time for a young audience. This is especially true of women and so we’re honoring Women’s History Month with these three life stories in picture book format.

Dare the WindDare the Wind, written by Tracey Fern, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully, Farrar Straus Giroux/Macmillan, hardcover, $17.99, ages 5-10
Growing up in Marblehead, Massachusetts Ellen Prentiss loved the sea and learned the sea becoming adept not only at sailing but navigation as well. She married a sea captain and the two sailed together with Ellen as navigator at a time when it was unheard of for women to do so. In 1851 the couple took command of a clipper ship slated for a journey from New York around Cape Horn to San Francisco carrying passengers and cargo to the Gold Rush. Lively language and dynamic art bring this ocean adventure to life. McCully’s signature watercolor and ink illustrations put readers in the middle of the vast and dangerous sea but also show intimate views of Ellen at work, capturing the courage, skill and daring that allowed the Flying Cloud to make its journey in record time.

FlorenceFlorence Nightingale, written and illustrated by Demi, Henry Holt/Macmillan, hardcover, $17.99, ages 6-10
Florence Nightingale heard her calling as a nurse while still young, though her wealthy parents didn’t think it was a proper field for a young lady. She used her ability to travel extensively to learn about nursing and hygiene and was methodical with her reports and suggestions. It took time and perseverance but Florence was eventually regarded as a resource by the British government. She began a training school for nurses, her work inspired the Red Cross and she provided the Union government with advice about army field medicine. Her accomplishments were many and all are presented in a straightforward clear narrative for young readers. Demi’s rich and detailed but uncluttered art aptly extends the text, portraying the unhygienic conditions and the changes Nightingale championed. This is a well-crafted narrative about an important participant in medical history.

Tree LadyThe Tree Lady, written by H. Joseph Hopkins and illustrated by Jill McElmurry, Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster, hardcover, $16.99, ages 5-8
As a young girl growing up in Northern California Kate Sessions loved science and nature and, in particular, trees. She followed that love of science eagerly into school and was the first woman to graduate from the University of California with a degree in science. She moved to San Diego and taught briefly, but then began a nursery with the goal of turning the desert town green. Hunting trees that would grow in the arid climate—Yucca, Jacaranda, Bristlecone Pine—residents bought and planted them so that green soon dotted the landscape. The great Panama-California Exposition was coming to San Diego in 1915 and Kate organized volunteers to plant trees in Balboa Park adding beauty and shade. The breezy text reflects Session’s positive attitude and joy in her work. The arresting cover art will pull readers in immediately and the interiors will captivate too. A grand introduction to the woman who earned the name “Mother of Balboa Park.”

Review copies are provided by publishers, borrowed from our local library, or are personal copies.

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