Category Archives: biography

She Persisted

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She Persisted

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She Persisted spotlights 13 women who were game changers and trailblazers in different fields throughout American history. The book also discusses the adversity that girls face, even today. This book would be a valuable addition to any classroom as its characters are diverse in race, socioeconomic background, and influence, it depicts accurate historical experiences of women, and it is inspiring to young girls throughout our society to fight for their passions and to make a difference. Author Chelsea Clinton and illustrator Alexandra Boiger succeed in compiling beautiful, timely stories of women that need to be shared.

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The story begins by showing a young girl in a museum, which is exhibiting portraits of important women in American history (notice Hillary Clinton in the background). The book emphasizes that even though these women where often told “no”, they were able to persist and follow their dreams. This message shows the importance of celebrating strong females who may become important role models in the lives of young women.

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This story highlights both women who we often learn about in school and women who are less known and celebrated. For example, one featured woman is Virginia Agpar, who became a doctor despite her superiors discouraging her and created a critical test for infants. Each woman’s story is depicted with a stunning image showing their amazing feats and hinting at the time period in which they lived. In addition, the book features a powerful quote from every woman.

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My favorite section highlights Ruby Bridges because it shows that women do not need to be adults to make a difference. Ruby persisted when she was just a kindergartner, a pioneer for her educational rights. The other women featured in the book are: Harriet Tubman, Helen Keller, Clara Lemlich, Nellie Bly, Maria Tallchief, Claudette Covin, Margaret Chase Smith, Sally Ride, Florence Griffith Joyner, Oprah Winfrey, and Sonia Sotomayor.

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The story closes on a scene where 3 young girls have discovered a favorite pioneering woman and a call to action for the future female leaders of our nation and the world. Our society often puts women down and many times powerful female role models are not brought to the forefront in discussing history in the classroom. This is discouraging for young girls, but this book proves that women of all races and creeds have fought against this societal repression and have made huge strides that we are all thankful for, making it both an educationally and an inspirationally necessary work for children.

Rachel Platt

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I Dissent – Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark

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I Dissent – Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark

Written by Debbie Levy

Illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley

I Dissent uses the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the first Jewish woman on the US Supreme Court, to tell a powerful story speaking up for what is right. The book tells Ginsburg’s story, from her humble upbringing to her numerous accomplishments as a judge, celebrating each and every disagreement that shaped her legacy. Ultimately, readers of this book learn that making a difference requires hard work and a willingness to question the status quo.

One part of the writing style that makes I Dissent both compelling and engaging is that it is told through a collection of anecdotes that help the reader to gain a sense of Ginsburg’s character. Some of the stories it tells are small – like when Ginsburg protested by writing with her left hand or was kicked out of the chorus because of her poor singing skills – while others are key events in her life – like when Ginsburg chose to go to law school, even though there were very few girls in her class. These stories help young readers to relate to the future Supreme Court justice, and see that they are never too young to take a stand.2016-12-08-19-59-493

In addition to telling Ginsburg’s story, I Dissent provides an introduction to the workings of the Supreme Court. It explains how Ginsburg became a justice, and her role in writing the opinions during cases. The book also exposes readers to an array of courtroom vocabulary – throughout her story, Ginsburg dissents, objects, resists, disapproves, and disagrees. Further, the book refers to real-life court cases that are meaningful to even the youngest readers, such as racism and discrimination. I Dissent exposes its readers to the significance of the judicial branch – a topic that may seem distant or abstract to children.2016-12-08-19-59-494

The images presented in this book are extremely powerful because of their variety. On one page, Ginsburg is shown as a kind and loving mother, and on the next, a determined justice who is unwilling to conform to societal standards. At the beginning of the book, she is illustrated as a spunky yet ordinary little girl. At the end, she takes on the posture and demeanor of a superhero, complete with word art that mirrors the style of comic books. The diversity of ways in which Ginsburg is presented is important because it shows that none of these identities are mutually exclusive. Ginsburg does not need to sacrifice her family to be successful in her career, and she does not need to be timid to be kind. Through Baddeley’s illustrations, Ginsburg is presented as a real and well-rounded individual to which any child can aspire.2016-12-08-19-59-492

I Dissent would be a perfect book for teachers to bring into their classroom, because it provides a human view of government that will engage students in a way that their textbooks may not. Teachers can also use the text to talk about relevant social issues: I Dissent illuminates issues like racism and sexism, and encourages students to think about what laws and social norms in their own lives they might disapprove of. In this way, I Dissent could accompany a powerful lesson for middle grades students that strengthens their critical and evaluative thinking skills. Finally, the book sends an important message, especially to young girls, that speaking up does not make you stubborn, bossy, or disagreeable. Rather, having the courage to disagree is necessary in making a difference.2016-12-08-19-59-491

Post by Sami Chiang

Free Fridays: Dear Malala, We Stand With You

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In light of recent events around the world, the nation, and Vanderbilt campus, I would like to share a book that I feel promotes love, understanding, peace, and strength in the context of people from different cultures coming together for a common purpose. Dear Malala, We Stand With You holds a special place in my heart. In 2012, when a then 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot in response to her activism for girls’ rights, I held my breath awaiting news on her status. Her courage, her desire to speak out, and her passion for education throughout her recovery and continuing through the years are just a sample of why she is my personal hero. I loved her autobiography, I Am Malala, and was so impressed by how genuinely compassionate and open-minded this young girl was. What impresses me even more, though, is the number of girls around the world who have supported Malala in her fight for equality for girls and who have taken her words to heart. This is shown beautifully in this children’s book, which features pictures of girls around the world who have decided to stand with Malala in her fight.

malalaThe text of this book is written by Rosemary McCarney, the leader of Plan International Canada, with the help of the Plan International team. Presented as a letter, parts of which are taken from the Dear Malala video campaign made by Plan International, the text takes the perspective of the girls of the world, assuring Malala and the world that they are ready to fight for equality, opportunities, and empowerment for themselves and their global sisters. It is a compelling demonstration of solidarity and understanding. It does refer to some heavier topics, including violence, discrimination, early marriage, and poverty, but not in a way that is inappropriate for children. Rather, by leaving the references as just that and not defining or delving into these topics, McCarney and Plan International allow for teachers, parents, guardians, or other older readers to engage with younger readers, answer their questions, and help them understand parts of the world of which they might not be aware.

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The pictures in this book are all striking portraits of girls from around the world. Each line or phrase from the letter is paired with a photograph from a different photographer, and the subjects range from a single hand holding a pen to a crowd of children letting go of balloons. The pairings of the text and the photographs is done quite intentionally, using symbolic representations of what the text is saying and specific facial expressions and body language of different girls to convey the message of the text. Most of the photographs incorporate bright, pleasant colors, and the decorative aspects of the cover and informational pages are done in bright orange and hot pink, which work well to show the energy the girls have. It seems as though it could help readers get excited about the work Malala has done and in learning more about other cultures and the issues that girls face.Screenshot 2015-11-19 23.47.56

As if this book wasn’t wonderful enough, it also provides a brief introduction to Malala, essential for readers who are not familiar with who she is. Following the text of the book are selections fro the speech that she gave to the UN on her 16th birthday (fun fact: July 12, 2013 was the first official Malala Day!), and a list of associated organizations and movements that encourage donating to or participating in their causes. Overall, this book does a wonderful job of incorporating multiple dimensions of the huge issues that face girls worldwide, and it manages to do so in a way that appeals to readers of all ages due to its bold and powerful text photography and text. This is such an important book for bringing up world issues and the idea of cultural differences and similarities and issues of gender with children. Children of all ages should be able to see themselves somewhere in this book, as it is so widely encompassing. Young children, not just girls, need to be exposed to the challenges that girls face where they live and elsewhere so that they can learn to appreciate what they have, understand how to advocate for what they don’t, and develop empathy for those who don’t have what they have and use that as fuel for change.

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For educators or others interested in discussion questions or activities related to this book, check out the Random House Educator’s Guide for Dear Malala, We Stand With You.

Additionally, be sure to check out the Dear Malala campaign video.

~ Reviewed by Katie Goetz

Trendy Tuesday: Viva Frida

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Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales

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Viva Frida (which translates to Frida Lives) by Yuyi Morales is one of the hottest children’s books out right now.  Since being released just a little over a year ago, Viva Frida has won several awards, like the Caldecott Honor and the Pura Belpre 2015 Illustrator Award, and has been mentioned on numerous popular book lists including The Association for Library Service to Children’s Notable Books for 2015 list. Viva Frida is based on the life of artist Frida Kahlo who is famous for her self portraits. This book looks at Frida’s life through poetry; using very few words to describe her big inspirations for painting.

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So why is Viva Frida getting so much attention?

The first thing that makes Viva Frida so unique and memorable is that it’s not quite a biography, but it’s not quite a poem.  It’s a little of both!  The illustrations contain a lot of images that were relevant to Frida’s life and art.  For example, her pet monkey, the blue house she lived in, her husband Diego, and the bird/flying motif. While the text does not provide specific biographical information about Frida, it does mention some of her inspirations and motivations behind her artwork. The text is not a narrative biography, but rather a poem.  This poem contains a mere 32 English words (27 Spanish) so you really have to squeeze all of the meaning out of each word. I found it helpful to go back and reread the poem after reading the biographical information at the end of the book.

The second reason VIva Frida really stands out is that it’s written entirely in Spanish with English translations below.  Beyond making this book more memorable, it begins to expose children to a language that may be different than what they’re used to.  Additionally, having the text in Spanish reflects the author’s respect for how Frida “unapologetically filled her paintings with old and new symbols of Mexican culture in order to tell her own story” (Morales 29). Again I think children who speak Spanish will love reading a book like this that crafts their language so beautifully.

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Viva Frida is written entirely in Spanish with English translations.

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Morales’ attention to detail really shines

The third thing that makes Viva Frida truly outstanding is the illustrations. Crafted in stunning color, these illustrations were created primarily with stop-motion puppets and photography. The attention to detail Morales had with the scenes she photographed is incredible.  Coupled with her use of computer imaging software, Morales created breathtaking illustrations for Viva Frida that reflect classic Mexican art and culture (Including the works of the real Frida); for which she received a Caldecott Honor.

Overall this trendy book is definitely worth checking out.  I would recommend it for ages 8-10 because the reader does need to be able to read between the lines a little bit to understand the story. Although readers may call this book overly simplistic, Viva Frida shows Children’s Literature that beauty and worth is often found in the simple things in life.

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-Michaela Royer