Category Archives: girl power

Girl power — now with comics!

brazenI know.  I’m a total sucker for exactly this kind of book – cool stories about smart women, fun facts, charming and engaging illustrations.

You might say I’ve been glowing and gushing about a lot of books lately, and you’d be right.  This one is really, really good.  Really.  There are a few women I knew already and many I didn’t, but all of their stories are compelling and just plain fun to read.  I read the whole thing in two days, but I could easily see reading one biography a day, or just going back and rereading the book several times to look for little details I missed.

It might be especially wonderful to me–I do love me some women’s history–but the format is one that would appeal to all kinds of people from teens to old ladies with open minds.  It’s the way it’s told that really made it come alive.  And although some people might be uncomfortable with its discussion of controversial topics, others might find that to be a great selling point.  We all know there are nice books about super amazing women out there, but somehow they don’t all sing, do they?  Too much dense text on the page?  Boring pictures?  Not much zing?

I don’t know what it is, but this one has exactly the right combination of all the things I want to read, maybe more than once.

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Pénélope Bagieu

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Girl power — rebels and visionaries

what would sheIt feels like there have been just loads of books about interesting women coming out in the last few years–rebel girls, mathematicians, Hidden Figures, and all–but it’s never enough when you come across a really good one.  I wasn’t expecting much from this one, but it delivered in content, art and discussion potential.  The biographies are short and highly readable, full of interesting tidbits, and very colorful, both in descriptive words and engaging art.  Sometimes the “what would X do?” questions seem a little forced, but it’s maybe a fun way to translate everyday situations into lifetime decision-making skills.  The message is always “never give up,” whether those words are used or not.  So persist some more, friends.  Get out there and lead the future.

What Would She Do? 25 true stories of trailblazing rebel women by Kay Woodward and many illustrators.

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Beware of plankton and reach for the stars

I’m always looking for smart, science-based picture books.  Being an adult has not stopped me from wanting to learn cool things about the world and occasionally bolster my decades-old knowledge of biology a bit.

If Sharks Disappeared by Lily Williams is really perfect for that particular reading mood.  There are child-friendly (and beautiful) explanations of evolution and how food chains work.  If the sharks go away, all kinds of environmental chaos might ensue.  Coincidentally, I heard Paul Nicklen, a conservation photographer, speaking on a very similar topic on NPR’s Fresh Air just a few days ago. It’s definitely worth a listen, too, if you need any reminders of how fragile our life on this planet is.

Meanwhile, over at NASA in the 1960s, Margaret Hamilton was figuring out how to use computers to get astronauts into space and land the lunar module.  Having questioned why girls were not expected or sometimes even allowed to do certain things at a young age, she charged ahead and rose to the top of her profession, becoming a role model for many women in computer science and engineering.  This is an especially fun read for kids who like thinking outside the box and challenging stereotypes.

If Sharks Disappeared by Lily Williams

Margaret and the Moon: how Margaret Hamilton saved the first lunar landing by Dean Robbins and Lucy Knisley


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Sometimes one trick is all you need

nathan hale one trick ponyStrata is not a rule follower.  She and her buddies have gotten away from their Mad Max-ish caravan and are looking for treasures.  Probably they shouldn’t be doing this, because the Pipers (evil, energy-seeking aliens) are close enough that—oops!–Strata and her friends might uncover something that would attract them.

But there’s a pony!  And Kleidi (the pony) is a neat twist on the cliché of girls and ponies, because Kleidi is a robot, a fast and clever robot. Kleidi can also stop really fast and hard.

Along the way, we learn about the dystopian homeland that the Earth has become, and how humans have adapted and yet are still losing against aliens who see them and their planet simply as food and minerals.  It’s nothing like Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales about moments in U.S. history, and yet the storytelling and art are equally perfect for the topic.

Pick up Zita the Spacegirl  (Ben Hatke) and you’ve got an excellent double feature for a rainy afternoon of reading.

one Trick Pony by Nathan Hale

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Re-reading my personal classics…

Most years, I experience Charlotte’s Web in bits of pieces, since I’m almost always volunteering in Mrs. P’s room just after lunch recess during literature time, and she always reads it to her third graders.  Other books pop up again and again, sometimes because I’ve sought them out, sometimes because the kids at school or the library remind me how wonderful they are.  It’s usually a good experience, since reading them again reconnects me with something from my youth when I first read them.

Because I recently re-read Counting by 7s (by Holly Goldberg Sloan) and The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp (by the always wonderful Kathi Appelt), I’ve been thinking about other books that do the work of capturing moments in my life I want to revisit.  And here they are…

  • A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L’Engle) – Whether it’s because of Meg Murry and Charles Wallace, or because it mentions tesseracts and led me into some great science fiction, re-reading this one is always powerful. There is loss – a lot of loss – and being an outsider and trying to figure out what the heck is going on and it all just seems like too much.   It’s both your worst family trip and your best one.  From there, I might head back into When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead or A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
  • A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver (E.L. Konigsburg) – This somewhat unlikely book for middle graders and teens is about Eleanor of Aquitaine. She’s in heaven, waiting to find out where her second husband, King Henry II of England, will be headed.  How does this seem like something that would have fascinated me when I was young?  It’s Eleanor.  Well, Eleanor and the great writing, which made these long-dead historical figures seem real to me.  Reading about her made me think more critically about women and power and history, which could conceivably have pushed me in several directions that affected real-life choices for me.  After reading this one, I like to move on to biographies of Eleanor Roosevelt or other lesser-known rad women.  (See this blog post for more.)
  • The Dark is Rising sequence (Susan Cooper). This series actually starts with Over Sea, Under Stone, and I have to admit that I haven’t re-read it lately, so who knows what I’ll think of it now?  (I know I’ll still love it.) However, it was fantasy in the time before Harry Potter, and brought together a bunch of kids into a fight between Dark and Light, complete with connections to Arthurian legends and other fun stuff.  The Dark was really dark, and there were wizards, and that’s all you need to know if you haven’t read them.  I remember dreaming myself into the stories when I was a kid, and then thinking about what my mind made them into while I was at school the next day.  What an excellent use of “quiet work” time!

I’m sure there are more, many more.  Some books hold up better than others over the years.  Some characters remind you of who you used to be, and others connect with you in new ways.  It’s all good.

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For the pranksters in your life

nothing-but-troubleMaggie lives to hack, to create perfect pranks, to mix it up in Odawahaka, her all-too-normal and boring hometown.   When a new girl arrives who seems to fit right into her big ideas, things get a little crazy – evil Principal Shute starts carrying a bat, ping pong balls fly through the air, and  a mouse ROARs.  There are ups and downs. Maggie’s home life is complicated, as is Lena’s.  Not everything works out at first.  But this light and quick read strikes at the heart of every kid who’s tired of everyday expectations and longs for something big and silly and possibly involving motors and duct tape.


I can’t think of other similar books with only girl pranksters, but there are a bunch of good ones with boys and boy/girl teams:


The Terrible Two by Mac Barnett – I especially love this series

Ungifted by Gordon Korman

The Last Boy at St. Edith’s by Lee Gjertsen Malone

To Catch a Cheat and more by Varian Johnson

Pickle by Kimberly Baker

Nothing But Trouble by Jacqueline Davies

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Women in science and math – a few favorites


I happened to notice that Hidden Figures, a book about African-American women mathematicians, will be available in a youth edition soon.  (I’m on the list for it when it comes into the library already – woo hoo!)  That got me thinking about all the great books about women in science I’ve come across lately.  So, today I offer a short list of recent goodies:

 Finding Wonders:  Three Girls Who Changed Science by Jeannine Atkins.  Maria Merian, Mary Anning, and Maria Mitchell had a few things in common – they loved science and they lived in times which didn’t accept women as scientists.  This novel in verse imagines their lives and research.  It’s very accessible and would be a new way to get younger readers thinking about the wonders they see in their own lives and the extent to which they’d be willing to fight for the right to investigate them.  What matters enough?  When do you stand up for yourself, even if it’s uncomfortable?  Do others still face these challenges now?  So much to think about…

I am Jane Goodall by Brad Meltzer & Christopher Eliopoulos.  This one’s part of the “Ordinary People Change the World series, and it’s a keeper.  It’s a sort of picture book-graphic novel blend, and it really shows how the kid who hid in the hay to observe chickens became the woman who studied chimpanzees and taught us so much about animal relationships.  This one was so fun that I’ll be adding the others in the series to my TBR pile.

Ada Lovelace:  Poet of Science by Diane Stanley and Jessie Hartland.  I mentioned this one in an earlier post.  When I checked it out again to show to a friend, I reread it.  Still great!

Trailblazers:  33 Women in Science Who Changed the World by Rachel Swaby.  You’ll find Ada Lovelace, Maria Mitchell and Mary Anning in this one, along with thirty other amazing women – some well-known and others not so much.  Their biographies are short but very readable, and a nice way to find out about someone you might want to learn even more about!

Rad Women Worldwide and Rad American Women A-Z by Kate Schatz.  These books cover everyone from political leaders to athletes and singers, but some of the noted women are scientists, mathematicians, and environmental activists.  Like the Trailblazers, these biographies are quick bites, not in-depth, but they’re perfect for kids looking for report subjects (they can research them more through other sources) and adults who are looking for shorter pieces to read on a commute, while waiting at a doctor’s office, eating lunch or whatever.

Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History by Sam Maggs & Sophia Foster-Dimino.  This one’s super sassy and full of unexpected fun.  Annie Smith Peck was both a suffragist and a mountaineer.  Brita Tott was a spy and forger. Jacqueline Felice De Almania was a physician.  Again, it’s all in quick bites, but when you think about women from what seems like long ago doing all these amazing things…. well, the future looks a little brighter.

So much to learn!  So much to uncover!  So much fun!



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Outrun the Moon-dreams and hope

outrun the moon

Mercy Wong is no shrinking violet.  Her dreams of an education are thwarted on most sides – by men who want her to do something more traditional, by women who don’t like upstarts or ladder-climbers, by all kinds of people who’d like her to keep in her “place”, which very much does not include getting an education at one of the best schools for young women.

The author admits that even a girl as spunky and boundary-pushing as Mercy Wong might not have really been able to talk her way into a girls’ school in San Francisco at the turn of the last century.  Does this make Mercy any less wonderful as a character?  Not at all.  I prefer to think of it as alternative historical fiction.  If you can do it in steampunk, or imagine a world war ended differently, I’m ok with a heroine who might be just a little stronger than reality.

Mercy’s story is about more than who she appears to be, after all.  It’s about who she could become, given a chance or two or three.  It’s about what happens when a natural disaster destroys everything that seems normal.  And it’s about how we can all overcome obstacles to see a future that looks different.  Dreams and hope keep us moving when things look grim.  Mercy’s dreams are worth a read.

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee – If you missed Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee, read it now, too!

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Dark humor for the young ones…picture books with a kick

It’s probably a good thing they don’t let me do storytimes all the time.  When I come across books like Barnacle is Bored and Little Red, I really can’t wait to see how the younger crowd will react.  Many of them, I know, will laugh uproariously when the final joke is revealed, even though it’s a little dark.  Some parents are right there with you on it, but others, (sadly, think) believe books for young children should not be dark or even a little snarky.  They are looking for more gentle and warm/fuzzy books.   They somehow think that kids should be protected from everything outside their cozy little boxes.  I, on the other hand, am that person who gives I Want My Hat Back for a baby gift.

Anyway, Barnacle is Bored and Little Red popped up on my holds list this weekBarnacle really is bored.  His whole life is predictable.  He wonders how much more fun it would be if he were that polka-dotted fish.  It would be really fun, he thinks, except for that bigger fish with the big teeth and all. Ha!  The way the illustrations play with the text (in a boring font)  is delightful.  Barnacle’s expressions are sooo bored and then later so surprised.  Perfect!

The illustrations also make Little Red.  I started laughing when Wolf imagines Little Red and Grandma on a dinner plate, and didn’t really stop until the end.  Although it’s mostly gray, black and white, the splashes of red and bold, wacky drawings add to the humor of the text, which is just a little unpredictable even with such a predictable story.

If your dark, bitter, snarky side needs a few more laughs after you’ve read Barnacle is Bored and Little Red, take a look at these earlier posts.

Need a good laugh?

Storytime for the seriously snarky?

Perhaps a little alligator fun?

And a Pinterest page which has a few more favorites…

Barnacle is Bored by Jonathan Fenske, Little Red by Bethan Woollvin

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Wonder Woman – outsider, insecure, bad at flying?

wonder womanImagine The Diary of a Wimpy Kid + Dork Diaries + DC super heroes + boarding school, and you pretty much have the new DC Super Hero Girls series.  It could all go horribly wrong, easily and quickly, but somehow they were smart enough to get Lisa Yee to sign up for this gig, and it’s exactly what it should be – light, fun, surprisingly quirky.

Wonder Woman, you see, is the new girl at school.  She’s got a lot of new things to learn, she thinks too literally, she doesn’t fly straight when she gets nervous, being the center of attention sometimes gets uncomfortable.  She wants to be the best and do her best, but life at Super Hero High is so different from the island of Amazons she knows and loves.

This is a certain kind of book, and it’s clearly going to be part of a series targeted at a girl power crowd, possibly to rope them into caring more about comics and potentially buying more comics?  However, with Lisa Yee telling the story, it’s super chatty, silly, and still kind of touching at moments.  It’s not deep and thought-provoking, but sometimes you need a break from the drama, right?  This is super fun in more ways than one.

Wonder Woman at Super Hero High by Lisa Yee

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