March 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

March On!: 23 Titles To Celebrate Women’s History Month

We started off 2018 with a feature by librarian and blogger Elizabeth Bird ( “A Fuse #8 Production”), “History Has Its Eyes on Her,” that looked at the national zeitgeist and publishing trends in the year following the January 2017’s historic Women’s March. She noted a definite uptick in interest in the lives and accomplishments of women and in bringing the stories of previously unsung heroines to the fore. Concluding her piece, Bird commented on the newfound popularity of books on women’s history: “…all it took was a grassroots movement, a curricular focus on STEM subjects, the appearance of the Common Core State Standards, a couple of major motion pictures, and the rise of independent publishers and Kickstarter campaigns to make it happen. Now let’s see what we can do to keep this momentum going.”

Additionally, authors Grace Lin and Karen Blumenthal have organized the Facebook group #KidlitWomen. It aims to call “attention to the gender inequities of our industry, uplifting the women who have not received their due, and finding solutions to reach equality for all.” Our sister magazine the Horn Book will be among those contributing articles throughout the month.

Here at SLJ, we’ll do our bit by highlighting our most recent reviews of women-focused titles throughout Women’s History Month. Here are our most recent informational picture book reviews.

Stay tuned for roundups on nonfiction titles for older readers, books for budding feminists, Black Girl Magic, and more in the coming weeks. If there are any titles that we missed, please do not hesitate to leave comments below.

AHMED, Roda. Mae Among the Stars. illus. by Stasia Burrington. 40p. HarperCollins/Harper. Jan. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062651730. POP

K-Gr 2–Born in Alabama, Mae Jemison dreamed of going to space. When she grew up, she attained a degree in chemical engineering before finishing medical school in the 1980s. After a stint in the Peace Corps, Jemison wasn’t content with just being an engineer or doctor—she satisfied her love of the stars by becoming an astronaut—the first African American female astronaut and the first African American woman in space. Ahmed and Burrington have created a love letter to Jemison with this appealing picture book biography. The recurring line, “If you can dream it, if you believe in it, and work hard for it, anything is possible” is a chorus sure to resonate with children. The emphasis on Jemison’s lifelong passion for space science will inspire readers to have confidence in the trajectory of their own interests. Burrington’s bright, kid-friendly illustrations were created with ink and Adobe Photoshop. An epilogue provides the dates and details of Jemison’s life and career. VERDICT A starry addition to picture book biography collections.–Deidre ­Winterhalter, Oak Park Public Library, IL

This review was published in the School Library Journal December 2017 issue.

redstarBardoe, Cheryl. Nothing Stopped Sophie: The Story of Unshakable Mathematician Sophie Germain. illus. by Barbara McClintock. 40p. bibliog. further reading. Little, Brown. Jun. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780316278201.

Gr 1-3–An illuminating look into the life and work of Sophie Germain, a self-taught mathematician, who was the first woman to win a prize from the Paris Academy of Sciences. Bardoe’s prose injects the title refrain often as the story unfolds. Germain, who came of age during the French Revolution, studied math despite her parents’ wishes. Women were not allowed to attend university, but she secretly got notes from math classes and sent in homework using a male name. She worked for six years on a theorem to predict patterns of vibration, and experienced rejection at least twice before her work was accepted. The artwork—created with pen and ink, watercolor, and collage—is truly a sight to behold. McClintock depicts Germain’s inner thoughts, often numbers and equations surrounding her and at times isolating her from others. This makes the penultimate spread of Germain’s prize-winning equation extending from her person and wrapping around the male scholars, even more triumphant in comparison. Extended back matter includes more about Germain’s life, recommendations for further research and activities, a selected bibliography, an author’s note, and an illustrator’s note. VERDICT Excellent illustrations elevate the inspiring prose, making it a highly recommended choice to the growing shelf of picture book biographies featuring women in STEM.–Kacy Helwick, New Orleans Public Library

This review was published in the School Library Journal March 2018 issue.

ENGLE Margarita. The Flying Girl: How Aída de Acosta Learned To Soar. illus. by Sara Palacios. 40p. photos. S. & S./Atheneum. Mar. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481445023. POP

Gr 2-5–Aída de Acosta’s fascination with flying and her determination to do so allowed her to accomplish this very task as a young teenager. She studied under Alberto Santos-Dumont and after various lessons, flew an airship during a sunny day in Paris. Unfortunately, when she landed, she was met by an unruly crowd who shouted insults at her (even her mother was opposed). What were they to think of a woman flying; after all, the year was 1903! In the text, however, Santos-Dumont greets her with kind words: “You’re a hero, such a brave inspiration for all the girls of the world!” The mixed-media illustrations flow perfectly with the story and provide a calming tone. This introductory biography will guide readers on their way to finding out more about de Acosta and women in aeronautics in general. The author’s note provides valuable information about both de Acosta and Santos-Dumont. VERDICT A great resource for STEM classrooms and readers interested in historical figures who paved the way for modern day pioneers.–Martha Rico, El Paso ISD, TX

This review was published in the School Library Journal December 2017 issue.

Halfmann, Janet. Midnight Teacher: Lilly Ann Granderson and Her Secret School. illus. by London Ladd. 40p. bibliog. notes. Lee & Low. Feb. 2018. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9781620141632.

Gr 2-4–A winning tribute to Lilly Ann Granderson, the Midnight Teacher. Granderson, who was enslaved, secretly learned to read and write as a child and passed on this dear knowledge to hundreds of other enslaved people despite the great risks. To avoid the notice and suspicion of white masters and patrollers, she hosted her school in the middle of the night. Halfmann’s narrative follows Granderson’s life pre– and post–Civil War, including Granderson’s involvement in educating newly freed black people in the South. In the afterword, Halfmann delves further into this hero’s legacy: her grandchildren and great-grandchild would go on to become college grads, U.S. congressmen, and more. Ladd’s illustrations, rendered in acrylic and colored pencil, are realistic and done in an earthy palette of sandy browns and rich greens. Ladd adroitly conveys the tone of the narrative with dioramalike scenes and uses perspective to add intensity. VERDICT A top choice for any library serving elementary school–aged children.–Shira ­Pilarski, Farmington ­Community Library, MI

This review was published in the School Library Journal February 2018 issue.

HANCOCKS, Helen. Ella Queen of Jazz. illus. by Helen Hancocks. 32p. Frances Lincoln. Feb. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781847809186.

K-Gr 2–This bold picture book chronicles Ella Fitzgerald’s early rise to stardom and centers on her friendship with Marilyn Monroe. The value of camaraderie and the determination of these two women are the running themes in this narrative. Hancocks explores how their relationship was beneficial for both parties; Monroe opening doors for Fitzgerald to sing at clubs, and Fitzgerald training Monroe to sing in movies. The gouache illustrations are bright with patterns that evoke the stylized advertising posters of the 1950s. Language reminiscent of the period (“the biggest joint in town”) is peppered throughout, though it is often exceedingly vague (“some folks didn’t want her singing in their club”). A biographical summary of Fitzgerald’s and Monroe’s lives is presented at the end of the book with a photograph of them together. VERDICT Part biography, part exaltation of the power of friendship, this title should do well in most collections.–Jessica Cline, New York Public Library

This review was published in the School Library Journal March 2018 issue.

HANNIGAN, Kate. A Lady Has the Floor: Belva Lockwood Speaks Out for Women’s Rights. illus. by Alison Jay. 32p. bibliog. chron. notes. photos. Calkins Creek. Jan. 2018. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781629794532.

Gr 3-5–An early proponent of equal rights for women, Belva Lockwood was one of the first female lawyers in the United States and the first to argue (and win) a case before the Supreme Court. Facing nonstop opposition, she campaigned for equal pay, equal educational opportunities, and equal rights to vote and hold office for white women and people of color. (“Belva helped poor widows, Civil War veterans, and freed slaves for what they deserved.”) Hannigan thoroughly details Lockwood’s many triumphs, beginning with her childhood and young adult years, and concluding with her unsuccessful, though impressive, run for president. The narrative concentrates mainly on her professional accomplishments; much of her personal life is noted in the time line. Nearly each page offers a quote from Lockwood’s speeches and writings and most resonate with today’s political climate; however, the script font used for these quotes may challenge readers. A time line provides dates and pertinent facts about the subject and the accomplishments of other women in law and politics (Hattie Wyatt Caraway, Shirley Chisholm, Sandra Day O’Connor, etc.). VERDICT Lockwood’s struggles against great odds in the name of freedom are well outlined in this work. A fine addition to nonfiction collections.–Eva Elisabeth VonAncken, formerly at Trinity-Pawling School, NY

This review was published in the School Library Journal December 2017 issue.

redstarHARRISON, Vashti. Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History. illus. by Vashti Harrison. 96p. filmog. further reading. notes. websites. Little, Brown. Dec. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780316475112. POP

K-Gr 4–An artist’s social media sensation is lovingly brought to life in this standout title. Initially a personal project for Black History Month, Harrison’s collection highlights 40 notable black women throughout U.S. history. Each entry includes two to three paragraphs of biographical text, opposite which nearly identical figures (most are drawn facing forward with cherubic smiles and closed eyes) hold center stage of their full-page portrait, framed by simple yet clever backgrounds that contextualize their achievements. Audre Lorde, for example, stands before muted brown bookshelves—keen eyes will discern that the books displayed feature her poetry and prose. Leadership is embraced in forms past and present and across various disciplines; renowned abolitionists Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth are joined by Air Force General Marcelite J. Harris and filmmaker Julie Dash. A concluding “More Little Leaders” segment addresses the difficulty of selecting 40 women to represent a historical legacy and offers miniature renditions of additional icons, including Gabby Douglas, Lorraine Hansberry, and the Williams sisters. Useful back matter provides multimedia sources for inevitably curious readers. The amount of information included makes this book ideal for budding researchers or for small groups, although the heartwarming digital images will garner a younger audience, too—kids of all ages will love poring over Harrison’s tender artwork. VERDICT Beautifully designed and chock-full of information, this is a fantastic survey of black women who made and continue to make history. A must-have for youth nonfiction collections.–Ashleigh ­Williams, School Library Journal

This review was published in the School Library Journal January 2018 issue.

HEGEDUS, Bethany. Alabama Spitfire: The ­Story of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird. ­illus. by Erin McGuire. 40p. bibliog. further reading. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. Jan. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062456700.

K-Gr 2–Nelle Harper Lee discovered the power of words at a very young age: “Words had weight. Words held meaning.” Growing up in her small Alabama town, Lee subverted traditional gender expectations and enjoyed reading, writing and watching her attorney father work. When a boy named Truman Capote, who grew up to become a famous author in his own right, temporarily moved into the house next door, the two became fast friends and spent time in her tree house creating stories on a typewriter her father gave them. Hegedus’s picture book biography tells how Lee wrote a still much beloved novel by basing her main character, Atticus Finch, on her father and using people from her childhood as a source for other characters. Digital illustrations, created using Adobe Photoshop, admirably show Lee’s experiences in Alabama and in New York City. A variety of visual perspectives and faces that portray emotions add much to this informational book of a prominent U.S. author. VERDICT Consider for picture book biography collections, especially where there is interest in To Kill a Mockingbird.–Maryann H. Owen, Oak Creek Public Library, WI

This review was published in the School Library Journal January 2018 issue.

HOPKINSON, Deborah. Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen: The Story of Six Novels, Three Notebooks, a Writing Box, and One Clever Girl. illus. by Qin Lang. 40p. chron. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. Jan. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062373304.

K-Gr 2–Born at the turn of the 19th century, Jane Austen is now considered one of the world’s greatest writers, but she grew up simply. In a house filled with boys and books, she was encouraged in her writing by her father who ran a boarding school. Hopkinson begins her appealing introduction to this beloved writer using a familiar Austen phrase “It is a truth universally acknowledged…” Most of Hopkinson’s short, straightforward text focuses on the writer’s childhood: her shy habit of observation; family life with her sister and many brothers; her enjoyment of family theatrical productions, reading, and writing; and her father’s support. The final pages introduce her adult work, her new way of storytelling: “to hold up a mirror to the ordinary world so readers could recognize (and laugh at) themselves.” Hopkinson makes clear the different expectations for men and women at the time, and points out that the four novels published in Austen’s lifetime were credited to an unnamed “lady.” Gentle ink and watercolor illustrations perfectly reflect the tone and understated humor of Austen’s writing. Ranging from vignettes to spreads, Leng’s art will help readers picture the time and place while focusing on domestic interiors, happy family occasions, and Austen at work. The back matter includes a time line and description of six novels. VERDICT Gentle, charming, and informative, this welcome addition to any library should plant a seed for later enjoyment of Austen’s work.–Kathleen Isaacs, Children’s Literature ­Specialist, Pasadena, MD

This review was published in the School Library Journal February 2018 issue.

HUGHES, Susan. Walking in the City with Jane: A Story of Jane Jacobs. illus. by Valérie Boivin. 36p. Kids Can. Apr. 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781771386531.

Gr 1-3–New Yorkers should know and revere the name of Jane Jacobs, the city’s own David, who fought and won against construction Goliath Robert Moses. Jacobs is best remembered in New York for her successful preservation of Washington Square Park in her beloved Greenwich Village neighborhood. This fictionalized picture book biography portrays Jacobs’s life as an imaginative child, as well as a dedicated citizen who championed communities and parks over highways and commerce. Boivin’s art brings the subject’s world to life and excels at portraying the expressiveness and vivacity of Jacobs over the many years. Unfortunately, narrative and content choices limit the strength of this work. The book begins with Jacobs on a stroll alongside historic leaders, blurring the line between fiction and biography. Also, depicting her refusal to brush her teeth as a child is a puzzling choice to portray the basis of her future resistance. Although Jacobs had considerable triumphs in resisting highways and preserving green spaces in both New York and Canada, these are not listed with precise detail with regards to dates and exact locations, a missed opportunity. VERDICT This picture book biography tackles a very important figure but lacks in execution. An additional purchase for larger collections.–Maria Alegre, The Dalton School, New York

This review was published in the School Library Journal March 2018 issue.

KRULL, Kathleen. No Truth Without Ruth: The Life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. illus. by Nancy Zhang. 48p. bibliog. chron. HarperCollins/Harper. Feb. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062560117.

Gr 3-5–Although similar in style and format to Debbie Levy’s I, Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark, this biography focuses more on Ginsburg’s law career and the professional obstacles she faced. The author incorporates small details about Ginsburg, such as her wearing her mother’s earrings and pin; however, not much other personal information is provided, beyond a list of hobbies. Zhang uses a palette of soft colors, but makes Ginsburg visually stand out through facial expressions. Some of the text is framed by delicate scrollwork on a facing page; at other times, the text is incorporated into the illustrations and certain phrases and quotes are in a different font. “No truth without Ruth” is an oft-repeated line. Back matter includes information on the federal court system, a top 10 list of Ginsburg’s Supreme Court opinions, and a list of sources. One quibble: the ending photo of the Supreme Court is of when Ginsburg first joined and features Sandra Day O’Connor and several other retired/deceased judges—why not include a more recent image with Sonia Sotomayor? VERDICT Collections with little material on Ginsburg will want to purchase; otherwise, an additional consideration.–Tamara Saarinen, Pierce County Library, WA

This review was published in the School Library Journal December 2017 issue.

LANG, Heather. Anybody’s Game: The Story of the First Girl To Play Little League Baseball. illus. by Cecilia Puglesi. 32p. chron. photos. websites. Albert Whitman. Mar. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780807503799.

Gr 2-4–Kathryn “Tubby” Johnston wants nothing more than to play baseball—and has the skills to do it. The only problem: it’s 1950 and girls aren’t allowed to play. So the trailblazer disguises herself as a boy and makes the team. In this picture book biography, Lang doesn’t leave baseball lovers stranded on base as game-related terminology is sprinkled throughout. Puglesi’s digital artwork adds depth to the text, showing strong emotions on the characters’ faces and containing fun hidden gems, especially for Yankees fans (notice the magazines and posters). The text works nicely with the illustrations and would make for a good one-on-one read. The back matter is rather slight. Lang includes an author’s note, which explains the legal fight for girls to play Little League, and a time line. Readers are told in the acknowledgements that sources can be found at the author’s website. While Lang swings for the fences, she settles for a solid double. VERDICT Best for the baseball-obsessed, and a second purchase where Little League is popular.–Kerri Williams, Sachem Public Library, Holbrook, NY

This review was published in the School Library Journal March 2018 issue.

MACLEAR, Kyo. Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli. illus. by Julie Morstad. 40p. bibliog. notes. photos. HarperCollins/Harper. Mar. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062447616.

K-Gr 2–This stunningly illustrated picture book biography on fashion pioneer Elsa Schiaparelli opens on a melancholy tone that is carried through much of the story—her parents were disappointed that she was born a girl. The first-person narration adds tenderness and a sense of intimacy to the story, but holes exist in this telling, which focuses to a fault on Schiaparelli’s childhood and development. When the adult Schiaparelli quits jobs, divorces, or moves locations quickly, these experiences are quickly passed over in the narrative. Likewise, the significant financial support she received from friends and from her mother is not mentioned. This might have been forgiven if the text had dedicated more space to Schiaparelli’s design achievements and creative partnerships, but this information is primarily found in the helpful endnotes and in Morstad’s dreamily expressive and colorful painted figures and clothing ensembles, not in the main text. If this biography has strength, it is that it does not eschew the value of beauty, but redefines it in new a context. Ultimately, Maclear’s narrative does not keep pace with Morstad’s delightful artwork. VERDICT Large picture book biography collections with an interest in fashion may want to consider.–Lauren Younger, New York Public Library

This review was published in the School Library Journal March 2018 issue.

MASLO, Lina. Free as a Bird: The Story of Malala. illus. by Lina Maslo. 40p. chron. filmog. further reading. websites. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. Jan. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062560773. POP

PreS-Gr 2–This straightforward chronicle of one exceptional girl’s fearless efforts to pursue her education presents the true story of Malala Yousafzai, who believes that “one child, one teacher, one pen, and one book can change the world.” When Yousafzai is born, her parents proudly name her after a Pashtun heroine. From a very young age, she dreams of being free like the colorful kites her brothers fly from the roof. Despite society’s restrictions, Yousafzai’s father refuses to clip her wings. They both become advocates for education for girls. The Taliban brings war into the Swat Valley and tries to silence Yousafzai (Maslo does not include details of how she is injured). The brave girl wakes up in the hospital in England and after recovering, continues to speak out for “those without a voice.” Maslo’s acrylic-and-ink illustrations portray Yousafzai, her family, and friends in a graphic novel–like style. She uses color and shadow effectively to create suspense and emotion. In one evocative picture, Yousafzai flies free over the mountains surrounded by vibrant kites and birds. An informative author’s note and time line provide additional facts about this champion’s life. VERDICT Timeless in its message, this biography is a fine addition to nonfiction collections.–Linda L. Walkins, Saint Joseph Preparatory High School, Boston

This review was published in the School Library Journal December 2017 issue.

PIMENTEL, Annette Bay. Girl Running. illus. by Micha Archer. 32p. bibliog. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Bks. Feb. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781101996683.

Gr 2-4–Bobbi Gibb found joy in running before it was an activity women were encouraged or even allowed to participate in. Faced with enormous obstacles (including having available running gear), Gibb went on to become the first woman to complete the Boston Marathon, blazing the trail for thousands of women to come. The story does justice to Gibb’s dream, although additional contextual details may have helped foster a richer understanding. For example, there is no mention of the year during which the story takes place (1966) until the book’s afterword. Gibb’s age is also unclear. On the very first page she is an adolescent, but the work soon transitions into her running across the country and entering the Boston Marathon as an adult without clear indication that many years have passed. The lush collage-style illustrations are a highlight, specifically the clever mile marker and elevation indicators which stretch across the pages as Gibb runs the race. The closing image nicely incorporates the names of other female marathoners as a tribute. VERDICT An inspiring addition to picture book biography collections.–Alyssa Annico, Youngstown State University, OH

This review was published in the School Library Journal December 2017 issue.

PLISCOU, Lisa. Brave Jane Austen: Reader, Writer, Author, Rebel. illus. by Jen Corace. 48p. bibliog. Holt/Christy Ottaviano Bks. Jan. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781627796439.

K-Gr 4–In this engaging picture book biography, Pliscou emphasizes young Jane Austen’s power through a refrain: she “watched, listened, thought.” Page by page, the author’s sharply observed girlhood stories evolve into “funny, thoughtful” novels. Pliscou pays careful attention to the young woman’s artistic development within her family’s literary culture. If Austen is a brave rebel as the title suggests, her artistic vision is one that is always supported by her relatives. As Pliscou notes, a “girl who didn’t marry was odd. A failure. Maybe both,” yet she was able to remain unmarried and craft stories with complex female characters. Austen’s successful single life, her clear-eyed attention to social interactions, and talent for storytelling are presented as an act of rebellion. This story of quiet courage is emphasized by Corace’s watercolor illustrations. Blocks of solid color set off details of books in a shelf or a quilt. In one remarkable spread, delicate silhouettes of her ladylike routine are juxtaposed by snippets of text that note how, “in between all this,” she continued to write. Supplementary material includes historical context, favorite Austen quotes, and further reading. For older Janeites, Pliscou has also written a YA biography, Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer. VERDICT An eye-catching primer for appreciating literature and a remarkable woman.–Katherine Magyarody, Texas A&M University, College Station

This review was published in the School Library Journal January 2018 issue.

ROCKLIFF, Mara. Born To Swing: Lil Hardin Armstrong’s Life in Jazz. illus. by Michele Wood. 32p. bibliog. chron. photos. Calkins Creek. Jan. 2018. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781629795553.

Gr 2-5–Chronicling the life of Lil Hardin Armstrong, the illustrations and first-person text showcase an exuberance evident in the life of “Miss Lil,” who pioneered not only female musicianship in jazz, but jazz itself. In the author’s note, Rockliff mentions Hardin was working on an autobiography at the time of her death (at the piano, no less), which has since disappeared. Readers will learn of Hardin’s childhood spent in Memphis where she was attracted to swing even as she trained as a classical pianist and played for services at her church. The “Jazz Wonder Child” dances through every page, a lively yellow-clad figure swirling and swinging through her move to Chicago, rise to jazz fame, and meetings with such famous folks as Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong (who would later become her husband). Wood relies on yellow to draw the eye to important features on each page and to drench the book in the fervor and delight Lil Hardin clearly felt for music. A “Listen to Lil” section provides a suggested song list for readers curious to hear more. VERDICT Suitable for read-alouds at storytimes or school projects for the upper grades.–Chelsea Woods, New Brunswick Free Public Library, NJ

This review was published in the School Library Journal December 2017 issue.

SHETTERLY, Margot Lee with Winifred Conkling. Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race. illus. by Laura Freeman. 40p. chron. diags. glossary. HarperCollins/Harper. Jan. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062742469. POP

K-Gr 2–Shetterly introduces young readers to the inspirational and groundbreaking stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, and their once-hidden contributions to science, aeronautics, and space exploration. Shetterly expertly puts these women’s achievements in their historical context: segregation, blatant sexism and racism in the workplace, the civil rights movement, and the space race. Despite the challenges these women faced, they persisted, worked hard, and put a man on the moon. In this picture book take, the text, at times, reads a bit clinical and it’s occasionally difficult to distinguish one woman’s characteristics from another’s while reading. This is remedied with the handy time line of short profiles in the back matter. Freeman’s full-color illustrations are stunning and chock-full of details, incorporating diagrams, mathematical formulas, and space motifs throughout (including the women’s clothing and jewelry), enhancing the whole book. VERDICT An essential purchase for elementary school and public libraries.–Megan Kilgallen, Packer Collegiate ­Institute, Brooklyn

This review was published in the School Library Journal March 2018 issue.

STONE, Tanya Lee. Who Says Women Can’t Be Computer Programmers?: The Story of Ada Lovelace. illus. by Marjorie Priceman. 40p. bibliog. notes. Holt. Feb. 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781627792998. POP

Gr 3-5–Joining the growing collection of biographies highlighting women in STEM careers, this charming, informative picture book provides young readers with a brief, lively introduction to Ada Byron Lovelace, whose interests and complex ideas were ahead of her 19th century reality. Lovelace was the child of gifted but scandalous English poet, Lord Byron, and his high society, mathematician wife. When Lord Byron abandoned the family, Lovelace’s determined, educated mother made sure the child was well-tutored in science, math and social norms rather than imagination and fancy. But, Lovelace’s creativity and passion were irrepressible. She befriended polymath, Charles Babbage, whose inventions intrigued her. Babbage envisioned an Analytical Engine, modeled on the Jacquard Loom for textiles, using punch cards for processing numbers instead of threads. Lovelace devised additional Analytic Engine algorithms that could also create pictures and music, “just as computers do today!” An addendum provides more historical details on Lovelace’s marriage, her fragile health, her connection with leading scientists of the time, her long friendship with Babbage, and her name changes. On every page, the gouache and India ink artwork offers a vivid, energetic depiction of people, events, and swirling ideas. The art meshes smoothly with the conversational storytelling, capturing the exuberance, elegance, and giftedness of this exceptional woman. VERDICT This appealing picture book will spark immense pride and prompt readers to do their own investigations into the world of mathematics and computers.–Gerry Larson, formerly at Durham School of the Arts, NC

This review was published in the School Library Journal February 2018 issue.

THERMES, Jennifer. Grandma Gatewood Hikes the Appalachian Trail. illus. by Jennifer Thermes. 48p. bibliog. chron. Abrams. May 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781419728396.

Gr 2-5–This book recounts the story of how Emma “Grandma” Gatewood became the first woman to hike the Appalachian Trail from start to finish at the astounding age of 67. Beginning in Georgia, in the year 1955, she hiked all 2,160 miles with very little supplies and just a pair of canvas shoes on her feet. Chronicling Gatewood’s journey, Thermes recounts the information in story form, making this a great example of narrative nonfiction. Fact boxes reveal tidbits of information about the trail, while maps show the pathway of her incredible trek. Thermes’s artwork, done in watercolor and colored pencil, has a warm homey feel to it. Back matter includes a more detailed biography of Gatewood and some information about the trail. VERDICT Beautiful illustrations and an emphasis on the value of nature, determination, and grit make this a great nonfiction selection for any library.–Jasmine L. Precopio, Fox Chapel Area School District, Pittsburgh

This review was published in the School Library Journal March 2018 issue.

redstarVALDEZ, Patricia. Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles. illus. by Felicita Sala. 40p. bibliog. photos. Knopf. Mar. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780399557255.

K-Gr 3–Joan Procter, the subject of this biographical picture book, was an internationally recognized herpetologist in the early 20th century and the curator of reptiles at the British Natural History Museum. This excellent biography presents an inspirational story of a smart, dedicated female scientist. It will be an important addition to the list of newer books for children featuring the work of women in STEM fields. The story adroitly communicates Procter’s determination, curiosity, and complete fascination with reptiles. Throughout the text there are many opportunities for vocabulary building, especially in regards to reptiles. Sala’s vibrant artwork perfectly complements the narrative. A variety of techniques in backgrounds, word placements, and the use of black silhouettes provide depth to the pages and present readers with a variety of viewpoints. The ever-present reptiles will be the star attraction for most children, but the colorful tropical plants add atmosphere and really evoke the Reptile House. Following the story, the author includes additional biographical information on Procter, scientific details on Komodo Dragons, and a bibliography with primary and secondary sources. VERDICT An inspirational biography with exciting depictions of a variety of reptiles, including a pet Komodo dragon, that will keep any child interested—whether reading on their own or with a group. A first purchase for most libraries.–Theresa Muraski, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Library

This review was published in the School Library Journal January 2018 issue.

VEGARA, Ma Isabel Sánchez. Ella Fitzgerald. tr. from Spanish by Raquel Plitt. illus. by Bárbara Alca. 32p. chron. photos. Frances Lincoln. Apr. 2018. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9781786030870.

K-Gr 2–Born in New York in 1917, Fitzgerald grew up in a time when jazz musicians were popular—and she never missed a chance to see them perform in Harlem. As a teenager, she won a talent contest at the Apollo Theater and this launched her singing career, one that would span 50 years. Fitzgerald was the first African American woman to win a Grammy and she recorded more than 2,000 songs in her own distinctive style. Vegara highlights a few aspects of Fitzgerald’s life. Colorful, one-dimensional drawings fill the pages from edge to edge and the brief text of two or three sentences is located on alternate pages. A fact section and contemporary photographs complete the brief volume. This title’s brevity might encourage readers to explore additional sources and perhaps inspire them to listen to and learn more about jazz music. VERDICT An easy pick wherever this series is popular.–­Patricia Ann Owens, formerly at Illinois Eastern Community College, Mt. Carmel

This review was published in the School Library Journal March 2018 issue.

redstarVEIRS, Laura. Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten. illus. by Tatyana Fazlalizdeh. 48p. bibliog. photos. Chronicle. Jan. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781452148571.

K-Gr 3–As a child, Elizabeth Cotten, or Libba, heard a song everywhere she went, reverberating through the clear North Carolina air around her home. Sneaking into her brother’s room one day, she began to play his guitar—upside down and backwards, since she was left-handed and the guitar was for right-handers. What came afterward is the beginning of a chapter in music history: “Freight Train,” a song that lives in the annals of U.S. folk music. Veirs details Cotten’s early determination to play guitar and the long deferment of that dream by daily life (“But even trains get derailed. Time swept Libba up”). Cotten would eventually be hired as a housekeeper for the Seeger family, her passion for song would be rekindled, and her childhood creation “Freight Train” would become a sensation. (“The Seegers believed in Libba…But it was Libba’s perseverance, her love of music, and her belief in herself that gave the world her voice.”) Veirs breaks up the narrative with poetic passages and with actual lyrics from Cotten’s songs. Fazlalizadeh’s earth-toned palette and softly blurred illustrations are imbued with warmth and contribute to the dreamy atmosphere. An extensive author’s note provides a more detailed account of Cotten’s life, the social and institutional barriers African Americans faced in the South, and the role the Seegers played in Cotten’s fame. VERDICT The message of never giving up on a dream, no matter the circumstances, will resonate deeply with readers—purchase for all picture book biography collections.–Amanda C. Buschmann, Carroll Elementary School, Houston

This review was published in the School Library Journal December 2017 issue.

This article was published in School Library Journal's March 2018 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.



  1. Glad to see you’ve included Grandma Gatewood in your list of women of the month! For older children and parents there’s an Emmy-nominated documentary about her, TRAIL MAGIC: THE GRANDMA GATEWOOD STORY and more information about her life at
    Happy Trails!

  2. So many new inspirational books spotlighting amazing women! Thank you so much for including my little-known story of an amazing African American teacher: Midnight Teacher: Lilly Ann Granderson and Her Secret School.

  3. Thank you for sharing all of these titles! I have to dig in and get reading.

  4. Jennifer Hardison Sims says:

    These titles are unique, interesting, and important to read with our young boys and girls. I would love to see more titles that are bilingual or written in Spanish for our dual-language programs.

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