You know the young readers, and striving readers, who will love all three of these books. They’re a collection of biographies, two of the books focused on women, and one of the books choosing among children across the centuries and around the world. Whether you’re looking for your home bookshelves or your library’s these three books are highly recommended.
Girls Think of Everything:
Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women
written by Catherine Thimmesh
illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2000 and 2018, 112 pages
One of my favorite books for young people, Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women has just been reissued with many new profiles of clever, dedicated women.
I had a book when I was young (and I don’t remember the title) that was filled with short biographies of women who had made important contributions. Their names are familiar to us now, Florence Nightingale, Clara Barton, Joan of Arc. I was inspired. I read that book over and over.
The new edition retains most of the prior biographies (goodbye Bette Nesmith Graham, inventor of Liquid Paper) and adds seven awe-inspiring snapshots of the women who created important products like Dr. Patricia Bath’s Laserphaco Probe, used for removing cataracts, and Anna Stork and Andrea Sreshta’s LuminAID, a portable light that increases safety. I can’t help myself: I eagerly turn the page to read about each new inventor.
I particularly enjoy the dialogue bubbles filled with facts such as this one about Patsy O. Sherman, “Nine years before her invention of Scotchgard, Patsy took a general interest test in high school. In 1947, girls and boys took separate tests. Despite the fact that she wanted to be a scientist, her test indicated that she was well suited to be a housewife. Unsatisfied, she demanded to take the boys’ test. The results? A career in dentistry or chemistry.
Melissa Sweet’s art has been updated as well. Even the art accompanying retained biographies has been made more vibrant. The watercolor portraits of each woman are worth studying. My favorite illustration might be the leaves surrounding a young woman’s head for ReThink, an app invented by Trisha Prabhu. Or maybe it’s the retained but modified illustration for Jeanne Lee Crews’ Space Bumper. Each one adds dimension to the book.
The addition of a Table of Contents and more back matter, including a glossary of unfamiliar terms, and a six-page timeline (with selected items) of women’s inventions from the time before 1800 up to today, make this the book to give to every child as a gift this year. It’s simply delightful. (And it goes without saying that classroom, school, and public libraries will want this book.)
Never Too Young!
50 Unstoppable Kids Who Made a Difference
written by Aileen Weintraub
illustrated by Laura Horton
Sterling Children’s Books, 2018, 111 pages
Here’s a trim volume containing 50 one-page biographies of young people, a survey of children that will lead most readers to do their own research to find out more about the kids who raise their curiosity.
These are all young people who are “famous musicians, writers, scientists, athletes, and activists who accomplished great things by the time they were eighteen.” Ranging from Joan of Arc (born in 1412) to Marley Diaz (born in 2005), these four or five paragraphs will engage avid and striving readers alike.
You’ll find Ryan Hreljac who, in first grade, had a penpal in Uganda. Ryan learned that water was hard to come by in his friend Jimmy’s village, so Ryan set out to raise $2000 to dig Jimmy’s village well. Eventually, Jimmy came to live with Ryan’s family. How did that happen? Ryan’s Well Foundation continue to raise money to provide clean water to people around the world.
Elvis is here. So are Louis Armstrong, Bobby Fischer, Nadia Comaneci, S.E. Hinton, and Malala.
Readers will enjoy learning about Nicholas Lowinger, who began a foundation at age twelve “called Gotta Have Sole to provide brand-new shoes for homeless children.”
I was particularly inspired by Muzoon Almellehan, who is an activist for girls’ rights and education in Syria, Jordan, and England. A quote from Muzoon, “I believe that the most powerful tool we have to overcome the inequalities and challenges children and young people — especially for those affected by conflict — face today is knowledge and education.”
The one-page portraits for each young person are iconic, representing their lives in easy-to-understand illustrations. The color palette is warm and encouraging. Tavi Gevinson, fashion icon, might be pinned to my wall.
Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World
written and illustrated by Pénélope Bagieu
First Second, 2018, 300 pages
This book is a good choice for mature readers, to introduce them to awesome, accomplished, and weird women around the world. The biographies are drawn in frames, comic-book style, with a great deal of sophistication and humor. There are sexual situations here which may be difficult for younger readers to understand — you’ll be the best judge of that. Read the book first — you’ll enjoy the heck out of it.
It is a humorous book: the author’s voice comes through strongly. Her perspective on these women’s lives is compelling. At our children’s literature book club, we all agreed this is one of the best books of the year.
These are some of the stories you’ll find within these covers:
- Agnodice, born in fourth century Athens, who secretly trains to become a gynecologist when she realizes too many women are dying in childbirth.
- One of the weirdest stories is about The Shaggs, “rock stars,” three sisters who had absolutely no talent as musicians but who performed for years because their father had been told by a palm reader that he would be a father to rock stars.
- Nellie Bly, journalist, may be familiar to you, but are you aware of the time she spent in mental asylums, dangerously conducting investigations?
- How about Katia and Maurice Kraft, volcanologists who spend their honeymoon collecting scoria samples? They live their lives on the edges of volcanoes, gathering scientific information that has helped countless people.
It’s a terrific book. It’ll piqué your interest and that of the teens with whom you share it, generate good discussions. And, who knows, maybe it will inspire brazen behavior!