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Women’s History Month: Telling Herstory

By on March 9, 2017

Often spring arrives with a bounce. May this year be no exception. Brought along on the season’s muscular rising are several new picture book biographies of women who hurdle the difficulties and complexities in their lives with grace and power. Take a look at these dynamic and wonderful women as you share these titles with young people who make a difference in your own life.

by Meribeth C. Shank 

Anything But Ordinary Addie: The True Story of Adelaide Herrmann, Queen of Magic

by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno

addieEspecially for girls who didn’t think there was a woman magician! Meet Addie – Adelaide Herrmann! Determined to dazzle, secretly Addie joins a dance troupe, shocking her family. Later, she learns to ride a bicycle, which while not especially extraordinary now, was then. Her travels to perform lead her to meet, and later marry, a magician known as Herrmann the Great (who’s real name is Alexander Herrmann). When she begins working as his assistant, and then takes over after he dies, life is never ordinary again.

Redhead Addie begged her husband not to do the dangerous bullet-catching trick. He complied. But after his death, she wants to keep her magical shows shocking, despite being led by a woman. She successfully catches the bullet, as the final act of this out-of-the-ordinary picture book biography.

Candlewick Press, $17.99  Interest Level: Grades 2-5
(This book is available to borrow at Miami Dade Public Library: Main Branch, S Dade Regional, West Dade Regional, and West Kendall Regional. Also, may be purchased from local and online booksellers.

Caroline’s Comets: A True Story

by Emily Arnold McCully

carolineThis dramatic picture book biography shows the life of the first woman to discover a comet. Caldecott Award-winning author and illustrator McCully has emphasized comments from Caroline Hershel’s memoirs and correspondence to share her story. Readers are, therefore, able to “meet” Caroline in her own words.

She was born into a family of royal musicians. However, she was expected to be the maid. Because Caroline became ill first with typhus and then with smallpox, her parents thought she would never marry. But her favorite brother, William, took her to England, launching her singing career. William was also very interested in the stars. He wanted to build a better telescope than any other before.

Caroline, then, became William’s assistant inventor, as well as housekeeper. Looking at the night sky through the telescope they built, William would call out observations, and “Caroline wrote them down.”

Together, Caroline and William worked on a star catalogue. This work required that she learn math from him. As a result, she “discovered fourteen previously unknown nebulae and star clusters, and two new galaxies.” She also became famous as the first professional woman scientist. Later, she discovered eight comets!

Vivid ink and watercolor illustrations support the text. Expressive paintings highlight important details in the story. Broad double page spreads help to frame and expand Caroline’s life and experience.

Written from a feminist viewpoint, this tale of exciting scientific discovery is inspiring; in part because of the many barriers Caroline overcame.

Holiday House, $16.95 Interest Level: Grades 1-3
(This book may be purchased from local and online booksellers.)

Trudy’s Big Swim: How Gertrude Ederle Swam the English Channel and Took the World by Storm

by Sue Macy, illustrated by Matt Collins

trudyAuthor Macy is known for her well-researched and dynamic sports biographies, especially of women. Once more she has chosen a determined achiever to feature, in this dramatically illustrated picture book. Collins’s striking images highlight the difficulties Gertrude Ederle faced, in her history-making swim. His brilliant artwork was created with Prismacolor pencils, and completed with Adobe Photoshop.

As she dodged driftwood, jellyfish, and sharks, Trudy also had to navigate choppy water and strong currents. Instead of the 21-mile crossing, Ederle swam 35 more miles, because the current threw her off course. The Olympic swimmer was in the water for more than 14 hours, on August 6, 1926.

The logistics of how she ate, kept warm, and stayed focused will captivate young readers. Her endurance and single-mindedness stand out, adding depth to the story of her swim across the English Channel.

This is a vigorously illustrated and skillfully written picture book biography, of a groundbreaking event in women’s sports history.

Meribeth Shank works in the Media Center at Miami Country Day School, an independent school in Miami Shores, Florida, has taught classes on Writing Books for Children, and earned her MFA in Writing for children from Vermont College. You can also find her on the web:

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