In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Wonder Women

Dear Annie,

We used to recite a little mantra when reading to our girls about an earlier era: “Women’s lives were different back then: it’s not that way now.” They got so used to our saying it that they’d respond, yeah, yeah, let’s read the story. There’s so much about the way society works and has worked that one wants to introduce slowly to one’s child. Sometimes that’s possible, and sometimes not. I think that if it’s too early for them to understand it, a lot of stuff just goes by without inflicting self-doubt on the way. And heaven knows both Eleanor and Isabel will get plenty of messages about being able to do anything.

As long as we’re on the subject of Deborah Hopkinson, let me offer you another:
Maria's Comet
. (That’s pronounced ma-RYE-uh, like the wind.) Maria Mitchell was a mid-19th century astronomer (discovered a comet in 1847). This picture book focuses on her childhood in Nantucket and her longing to learn astronomy. There’s a moment of tension after her brother leaves home when we all wait to see if her father will invite Maria to observe the stars with him in the boy’s place. Whew.

Somehow thinking about all this has moved me on to tall tales, that wonderfully American form of folklore. Here are two delightful ones which put girls in the central role, wrestling tornadoes, performing feats of strength, changing the local topography, and generally being amazing:

Thunder Rose
by Jerdine Nolen, illustrated by Kadir Nelson, and
Swamp Angel
, by Anne Isaacs, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky. The language is a hoot in both of them, and the pictures are very special. They're both wondefully energetic books.

So brace yourself for babies as big as their mothers who can talk in full sentences at birth and build log cabins shortly thereafter.



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