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Dreaming big

As a child, I loved reading biographies of famous women. I wanted strong, nuanced, and passionate women to look up to, and I found them throughout history. They were writers, politicians, explorers, and so much more, and learning about them allowed me to imagine a broad future for myself.

The Little People, Big Dreams primary biography series continues the tradition of teaching young readers about groundbreaking women from the past. Conceptualized (and, with one exception, written) by Mª Isabel Sánchez Vegara, each book is illustrated by a different female artist. Originally published in Spanish under the series title Pequeña & Grande by Barcelona-based publisher Alba Editorial, the series is now available in English editions from Frances Lincoln/Quarto.

We recently received the two volumes published in August 2016 — Maya Angelou by Lisbeth Kaiserk, illustrated by Leire Salaberria, and Amelia Earhart, illustrated by Mariadiamantes — as well as two more forthcoming this MarchMarie Curie, illustrated by Frau Isa, and Agatha Christie, illustrated by Elisa Munsó. Together with previous entries Coco Chanel, Frida Kahlo, and Audrey Hepburn (illustrated by Ana Albero, Eng Gee Fan, and Amaia Arrazola, respectively), the books introduce female innovators in a wide range of disciplines.

 maya-angelou amelia-earhart marie-curie agatha-christie
Eye-catching art accompanies a straightforward narrative of each woman’s life and accomplishments, beginning with her childhood. These books aim to inspire young readers — to find their voices like Angelou, follow their passions like Earhart, pursue success in male-dominated fields like Curie, and use their imaginations like Christie. All of these women “achieved incredible things, but each began life as a child with a dream.” To flesh out the lives simplified for the sake of the picture-book format, each book is appended with more detailed biographical information about its subject, a basic timeline, a few photographs, and a few suggested resources for further exploration.

These biographies tackle ambitious subject matter: Angelou, Earhart, and Curie all met with well-known tragedies, and Christie’s books were inspired by her time spent in war hospitals. None of the biographies shy away from these historical occurrences; instead, each book deals gracefully with the sorrows and challenges its subject faced. The mention of Maya Angelou’s sexual assault in childhood, for instance, is reframed so that young readers can understand the violence Angelou suffered and its profound effects on her without any graphic details. Amelia Earhart’s disappearance becomes a testament to her bravery and her willingness to go where others wouldn’t. Curie’s husband’s death is a sad but brief moment in her narrative. Christie’s wartime experiences (and her sometimes bloody novels) are dealt with frankly but without any scary scenes.

These biographies make the lives of their subjects understandable for early readers, bringing facts about these women to a young audience who might shy away from biographies that rely more heavily on text. To some degree, these titles may simplify the women’s lives and their historical contexts too much. Overall, however, the books serve as good introductions to compelling women, and may lead curious readers to seek out more detailed biographies.

About Kaylee Anzick

Kaylee Anzick is a former editorial intern for The Horn Book, Inc.

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