Persistent women

For young readers not quite ready for illustrated chapter-book biographies such as Claudette Colvin and Harriet Tubman, which are discussed in our Five Questions interview with authors Lesa Cline-Ransome and Andrea Davis Pinkney, here are picture-book biographies about seven tenacious, inspiring, and diverse women. March is Women’s History Month. For more, click the tag Women’s History Month and follow #HBWomensHistoryMonth on Twitter and Facebook.

The Fearless Flights of Hazel Ying Lee
by Julie Leung; illus. by Julie Kwon
Primary, Intermediate    Little, Brown    48 pp.    g
2/21    978-0-7595-5495-5    $18.99

As a child, Hazel Ying Lee (1912–1944) pushed limits to be the best at everything — the fastest at footraces, the hardest hitter in handball, and, she hoped, one day the first Chinese American woman pilot. The sky called to her, and during her first airplane trips, she let the gender and racial discrimination she experienced on the ground fall away. The text chronicles her flying career: working as an elevator operator to pay for lessons; earning her license in less than a year; when WWII began, joining the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) program, testing planes before they went to military pilots. A tragic crash ended Lee’s career (and life) at a young age, though her legacy lives on. Leung’s poetic text vividly conveys Lee’s fascination with and passion for flying and breaking boundaries without fear, as well as her perseverance and optimism for a better world. Kwon’s clear, earth-toned, full-bleed illustrations expand on the story, illuminating Lee’s unique experiences and capturing her adventurous spirit. Striking perspectives offer bird’s-eye views of the patchwork landscapes over which Lee flew. Back matter includes an extensive author’s note as well as additional multimedia resources. An excellent portrayal of a fearless flyer. J. ELIZABETH MILLS

The Water Lady: How Darlene Arviso Helps a Thirsty Navajo Nation
by Alice B. McGinty; illus. by Shonto Begay
Primary, Intermediate    Schwartz & Wade/Random    40 pp.    g
3/21    978-0-525-64500-9    $17.99
Library ed.  978-0-525-64501-6    $20.99
e-book ed.  978-0-525-64502-3    $10.99

In this illuminating story about a contemporary child’s experience with water insecurity, set in the Navajo Nation, Cody wakes up thirsty, and the three big blue water barrels outside his house are all empty. How will his family keep the animals safe on this hot day, or wash the dishes, or refill their water glasses? But his grandmother knows something Cody doesn’t — the Water Lady is on her way. In a parallel narrative, Darlene Arviso is shown getting her own grandchildren ready for school, finishing her morning job as a school bus driver, getting into her yellow water truck, and driving up to Cody’s house, where she is greeted warmly — and where, as one of the ten stops she will make that day, she refills the blue water barrels. The watercolor illustrations by Dineh’ (Navajo) artist Begay use texture and color to highlight the dry desert landscape, and endpapers show the yellows of the dust and the blues of landscape and water mixing together. A brief glossary is included, and an author’s note gives additional information about both Arviso and the Navajo Nation, emphasizing Arviso as an important community figure. A final note by Arviso herself expresses hope that her services will no longer be needed someday and that younger generations will listen to stories of Navajo history and tradition. LAURA KOENIG

The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe
by Sandra Nickel; illus. by Aimée Sicuro
Primary, Intermediate    Abrams    48 pp.    g
3/21    978-1-4197-3626-1    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-1-64700-321-0    $15.54

Like many astronomers (think Edwin Hubble, for example), Vera Rubin (1928–2016) showed a youthful passion for this branch of science. But, unlike them, she had a huge barrier that stalled her professional advancement, that of gender bias. Nickel makes Rubin’s situation clear through telling episodes (there was no restroom for women at Palomar Observatory, for example) and multiple astronomical similes (Rubin “felt like a faraway star on the edge of their universe”). Despite the many barriers, Rubin persevered and became the astronomer responsible for documenting dark matter — a mass invisible without a spectrometer and only discernible by studying its effect on stars within galaxies. Nickel’s descriptions of dark matter — which accounts for about eighty percent, and therefore most, of the universe — and Rubin’s process of calculating it are quite straightforward and accessible. Whether representing Rubin’s thoughts or a winter snowstorm, striking watercolors repeat concentric circles and curves, suggesting images of swirling galaxies, the very subject that prompts Rubin’s work. Sicuro solves the problem of depicting dark matter by gloriously representing it as if seen through a spectrometer, like “glitter caught in an invisible halo.” Appended with an author’s note, documentation of direct quotes, a timeline of Rubin’s life, and a bibliography. BETTY CARTER

Try It!: How Frieda Caplan Changed the Way We Eat
by Mara Rockliff; illus. by Giselle Potter
Primary, Intermediate    Beach Lane/Simon    32 pp.    g
1/21    978-1-5344-6007-2    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5344-6008-9    $10.99

Go to a market today, and the range of foods is amazing. Thank produce pioneer Frieda Caplan for that. When she started working at the Seventh Street produce market in Los Angeles in 1956, the vendors (all men) sold bananas, potatoes, tomatoes, and apples “as far as the eye could see.” “Why not give something new a try?” thought Frieda. She began with mushrooms, and by 1962 when she opened her own produce market — the first woman in the United States to do so — she was introducing new foods: kiwifruit, jicama, Asian pears, dragon fruit, Buddha’s hand, donut peaches, star fruit, red bananas, yellow tomatoes, and purple asparagus. In 1979 she was named “Produce Man of the Year,” an honor she declined until it was renamed “Produce Marketer of the Year.” Rockliff’s wordplay is a perfect pairing with Potter’s folksy depictions of Caplan’s food-play, with alliteration (“mounds of mangosteen, heaps of jicama, and quantities of quince”), humor (“Everyone was all ears…Especially about the baby corn!”), and playful verbs (“Farmers dug for tips on what to grow…Cooks peppered her with questions”). Rockliff and Potter serve up a lively story of an independent woman of vision and the foods she shared with the world. Readers will enjoy the fruits of their collaboration. Further information on Caplan and a note on sources are appended. DEAN SCHNEIDER

Osnat and Her Dove: The True Story of the World’s First Female Rabbi
by Sigal Samuel; illus. by Vali Mintzi
Primary, Intermediate    Levine Querido    40 pp.    g
2/21    978-1-64614-037-4    $17.99

Osnat Barzani (1590–1670) convinced her father, a rabbi, to teach her to read Hebrew, unusual as that was for a girl at the time, and her curious mind embraced Jewish learning. In lyrical prose (“Osnat loved the shapes of the Hebrew letters. One looked like a mysterious animal, and another, a creeping vine”), Samuel spins the story of a woman who studied Torah throughout her marriage and took over her husband’s yeshiva after his death. She incorporates the miraculous powers that some legends grant Barzani, mainly via a dove that she heals and that helps save the synagogue after a fire. Mintzi’s striking, mostly full-bleed illustrations (often luminous “gouache colors in layers”) show Osnat in the beautiful, sometimes dreamlike city of Mosul (in what is now Iraq). An author’s note gives background on the legends Samuel used to inspire her account of the woman whose writings don’t all survive, but who is “remembered locally as the first female rabbi and the first female Kurdish Jewish leader.” SHOSHANA FLAX

Building Zaha: The Story of Architect Zaha Hadid
by Victoria Tentler-Krylov; illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate    Orchard/Scholastic    48 pp.    g
12/20    978-1-338-28283-2    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-1-338-67489-7    $11.99

With fittingly bold, whimsical, flowing illustrations, this picture-book biography showcases Iraqi British architect Zaha Hadid, who “dreamed big and defied convention.” Born in Baghdad in 1950, Hadid was an active, observant child, noticing the shifting “light and shadow play” in local palaces and mosques, and the “rippling harmony” between people and their environment in the Iraqi marshes — keen observations that would later inform her work. After studying math in Beirut, Hadid moved to London: “It was time to get serious about studying architecture.” The daring young professional, who “reached for paints and brushes and conjured structures that tilted, swayed, and floated on air,” was hired by two of her professors after graduation and also entered design competitions. Tentler-Krylov describes Hadid’s confident persistence in the face of criticism (“she had to be tougher than most”) and tracks her burgeoning career with vivid details (her fire station in Germany resembled “a bird taking flight”). Rendered with watercolor and digital tools, the illustrations exude energy and power. This stirring tribute to the “first woman, first Iraqi, first Muslim, and youngest person ever” to win the Pritzker Prize, architecture’s highest award, includes an author’s note, a timeline, a bibliography, and endpapers featuring photos of Hadid’s most famous structures. Pair with Jeanette Winter’s picture-book biography of Hadid, The World Is Not a Rectangle (rev. 9/17). TANYA D. AUGER

Jump at the Sun: The True Life Tale of Unstoppable Storycatcher Zora Neale Hurston
by Alicia D. Williams; illus. by Jacqueline Alcántara
Primary, Intermediate    Dlouhy/Atheneum    48 pp.    g
1/21    978-1-5344-1913-1    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5344-1914-8    $10.99

“In a town called Eatonville…lived a girl who was attracted to tales like mosquitos to skin.” So begins the evocatively descriptive account of the life of acclaimed storyteller Zora Neale Hurston. Young Zora spent the favorite parts of her day at Joe Clarke’s general store, where she would listen to her elders tell fantastical tales of “how that trickster Brer Rabbit always got the best of Brer Fox,” the origin of “squinch owls,” and more. She didn’t mind passing them on, either; perched atop the gatepost that led to her house, Zora would relate those tales — and a few of her own — to any passerby who would listen. While some family members chastised her for “lying,” Zora’s mother encouraged her consistently to “jump at de sun. You might not land on de sun, but at least you’d get off de ground.” These “jumps” carried Zora to Howard University, then on to Harlem (and its burgeoning Renaissance), and right back down to Eatonville, where she continued to do what she did best — trade, tell, and write down stories. Rich with down-home vernacular, the text immerses readers in the Southern tradition of oral storytelling. The illustrations prove just as dynamic, with vibrant spreads bursting with brilliant-toned hues and enjoyable details to notice (e.g., the fashionable hats famously worn by Hurston — modeled by anthropomorphic animals). Snippets of folktales are paneled loosely alongside the biographical story; Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox are no respecters of borders, with both making multiple appearances. Back matter includes an author’s note, sources, and additional reading, for both “Youngins” and “Older Folk.” EBONI NJOKU

From the March 2021 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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