Review of Grace Banker and Her Hello Girls Answer the Call: The Heroic Story of WWI Telephone operators

Grace Banker and Her Hello Girls Answer the Call: The Heroic Story of WWI Telephone Operators
by Claudia Friddell; illus. by Elizabeth Baddeley
Primary, Intermediate    Calkins/Boyds Mills & Kane   40 pp.    g
2/21    978-1-68437-350-5    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-1-63592-371-1    $11.99

Already a college graduate and an instructor at a switchboard operators’ school, Grace Banker (1892–1960) “was used to marching in a man’s world” when she answered a newspaper ad to join U.S. troops in France as a telephone operator in the army’s Signal Corps during World War I. Banker was named chief operator of the first-ever unit of women soldiers; the thirty-three women risked their lives on the dangerous voyage overseas in 1918 and on the front, where they tirelessly relayed orders until the final ceasefire was uttered from Banker’s phone. Soon after, she received the Distinguished Service Medal — the army’s “highest honor for someone not in combat” — the first and only woman operator to ever do so. Friddell’s narrow focus on Banker’s twenty months of service highlights an inspiring, little-known story of everyday “girls” (as the text calls them) stepping up to heroically serve their country — despite gender injustices — and making history. The text incorporates, via blue type and speech bubbles, Banker’s own words from diaries and interviews, providing readers with a fascinating firsthand account of the experience. Baddeley’s attention to historical detail in her ink, acrylic, and digital-media illustrations helps accurately depict potentially unfamiliar, antiquated concepts such as switchboards, dazzle ships, and trench warfare. Black-and-white photographs of Banker and her unit accompany a timeline in the back matter, which also explains their postwar fight to be recognized as veterans by the U.S. government, ­additional facts about operating a switchboard, statistics about these brave women, and a bibliography.

From the March/April 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Cynthia K. Ritter
Cynthia K. Ritter

Cynthia K. Ritter is managing editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She earned a master's degree in children's literature from Simmons University.

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