Picture-book biographies for Women’s History Month 2022

Since last Women’s History Month, we’ve reviewed enough picture-book biographies of remarkable, diverse women to create a new Guide/Reviews Database booklist, along with these nine noteworthy titles in the upcoming March/April Horn Book Magazine. See also Five Questions for Christine McDonnell and Victoria Tentler-Krylov about Sanctuary: Kip Tiernan and Rosie’s Place, the Nation’s First Shelter for Women, plus more Women’s History Month coverage throughout March.

Fall Down Seven Times, Stand Up Eight: Patsy Takemoto Mink and the Fight for Title IX
by Jen Bryant; illus. by Toshiki Nakamura
Primary    Quill Tree/HarperCollins    48 pp.    g
1/22    978-0-06-295722-1    $17.99

In this accessible and engaging picture-book biography, Bryant (Feed Your Mind, rev. 1/20; Above the Rim, rev. 11/20) focuses on the ways groundbreaking Japanese American legislator from Hawaii Patsy Takemoto Mink (1927–2002) overcame setbacks in her life and career. Early on, Bryant invokes the Japanese saying “Fall down seven times, stand up eight,” explaining that it means “never give up!” She repeats this refrain throughout the book, applying it to the many hurdles Mink faced — as a college student fighting segregation, an aspiring doctor denied entrance to medical schools, the only woman in her law school class, and the first woman of color in the U.S. Congress. The climax of the narrative comes as Mink fights to ensure that her signature legislation, Title IX, will protect the rights of female athletes. Bryant’s clear prose draws a distinct line from Mink’s childhood precociousness and fortitude to her adult accomplishments. In doing so, she renders a somewhat abstruse concept (education legislation) engaging to her target audience. Nakamura’s digital illustrations complement the text, with finely drawn facial expressions underlining the emotional impact of the historical events. The art also expands on the text; one illustration contrasts a boys’ well-funded basketball team with a girls’ team playing in a makeshift space. Back matter includes a timeline of Mink’s life, a selected biography, and sources for direct quotes. K RACHAEL STEIN

Ida B. Wells, Voice of Truth: Educator, Feminist, and Anti-Lynching Civil Rights Leader
by Michelle Duster; illus. by Laura Freeman
Primary, Intermediate    Godwin/Holt    40 pp.    g
1/22    978-1-250-23946-4    $18.99

A picture-book biography of an iconic journalist and civil rights leader deserves an opening line befitting its subject, and this one delivers: “Some people refer to my great-grandmother Ida B. Wells as a ‘boss.’” Born into slavery in 1862, Wells lost both parents and a younger sibling to a yellow fever epidemic by age sixteen, and as the oldest surviving child was put in charge of her five younger siblings. Later, as a young teacher in Memphis, Wells spoke out against the myriad injustices Black people faced; unsurprisingly, she lost her teaching job as a result, but thus began her career as a writer and journalist. Wells is brought to vibrant life thanks to Freeman’s (The Highest Tribute, rev. 1/21) stately mixed-media illustrations (see, for example, Wells’s daggers-for-eyes look at a train conductor who booted her off for refusing to move to the “colored car” in 1884). Duster is not afraid to brag on her distinguished ancestor, proudly listing Wells’s many accomplishments and ably describing her persistence and strength. It should be noted that this title focuses primarily on Wells’s early years, and her later life is mostly glossed over (of the integral part she played in pushing back against inequality in the fight for women’s right to vote, Duster simply writes that Wells “was involved in the suffrage movement,” accompanied by a serene-looking illustration of the activist holding a sign with two white protestors in the background). A timeline and an author’s note are appended. SAM BLOOM

Ablaze with Color: A Story of Painter Alma Thomas
by Jeanne Walker Harvey; illus. by Loveis Wise
Primary    Harper/HarperCollins    40 pp.    g
2/22    978-0-06-302189-1    $18.99

This superb picture-book biography profiles Alma Thomas (1891–1978), the first Black woman to have art displayed in the White House’s permanent collection. After a childhood filled with “soaking up the sparkling colors of nature” and enhanced by heady discussions (“Alma’s parents filled their home with books and created their own place of learning”), Thomas taught art to Black children in segregated schools. During her long teaching career, she “painted, studied, and shared ideas with artist friends” on the side until retiring and turning to creating art full time. Thomas was the first Black woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney in New York, in 1972, and made history again when First Lady Michelle Obama chose her modern masterpiece, Resurrection, for permanent display in the White House’s Old Family Dining Room. Harvey’s (Maya Lin, rev. 7/17) poetic text is imagistic and deftly paced; Wise’s (The People Remember, rev. 11/21) digital artwork is boldly, fittingly colorful. Long, loose-limbed figures in various shades of brown pop against backgrounds of blues, greens, and golds. The story is bookended with scenes of Alma in repose, lying on her back, hands behind her head, the very picture of satisfaction from a job well done and a life well lived. Author and illustrator notes, an illustrated timeline, a source list, notes, and references (with separate sections for articles, children’s books, and adult books) are appended. SAM BLOOM

Harriet’s Ruffled Feathers: The Woman Who Saved Millions of Birds
by Joy McCullough; illus. by Romina Galotta
Primary, Intermediate    Atheneum    40 pp.    g
3/22    978-1-5344-8676-8    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5344-8677-5    $10.99

Harriet Lawrence Hemenway “loved a hat,” especially ones with “grand glorious feathers.” That is, until she read a Boston Daily Globe newspaper story in 1896 about the millions of birds that died for fashionable hats such as hers. With help from her cousin Minna B. Hall, Hemenway began a boycott of feathered fashions, promoting her views at tea parties held for society ladies and via leaflets and lectures, persuading more than nine hundred Boston women to join the cause. That same year the two cousins helped found the Massachusetts Audubon Society, dedicated to the protection of birds; by its second year, the organization was in more than ten states and soon was influencing laws and leaders. Back matter explains how today the National Audubon Society “has more than four hundred local chapters across the country” and “reaches millions of people each year.” This inspiring story of one woman’s ability to enact change (despite not yet having the right to vote) is well served by McCullough’s succinct, playful storytelling style, featuring lots of avian wordplay. Galotta’s delicate and colorful watercolor illustrations are highly detailed; defined lines help accentuate both high-society refinement and beauty in the natural world. Appended with a bibliography and tips on “How to Bird-watch like Harriet,” “How to Make Your Own (Pretend) Binoculars,” and “How to Be a Conservationist.” CYNTHIA K. RITTER

Out of the Shadows: How Lotte Reiniger Made the First Animated Fairytale Movie
by Fiona Robinson; illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate    Abrams    48 pp.    g
2/22    978-1-4197-4085-5    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-1-6470-0315-9    $15.54

Lyrical writing and fanciful scissor-cut, watercolor, and felt pen illustrations are a perfect match for this sophisticated exploration of the life and work of groundbreaking animator Charlotte “Lotte” Reiniger (1899–1981), told in three parts. Each section begins with an elegant title card, as if the reader were watching a silent film. Part one focuses on young Lotte’s early life in turn-of-the-twentieth-century Berlin, establishing her love of fairy tales and cinema. After receiving a gift of articulating Chinese puppets, her life is forever changed from being “a reader and viewer of stories into a teller of stories.” As a teenager, her unique interests in both acting and Scherenschnitte (“scissor cuts”) lead to an opportunity to experiment with stop-motion in what becomes a wildly popular film. Parts two and three chronicle her meeting of her future husband/creative partner, introduction to the Tricktisch (or “trick/animation table”), and journey to create the first animated fairy-tale feature film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926). Every spread offers an exceptional visual experience, regularly amplifying aspects of the narrative. For example, winding film tape gracefully draws the reader’s eye across the page, while a stunning vertically orientated layout reinforces how a multiplane camera works. Vivid watercolor washes, similar to dyes used throughout Reiniger’s films, pop against the mostly black backgrounds and silhouetted figures. Substantial back matter includes bibliographic resources as well as an author’s note summarizing Reiniger’s multi-decade career (and acknowledging the orientalism found in her early work). PATRICK GALL

Blast Off!: How Mary Sherman Morgan Fueled America into Space
by Suzanne Slade; illus. by Sally Wern Comport
Primary, Intermediate    Calkins/Astra    40 pp.    g
4/22    978-1-68437-241-6    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-1-63592-559-3    $11.99

Slade (A Computer Called Katherine, rev. 7/19; June Almeida, Virus Detective!) follows noted chemist Morgan from her North Dakota childhood working on the family farm to the triumph of watching the rocket that launched the U.S.’s first satellite into Earth’s orbit — using fuel she developed — with many obstacles and challenges along the way. Comport’s (Wonder Women of Science) illustrations (“a hybrid of collage, digital collage, prisma drawings on vellum, and digital paint”) are effective in showing the discrimination Morgan faced as a young female chemist in the 1940s, her isolation surrounded by men, and the wonderment of her accomplishments. Some of the spreads, for example, layer graph-paper squares and scientific formulas over Midcentury-style starbursts and linoleum patterns, appearing more complex in parallel with the difficulty of problems Morgan solved. Detailed back matter includes a timeline of Morgan’s life and further biographical information; photographs; more on the rocket and satellite; and an author’s note explaining that since such little information about her subject’s work was available, Slade “used known facts to creatively fill in a few gaps.” An engaging introduction to one woman’s mostly unheralded contributions to American space flight. LAURA KOENIG

Alice Waters Cooks Up a Food Revolution
by Diane Stanley; illus. by Jessie Hartland
Primary    Wiseman/Simon    48 pp.    g
1/22    978-1-5344-6140-6    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5344-6141-3    $10.99

Through Chez Panisse, her renowned Berkeley, California, restaurant (which celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 2021), chef Alice Waters began a “food revolution [that] changed the way people everywhere — from home cooks to great restaurant chefs — think about food.” Influenced by her early travels and culinary adventures in France, Waters created a small restaurant in an old house and went about cooking in the French spirit: one set menu that changed daily, and the best local produce she could find. Stanley creates child appeal by opening her story with young Alice in 1948 in her family garden in Chatham, New Jersey, enjoying the freshest summer fruits and vegetables — strawberries, tomatoes, corn, peppers, and lettuce. When fall comes, however, the family must eat processed food, frozen or canned in factories. The contrasts are clearly depicted in bright, naive-style gouache illustrations that support the clear prose here and throughout the accessible, enjoyable book, a repeat collaboration for author and illustrator (Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science, rev. 1/17). Back matter provides more information about Waters and her Edible Schoolyard initiative; a timeline; and an excellent bibliography that includes works for adult and child readers. Pair with Waters’s own picture books (Fanny at Chez Panisse and Fanny in France) and with Martin’s Alice Waters and the Trip to Delicious. DEAN SCHNEIDER

Call Me Miss Hamilton: One Woman’s Case for Equality and Respect
by Carole Boston Weatherford; illus. by Jeffery Boston Weatherford
Primary, Intermediate    Millbrook    40 pp.    g
2/22    978-1-5415-6040-6    $19.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5415-9936-9    $9.99

Mary Hamilton was a teacher, a Freedom Rider, a CORE regional director, and an agent of change. Carole Boston Weatherford’s (Unspeakable, rev. 1/21, and many others) poetic free-verse text provides readers with a brief sketch of Hamilton’s extraordinary life before shifting focus to her judicial fight for dignity. Hamilton’s nonviolent resistance to injustices of the Jim Crow South led to many encounters with Southern law enforcement, including several arrests, one of which had a resounding impact on the legal world. In an Alabama courtroom, when a white prosecutor disrespectfully called her by her first name, she refused to answer unless he called her “Miss Hamilton,” even when she was ordered by the judge to respond. Hamilton was held in contempt of court. The NAACP-backed lawsuits that followed led to an important Supreme Court ruling, which requires judges and lawyers to address all participants in a courtroom with dignity and respect. Jeffery Boston Weatherford’s (You Can Fly, rev. 7/16) large, striking scratchboard and collage illustrations, which often incorporate archival photographs, complement the clear narrative. A variety of typefaces are used to accentuate the art and emphasize Hamilton’s bold actions. A detailed timeline and a list of further reading round out this impressive volume. ERIC CARPENTER

One Wish: Fatima al-Fihri and the World’s Oldest University
by M. O. Yuksel; illus. by Mariam Quraishi
Primary, Intermediate    Harper/HarperCollins    40 pp.    g
2/22    978-0-06-303291-0    $18.99

In a text rich with imagery, Yuksel (In My Mosque) tells the true story of Fatima al-Fihri, whose one wish was to build a school for all. But how? As a girl in early-ninth-century Tunisia who was tutored at home, Fatima did not know how to actualize such a grandiose vision. Then her family was forced to flee Tunisia due to war; they resettled as refugees in Fez, Morocco, where she eventually married. Upon the deaths of her father and husband, she decided to use her substantial inheritance to realize her dream and establish a school. After much planning, the al-Qarawiyyin Mosque (which, per the appended note, “functioned as a school from its inception” and is now the University of al-Qarawiyyin) opened, a place where all students, “especially the poor and the refugees, could live and study for free.” Watercolor and gouache illustrations contrast bright colors with sandy tones of the landscape while revealing the school’s distinctive architectural style, replete with spacious courtyards and arches adorned with mosaics. The illustrations develop their own visual language: Fatima’s yellow dress and blue scarf are consistent through the book as she matures; future students don clothes that repeat the same patterns, linking past with present. Ample back matter includes a glossary; more information about al-Qarawiyyin, the oldest existing and continuously operating university in the world; and an author’s note separating speculation from fact. A welcome story that emphasizes the intellectual foundations of Islamic North Africa and the importance of charitable work that plants seeds for subsequent generations. JULIE HAKIM AZZAM

From the February 2022 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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