She Persisted

She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World, by Chelsea Clinton, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger, Philomel; $17.99 32 pages, ages 4-7.

“I wrote this book for everyone who’s ever wanted to speak up but has been told to quiet down–for everyone who’s ever been made to feel less than,” said Chelsea Clinton about her children’s book, She Persisted. Certainly, the goal is laudable: profile thirteen American women whose strength and perserverance helped change the world for the better. Harriet Tubman, Hellen Keller, Virginia Apgar, and even Oprah Winfrey appear as pint-size activists. In each vignette, Clinton presents the challenges each woman faced and repeats the current feminist rallying-call, “She persisted.” The book joins a fleet of recently published girl-power volumes like Feminist Baby and Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls

Each woman is presented chronologically, but there are no dates to pinpoint the progression across time. Luckily, Alexandra Boiger’s marvelous double-page illustrations help to fill the gap. Perceptive readers will have questions about these women, such as when they lived, how they made history, and who helped them. For example, Anne Sullivan appears in an image of Hellen Keller, but isn’t mentioned by name. Yet, there are no endnotes or bibliography to help answer those questions. That aside, the text itself feels forced–read aloud, the words are halting, hesitating, and, unfortunately, boring, which these women certainly were not. The presentation is less a celebration than a suggestion that women, simply by virtue of being women, will always face a stacked deck, and those who succeed do so alone.

Clinton fans will no doubt flock to the book regardless, but those looking for more engaging accounts of brave American women would do better to look elsewhere–the recently published Motor Girls by Sue Macy, for example (National Geographic, $17.99, ages 11-14), is a fascinating account of women at the turn of the twentieth century who took to the open road despite much (male) protest. It’s thorough, engaging, and packed with primary source material, statistics, and lively anecdotes. Amy Ehrlich’s Willa, illustrated by Wendell Minor (Paula Wiseman, $16.99, 72 pages, ages 6-10) is an excellent picture-book biography of one of America’s most beloved writers.

Well-intentioned, She Persisted lacks joy, and despite its simplicity, manages to strike an unwelcome didactic tone. “Remember these women,” Clinton writes. “They persisted and so should you.” Rather than a lively, well-written, and informational account of great women, She Persisted offers platitudes that do little to inspire.

 

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Jackie Kennedy’s Grand Battle

@HMHKids @JFKLibrary We take a peek at @NatashaWing and Alexandra Boiger’s forthcoming chronicle of Jackie’s Kennedy’s fight to save @GrandCentralNYC

When Jackie Saved Grand Central, by Natasha Wing, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger; HMH Books for Young Readers, $17.99, 48 pages, ages 6-9 (March 7, 2017). 

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When Jackie Saved Grand Central. Text copyright 2017 Natasha Wing, image copyright Alexandra Boiger. Reproduced with permission from HMHCo. 

More than 750,000 people pass through the magnificent halls of Grand Central Terminal daily, but without the tireless campaigning of former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy (1929-1994), the fate of the rail terminal could have easily have mirrored what befell Penn Station.  Natasha Wing’s latest foray in non-fiction focuses on Kennedy’s fight to preserve the stately Beaux Arts building of 42nd Street by tracing the First Lady’s belief that preserving the past could foster a brighter future.

Starting with Kennedy’s meticulous preservation of the White House, Wing gracefully transitions from Camelot to 1975 without mentioning JFK’s assasination by simply stating that another American landmark needed Jackie’s strength and fortitude. Alexandra Boiger’s  watercolors add depth through symbolic deployment of color: black for power, red for anger, tones of yellow for resilience, and that famous cerulean blue found on Grand Central’s ceiling to evoke victory. Notes and a bibliography round out this timely example of how to successfuly champion for a worthy cause in the face of opposition.

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When Jackie Saved Grand Central. Text copyright 2017 Natasha Wing, image copyright 2017 Alexandra Boiger. Reproduced with permission from HMHCo. 

Late Summer Dances

Yes, it’s August, whether we like it or not, and in these dog days, let’s remember to relish this time before young ones return to school and life resumes its daily rhythm. With the summer’s ease in mind, the following two books are wonderful reminders that this is the season for fun, whimsy, and cultivating friendships.

Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret by Bob Shea (Disney-Hyperion, $9.99 ages 5-8) appeared on many summer-reading lists, and for good reason: Shea  cornered the market with his brand of bold, slightly retro art and snappy writing. In this early reader, we meet energetic Ballet Cat and her best friend Sparkles the Pony. The pair are having trouble figuring out what to play, and even though they decide on a dance party, Sparkles moves are less than inspired, and Ballet Cat can’t figure out what’s wrong. Yes, there is a secret, but Sparkles is scared about sharing this one – what if it ruins their friendship? Parents will find the pace similar to Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie early readers, and kids will happily read this one aloud, on their own or with adults. Looking forward to further installments in the series.

Marilyn Singer has written over 100 books for children, and her Tallulah books are particularly beloved. In Tallulah’s Tap Shoes (Clarion Books, $16.99, ages 5-8) the budding ballerina and her younger brother Beckett sign up for summer dance camp, and this is the first time our heroine tries tap. Tallulah’s confidence plummets in tap class, while another camper named Kacie excels. Both girls eventually learn that patience and hard work bring rewards, and that no one is the best at everything – themes that will certainly resonate with young perfectionists.  Alexandra Boiger’s watercolors evoke all the sparkles and glitter a tiny dancer could ever hope for, while also capturing the subtle struggle of self-acceptance and and self-discovery. Every page is a treat, right down to the endpapers where Kacie demonstrates a tap shuffle.