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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Brains Over Beauty: A Look at Two New Picture Books

Books about smart girls are sweeping the picture-book industry, and rightly so; saccharine stories about ditzy dumbos are a dime a dozen, and girls need industrious, adventurous role-models to admire. Merryn’s Journey (Brian Hastings, illustrated by Tony Mora and Alexis Seabrook; Sterling Children’s Books, $14.95, 40 pages, ages 4-7, October 4, 2016) hopes to join the girl power pantheon, but it doesn’t quite make the cut. In video game developer Brian Hasting’s first children’s book, Merryn is a faithful, hardworking young girl whose fisherman father goes missing. A vivid dream convinces her to craft a submersible and retrieve him. Along the way, the intrepid Merryn meets a giant sea spider, baby sea serpent, mermaids, and other creatures. Though well-intentioned, the story falls flat–it should sing, but rather, it focuses too much on providing a female character who is admired for her skill instead of her beauty. Admirable for its goals, this narrative feels forced and formulaic. Sometimes, stories can be saved by great art, but Tony Mora and Alexis Seabrook’s illustrations are proasic, surprising given that the book is a companion to the Song of the Deep video game starring Merryn and her subaquatic consorts–the illustrations should be dynamic. 

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Images used with permission from Sterling Books. Text 

© 2016 Brian Hastings Images 

© Tony Mora and Alexis Seabrook

Parents looking for a truly superb picture book celebrating young girls and their talents would do well with the recently published Cleonardo: The Little Inventor (Arthur A. Levine Books, 48 pages, $18.99, ages 4-8, August 2016), by Caldecott Honor winner Mary Grandpré. Here too, is a celebration of brains over beauty–little Cleonardo is the granddaughter of master inventor Leonardo da Vinci (here charmingly referred to as “Grandpa Leo”). Cleonardo’s dad Geonardo is a tinkerer, with plans to enter the town’s Grand Festival of Inventions. Cleo wants to help, but Geonardo pushes her away. Determined to impress her father and show that she’s equally capable of inventing, Cleonardo enlists the help of Grandpa Leo to enter her own creation in the fair. Will father and daughter realize that two heads are better than one? An outstanding ode to the value of collaboration, determination, and ingenuity,

Grandpré’s paper collages and acrylics bathe the characters in that famous Italian luminescence, each page richly in textured and full of nuance, just like family dynamics.

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Images from Cleonardo, The Little Inventor written and illustrated by Mary GrandPré. Used with permission from Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic.