The Adventures of the Three Bold Babes

Cover

Written and Illustrated by S. Rosamond Praeger

Longmans, Green & Co, 1897

These are the Three Bold Babes setting out to seek their fortune.

The plot in a nutshell:  Three brave babies have adventures.

The three babies (Hector, Honoria and Alisander) meet a dragon on their journey and at first, he’s afraid of them, but they put him at ease and they become friends. While riding the dragon, they are challenged by a knight who wants to put them in prison. They want to fight instead and knock the knight from his horse. He takes them to his castle, where his wife tells them the castle is theirs now. The dragon overhears the knight and his wife plotting against the children and he helps them escape. The dragon has to leave, so they all say a tearful farewell. Next, the children visit a kingdom ruled by a wicked king who insists that all his subjects have a long pointy nose like his own. When the children refuse to change their noses, the king summons the monster that he keeps to eat his prisoners. The monster turns out to be their friend, the dragon, and he attacks the king instead. The dragon apologizes to the children for eating people and plants a garden of cabbages, vowing to become a vegetarian.

A friend of mine introduced me to an online library of historical children’s literature and it’s a treasure trove of the weird and wonderful. Some of the books are ones anyone would recognize, such as Aesop’s Fables or Jack in the Beanstalk. But there are plenty of other obscure and bizarre books, with a few so racially insensitive that they make you wince just to read the titles. I could easily lose a few hours poking around this site and marveling at how the landscape of children’s literature has changed in the last 120 years. This was the first book I read through, chosen at random, and it did not disappoint. The story is odd, but entertaining, and is mostly told through sentences explaining what’s going on in the accompanying pictures.

Death

Nothing bizarre about babies being led to their death in a kids’ book, right?

Author/illustrator S. Rosamond Praeger was a talented artist whose primary medium was sculpture, although she did detailed illustrations for her brother’s books on botany as well as writing and illustrating picture books of her own. The illustrations are delightfully vintage, with thin lines and washed out colors. The artwork is comical, with some funny facial expressions and one really unusual image of the king with his nose broken off. A sequel was published the following year, with the excellent title, Further Doings of the Three Bold Babes.

And what did we learn?  What I take away from this book is if you’re brave enough and surrounded by good friends, you can handle just about anything.

Advertisements

Who Wants a Tortoise?

Cover

Written by Dave Keane, illustrated by K.G. Campbell

Alfred A. Knopf, 2016

I’ve been waiting my whole life to get a puppy, a rascally guy with a waggly tail.

The plot in a nutshell: A girl comes to grips with her new pet tortoise.

The main character in this story is a little girl with pigtails who desperately wants a puppy for her birthday but is disappointed to receive a tortoise instead (because her father is allergic to dogs). The tortoise can’t do any of the things she had been looking forward to doing with a dog. He doesn’t fetch or do tricks or greet her excitedly when she comes home. Her grandparents bring her a book about tortoises and she learns more about them. When her friend sets up a lemonade stand, she sells opportunities to hold a live tortoise and makes some decent money. While playing hide-and-seek with him, though, he disappears and she realizes how much she misses him. When she finds him again, she celebrates his return and is excited to think of all the fun things they’ll do together.

Author Dave Keane tells a somewhat familiar story here, but he adds in enough humor and heart to keep it from feeling too clichéd. Most of that is due to the main character, who is full of personality and not afraid to express her opinions on the subject of her new (and disappointing) pet. I like that she tries to find a way to fit the tortoise into the mold of what she wanted a dog to be and then, that she tries to branch out and find ways that the tortoise could be just as fun. It shows that, although frustrated with the situation, she is proactive in trying to make it all okay and not just whining about it.

Race

Racing turtles & snails? That’s one way to kill 9 hours.

The illustrations, from K.G. Campbell, are in watercolor and colored pencil and they soften up our main character’s angry disposition, giving her a cute and spunky appearance that fits her personality. She appears to be bi-racial, with an Asian American father, and nods toward more diversity are always welcome. All the characters here have very expressive faces, including the tortoise, who seems to be more than a little dubious himself about his new situation. The book’s endpapers include interesting facts about tortoises, written in childish scrawl. The front cover mostly focuses on ways tortoises are not as good as dogs, while the pages in the back include reasons why they are pretty cool, showing the shift in perception.

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is just because something doesn’t turn out exactly the way you planned, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t turned out to be fantastic.

Midnight at the Zoo

Cover

Written and Illustrated by Faye Hanson

Templar Books, 2017

This is Max and Mia, and today is a VERY special day.

The plot in a nutshell:  A boy and girl spend a special night at the zoo.

Max and Mia are very excited about their trip to the zoo and are surprised and a little disappointed when they look into all the enclosures without seeing any animals at all. All they see is some footprints on the ground. When it’s time to leave, the teacher leads their class out of the zoo and back onto the bus. But Max and Mia have been left behind and are now locked in. A lion cub welcomes them to the Midnight Zoo and they see flamingos dancing in fancy feathered costumes, monkeys in the trees wearing flowered leis, a pyramid of dancing lemurs and lots of other animals, dressed in fancy and exotic costumes, having a wonderful time cavorting around the zoo. They fall asleep with the lions and wake up to tell their mother all about their night.

This was the second picture book from author/illustrator Faye Hanson and it made me want to seek out and read her first book. I was drawn to this one in the library by its intriguing and colorful cover and wasn’t disappointed. The story seems simple, but just like the zoo itself, there’s lots more to be discovered here than you may think at first. The first part of the story is written pretty simply but when we reach the Midnight Zoo, the language changes, using rhyming couplets and alliteration to describe the flamboyant illustrations.

Lemurs

There ain’t no party like a lemur party.

The artwork, in pencil with digital color, shows us even more. Although the children see no animals in the zoo, observant readers will notice little signs of animals hiding in their enclosures and will likely spot lots of other details in the background, because there are lots of details to see here. The pictures of the Midnight Zoo are like images of Caribbean carnivals or Las Vegas shows and the costumes and scenery are almost overwhelming in their complexity. The end of the book suggests that no one believes them, but in case there’s any doubt, a photograph from their visit is posted on the nightstand. A truly wild ride that will likely be a favorite of animal lovers.

And what did we learn?  What I take away from this book is that often, what seems boring at first glance is hiding a way more interesting side, if you’re curious enough to seek it out.

The Future is Female

Fearless Girl

This theme series started 6 weeks ago and it’s been a really amazing and inspiring journey for me. Honestly, there were at least two dozen more books I wanted to read and review, but it’s time to go back to regular books and I can always pick up more biographies here and there along the way. In reading and researching these incredible women, I’ve learned so much and gained an ever greater respect for the many ways that they have paved the roads that I, my children and their children will walk.

In a hundred years, we’ve gone from women fighting for the right to cast a vote all the way to a woman very nearly becoming president. We’re going through a major upheaval in our country now, with activists, protestors and lots of brilliant and vocal women on the front lines once again, working for change. And more than ever, people are listening. So take a moment to imagine what the next hundred years will bring and don’t be surprised to learn that women will be leading the way.

Hillary

Cover

Written by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Raul Colón

Schwartz & Wade Books, 2016

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton
(b. 1947)

Once there was Queen Elizabeth, perhaps the wisest ruler England has ever had.

Hillary Rodham was a good student, enjoyed sports and wasn’t afraid to stand up to people when she needed to. In her family, her father made the decisions and her mother cooked and cleaned. When she graduated from college, she became the first student to ever speak at the ceremony and she used the platform to protest the war, which got her notice from Life magazine. She went on to law school, where she met and married fellow student Bill Clinton and they had a baby girl. When Bill became the governor of Arkansas, she stayed in her position as the first female lawyer at the firm where she worked and when he was elected to the White House, she became an active and involved First Lady. She was elected to the US Senate and ran for President in 2008 but was defeated by Barack Obama in the primaries. Under President Obama, she served as Secretary of State. She worked hard and forged good partnerships with other countries, improving situations for women and girls all over the world. During her time as Secretary of State, she visited 122 countries, which was more than any other person who ever held that position. She has left her mark on the world and helped pave the way for a future woman president someday.

Hillary Clinton’s life and career have been filled with accomplishments, both personal and political. She has always been involved in leadership roles, starting from student council in her youth and continuing into college, where she was active in civil rights organizations and the children’s rights movement. She broke a lot of new ground as First Lady, including being the first to have a postgraduate degree. The Clintons survived a number of scandals and she stood by Bill during his admission of extra-marital affairs. Her historic campaign for the presidency in 2016 ended with her winning the popular vote by a wide margin, but losing the electoral vote. But it didn’t end there. In the months since the election, women across the country have been empowered to run for local offices, stand up to discrimination and speak out against harassment, resulting in the recent #MeToo and #TimesUp movements that have radically changed the way sexual harassment is treated in America.

Desk

So much paperwork.

I don’t know exactly when in 2016 this book was published, but I’m assuming it was likely during Hillary’s presidential campaign, but before the actual election. Author Jonah Winter includes a note with more information and in a paragraph at the end, stresses his enthusiasm and our country’s readiness for a woman president. Raul Colón’s illustrations, in watercolor, colored pencils and lithograph crayons, beautifully take us through her life, showing her hard at work in most of the pictures. Had she won the election, this book would have been a great way to introduce young kids to our new president, but instead, it shows them a profile of the woman who opened that door a little wider and galvanized a generation to take up the mantle and run a little farther.

And what did we learn from her? What she teaches me is that with every disappointment comes the opportunity to grow, change and bounce back stronger.

The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin

Cover

Written by Julia Finley Mosca, illustrated by Daniel Rieley

The Innovation Press, 2017

Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin
(b. 1947)

If you’ve ever felt different,
if you’ve ever been low,
if you don’t quite fit in,
there’s a name you should know.

Temple Grandin was born in Boston and her parents knew she was different. She hated loud noises, itchy dresses and she couldn’t bear to be hugged. At the age of three, she still wasn’t talking and doctors advised her parents to commit her to an institution. Specialists worked with Temple to help her speak and determined that it was autism that made her different and that her brain worked differently from others. When Temple heard words, she would see pictures in her mind. She attended school, but was frequently the subject of teasing for her behaviors. When she threw a book at a boy and was expelled from school, her mother sent her to spend time on her aunt’s ranch. There, Temple developed an affinity for the farm animals and realized they thought in pictures instead of words, as she did. She went to college and earned three degrees. Using her knowledge of animal behavior, she made a career designing farms with the comfort and calmness of the cows in mind, stating that they should be respected. She traveled the world, speaking on autism and animal science and sharing her experiences.

I had the opportunity to hear Temple Grandin speak when she visited my workplace many years ago. Temple credits a lot of her success to the mentors who helped her when she was young, as her mother arranged for nannies and private schools to work with her frequently. One such mentor was science teacher William Carlock, who helped her build and test her ‘squeeze machine’ that calmed her down during anxiety attacks. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in human psychology, she went on to receive both master’s and doctoral degrees in animal science. Although her autism was a challenge, she has stated that it was not as big a difficulty as the sexism she faced as a woman working as an animal scientist, which was primarily a man’s field at the time. She continues to lecture on both autism and livestock management and has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Farms

No one had ever thought about this element of livestock management before.

This book is the first in a series called The Amazing Scientists and I will be adding all the subsequent books to my reading list. The story is told in rhyme, which is engaging and upbeat and never gets too ‘cutesy.’ Author Julia Finley Mosca tackles some serious subject matter here, but balances it perfectly so that it never gets too heavy. You get a real sense of the ways that Temple thinks differently and you also see how she uses this almost as a superpower rather than a handicap, allowing her different understanding to help treat livestock more humanely. Daniel Rieley’s illustrations are perfect here for many reasons. They are uncluttered and yet expressive, often showing us what is going on in Temple’s mind. I love that we never see anyone else’s face, which depicts her as unique and somewhat isolated. In the back of the book, there’s a note from Temple, encouraging the reader to follow their interests. There’s also a collection of fun facts, a timeline of her life, an essay about her and a list of sources.

And what did we learn from her? What she teaches me is that the things that make you different are often the things that make you uniquely able to do great things.

The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps

Cover

Written and Illustrated by Jeanette Winter

Schwartz & Wade Books, 2011

Jane Goodall

Jane Goodall
(b. 1934)

“Jane, Jane, where are you?”

While everyone is looking for her, little Jane Goodall is in the henhouse, watching a hen lay an egg. She loves watching all kinds of animals and dreams of talking to them, just like Dr. Dolittle in the books she reads. She works hard after graduation and saves all her money to buy a ticket to Kenya, where she looks for a job working with animals. She meets a scientist named Louis Leakey who needs someone to study chimpanzees and Jane is delighted. She goes to Gombe in Tanzania, where the chimps live, and waits until they let her see them. She watches them patiently as they go about their lives. She takes notes on the chimps and names them, finally making a connection with one that she names David Greybeard, who is the first to approach her. Gradually, all the chimps start to trust her and she learns a lot about them and their behavior. She spends years with them. She learns that her chimps are in danger, from deforestation and poachers, so she leaves them to spread the word and ask for help to save them. But she returns to her chimps whenever she can, to keep them close in her heart.

Dr. Jane Goodall has been advocating for animals longer than I’ve been alive (and I’m no spring chicken!) and I imagine she will continue for as long as she is physically able. The many things she learned about chimpanzee behavior from her years spent with them in Gombe drastically changed our understanding about animals and ourselves, especially her observations that chimps showed affection, used rudimentary tools and worked together to hunt. She established the Jane Goodall Institute, which assists with conservation and development programs in Africa as well as protecting chimpanzees and their habitats. She has received many awards, including France’s Legion of Honour and the British Academy’s President’s Medal, along with several honorary doctorate degrees. She’s written more than two dozen books and has been the subject of over 40 films.

Hilltop

Just hanging out together.

One thing I loved about Patrick McDonnell’s wonderful book, Me…Jane, is that it focused on Jane’s childhood and how she developed her love of animals and her thirst for learning more about them. This book, which goes into detail about her adulthood and her career with the chimps, is a perfect companion for that book. Author/illustrator Jeanette Winter includes a note with more information and a personal note in which she expresses a wish that books like this had been around when she was young. I think that’s been one of my biggest joys during this theme month, to think of the kids who read these books and get inspired to be world changers themselves.

And what did we learn from her? What she teaches me is observation is the first step to knowledge, which leads to understanding and the ability to create change.