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Culture and Arts

Culture Watch

In this issue:

Selections made by reviewer Jill Norgren from the Amelia Bloomer Book Project, a wonderful resource for senior women who love selecting books for children and young adults. The next time you are helping a picture-book-loving child make a choice, or recommending a good book to a middle or high school reader, check out the several hundred titles that have been named as winners between 2002 and 2009 by the Project.

BOOK REVIEWS

A selection of fiction and non-fiction books for children and young adult readers named to the 2009 American Library Association’s Amelia Bloomer List — citations to the books Jill Norgren discusses may be found at its website, http://libr.org/ftf/bloomer.html

Grandparents and special friends looking for children’s books but weary of vampires and dinosaurs will be pleased to discover the American Library Association’s Amelia Bloomer Book Project. According to its website, in a yearly competition Amelia Bloomer committee members review hundreds of submissions looking for books that “contain significant feminist content — not just cardboard ‘feisty’ or ‘spunky’ girls and women, but tales of those who have broken barriers and have fought to change their situations and their environment …real and fictional [characters who] follow their dreams and pursue their goals, challenging cultural and familial stereotypes.”

The 68 titles named to the 2009 Amelia Bloomer list fall into three broad fiction and non-fiction categories: picture books; middle readers; and young adult. Late this summer I sat down with 15 of these selections, an inspiring, provocative, and entertaining collection.

It is not surprising that biography figures heavily among the winners. For the picture book category, pick up Kathleen Krull’s Hillary Rodham Clinton: dreams taking flight (Simon & Schuster). This simply worded, serviceable picture book is a good starting point for reading about women, politics, and public service. Sudipta Bardhan - Quallen’s Ballots for Belva: The True Story of a Woman’s Race for the Presidency (Abrams) nicely complements Krull. Bardhan - Quallen’s story of Belva Lockwood, a pioneering political and professional (lawyer) figure of the 19 th century is well-written and pushes deeply into her subject’s life. It is a great read for 5 - 8 year olds.

Laurie Halse Anderson’s intriguing Independent Dames: What You Never Knew About the Women and Girls of the American Revolution (Simon & Schuster) is a mini-encyclopedia, chronicling the contributions of women in our war of liberation. Dense page lay-outs in a cartooning-mode demand considerable concentration. There is, however, a terrific payoff in the rich and fascinating stories Anderson has uncovered. This is a book for lazy summer afternoons and long winter bedtimes when time is plentiful.

Moving away from biographies of Americans, Jeannette Winter’s story of the life of Wangari Maathai, environmentalist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize (Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa, from Harcourt) tells an inspiring story aided by beautiful illustrations that will hold the attention of any nursery schooler and kindergartener.

Jonah and Jeanette Winter attempt a very difficult task in their biography of Hildegard (The Secret World of Hildegard, Scholastic). While providing young readers with the story of a religious leader, they do not get the spirit of her personality (was she really so wracked with fear?), or describe the vastness of her accomplishments.

Frederick Lipp’s fictional Running Shoes (Charlesbridge) and Dandi Mackall’s A Girl Named Dan (Sleeping Bear Press) wrap up my suggestions in the picture book category. Both books explore how girls chose a life path — here teaching and sports. Each presents a serious message with charm and humor, aided by strong illustrations.

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