The Children's Book Compass

New Biographies About Women

Posted on: April 8, 2011

Jane Goodall writes in her message at the end of Me…Jane,  that, “The life of each one of us matters in the scheme of things …”  The following biographies of women demonstrate how each woman made contributions that still matters to us today.

Me … Jane by Patrick McDonnell.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Little Brown.  Ages 6-12.  Biography.

This beautifully crafted biography tells the story of Dr. Jane Goodall’s early life in simple pictures and text.  McDonnell emphasizes Jane’s zest for learning about nature, and how her talent for making observations in nature began.  In her investigations, Jane takes her stuffed toy chimpanzee, named Jubilee, everywhere.  A black and white photograph on the title page shows Jane as a child holding Jubilee.  The title is taken from the books Jane read about Tarzan of the Apes, “in which another girl, also named Jane, lived in the jungles of Africa.  Jane dreamed of a life in Africa, too.”  The book ends with a color photograph of Jane in Africa reaching out to a baby chimp – her dream realized.  Two pages of actual notes, drawings and puzzles made by Jane as a child show her childhood explorations.  More information about Jane’s life and her discoveries is in the back matter with another photo of her with Jubilee and a message from Jane today.  She writes,  “… I encourage everyone, especially young people, to make the world a better place for people, animals and the environment.”  The last page in the book features a cartoon that Jane made of her life in the forest at the Bombe Stream Game Reserve.  Ornamental engravings from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries enrich the pages throughout narrative.

The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps by Jeanette Winter. (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Schwartz & Wade Books.  Ages5-12.  Biography.

This book compliments Me … Jane.  Winter’s graceful narrative describes more about Jane’s life in Africa and her perseverance, patience and hard work to learn about the lives of the chimps.  It also explains how her talent for observation made her discoveries possible, “Now Jane watched every day, all day – even huddled in the rain.”  Winter includes quotations from Jane’s journal – “I wanted to learn things that no one else knew, uncover secrets…” she wrote.  Winter’s patterned, detailed illustrations provide even more information about Jane’s life.  Guide children in comparing the two biographies of Jane’s life and give them opportunities to examine these books as mentor texts.

Irena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw Ghetto by Susan Goldman Rubin.  Illus. by Bill Farnsworth.  (2011). 40 pages.  Holiday House.  Ages 11 and up.  Biography.

This biography of a little known heroine of the Holocaust begins with a quote from Sendler, “I was taught by my father that when someone is drowning, you don’t ask if they can swim, you just jump in and help.”  Her quote captures the nature of Sendler’s unselfish work in smuggling Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto starting in 1942.  She worked with the underground to find ways to save the doomed children.  “Barely 4 feet 11 inches tall, she risked her life when she disguised herself as a nurse and used a forged medical pass to enter the ghetto.  Irena planned ingenious ways to smuggle out the children.”   Rubin’s Afterword tells how Sendler’s story finally was told when the Communist regime collapsed in 1989. Extensive back matter lists a variety of resources, source notes and testimonials.

Tillie The Terrible Swede: How One Woman, A Sewing Needle, and a Bicycle Changed History by Sue Stauffacher.  Illustrated by Sarah McMenemy.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Knopf.  Ages 6-11.

When we see woman cyclists today in their tight racing togs, let’s remember Tillie who first created an outfit that discarded the voluminous dress of the period for a tightly fitted garment to become a “whirling sensation!”  She won races and set records earning for herself the nickname – “Tillie the Terrible Swede.”  In the late 1890’s she began her recording breaking career and continued through the early 1900’s.  McMenemy’s illustrations energize the story with drawings that show Tillie sprinting across the page in her races.  The back end papers show a time line of “Tillie’s Cycling Victories.”

Liberty’s Voice: The Story of Emma Lazarus by Erica Silverman.  Illustrated by Stacey Schuett.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Dutton.  Ages 8-12.

Emma Lazarus penned the poem engraved on the base of the Statue of Liberty.  This book emphasizes her life as a writer and her work to help impoverished immigrants in New York City..  Silverman describes how she kept a writer’s notebook, “Emma found inspiration everywhere.  She filled up one notebook after another with poetry.”  She was inspired and taught by Ralph Waldo Emerson.  He gave her advice and recommended books for her to read.  Her work for immigrants and her skill as a poet came together when she was asked to write a poem to help raise money for the statue’s pedestal.   Schuett’s color infused illustrations extend the text.  The back matter gives more details about the poem and an extensive bibliography with websites and books for further reading.



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Pointing the Direction to New Books for Children and Teens

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