Apr 14, 2013

An "Anti-Theme-Month" Post

One of my earliest posts after launching this blog addressed the question of "Monthly Themes". If you've been a loyal reader, don't bother to link back, because you're already aware of my conflicted views on this practice. But if you're new around these parts (or posts) I urge you to take a moment to read the link above and give some thought to this longstanding literary practice.

Back in March, the official "Women's History Month", I became aware of these three titles but made a conscious choice to save them for now.

Harcourt Children's Books, 2003
It's pretty easy to see why I'd save MAMA PLAYED BASEBALL, by David Adler, illustrated by Chris O'Leary. I'm an avid baseball fan and proud to say that the number of quality picture books featuring baseball greats is extensive and growing. 

David Adler's success with picture book biographies is indisputable, in part because of his ability to cover all the essential details of lives while seamlessly revealing the background and the mid-ground of the world surrounding those lives.

In this case he presents a generic version of a player in one of the women's baseball teams that arose of necessity during World War II. Generic, but only in that it is not an individual's biography, and yet it's so very specific I feel as if I know this family. You will, too, including the daughter who helps Mama practice, the quirky grandparents, and the proud dad returning from war. (Fans of picture books and baseball should check out Stephanie Lowden's recent blog posts, too.)

Paula Wiseman Books, 2013
World War II forced society to rethink the expectations and limits of gender, but no such force was in place in the previous century. LOOK UP: Henrietta Leavitt, Pioneering Woman Astronomer, by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Raul Colon offers an accessible and appealing look at a remarkable woman of that time. Henrietta Leavitt pursued her lifelong fascination with the stars, unphased by being the only woman in her astronomy and other science classes.  She worked at Harvard Observatory for years, despite the fact that women were consigned to essential computational analysis tasks but denied access to the telescopes. Women served as human computers and were expected to "work, not think". 
Leavitt's remarkable capacity for detailed observation, measurement, and comparison of the daily star images, coupled with her insatiable desire to understand the universe, led her to make paradigm-changing discoveries about space, stars, and the Milky Way. Her work changed forever our understanding of the size and relationships within space, and she is acknowledged as a landmark figure in the study of astronomy.
Backmatter in this book is a rich resource, including further details of her life and accomplishments, a glossary, other women astronomers, and resources for further study.

Calkins Creek Books, 2012
Back our time machine up another half century to the early 1800's to meet legendary  Molly Williams, an African American servant (not slave) in New York City. A well-researched version of her story is offered in MOLLY, BY GOLLY: The Legend of Molly Williams, America's First Woman Firefighter,  by Dianne Ochiltree, illustrated by Kathleen Kemly. 
Molly's story blends her traditional roles (cook, servant) with her very untraditional sense of self, especially for the times. The precise details of her assistance in fighting a fire in the midst of a winter storm aren't nearly as important as are her confidence and commitment. The fact that the firefighters felt such respect for her competence and courage is seen in the backmatter research notes. The patterns of firefighting described are also well-documented and offer readers real insight into the vulnerabilities of city dwellers in those times. 

Molly, Henrietta, and Mama are women who shaped the world around them rather than conforming to the expectations of their times. By so doing, they changed history, and their stories are far too important to be shelved, waiting for another "Women's History Month" to roll around. 

My concerns about the limitations of theme months, though, do not apply to "appreciation" events. In particular, I  encourage everyone to celebrate National Library Week, April 14-20. In fact, why not head over to your library this week and check out any or all of these titles. While you're there, thank a librarian. The library is often the first (and frequent) stop individuals make as they begin their own journeys to changing history for themselves.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.