Jul 9, 2017

She Persisted: Past, Present, and Future

Some books launch with so much attention that I choose to pass on reviewing or commenting, regardless of how I feel about them. 
Philomel Books, 2017

I do read them. Often I rate and post a short review on Goodreads. 
There are just SO MANY amazing releases that don't garner widespread attention. I reserve this blog for books that are, in my opinion, deserving of an extra splash of spotlight. My influence-wattage may be small, but I keep plowing ahead to share such books, and also highlight backlist books that remain significant and valuable. As always, those choices reflect my personal opinions. 

In the case of this book, the attention has been extensive, and well-deserved on many counts. Even so, I couldn't resist adding some reflections of my own here about  SHE PERSISTED: 13 American Women Who Changed the World written by Chelsea Clinton and illustrated by Alexandra Boiger. 

There are several other current books about amazing women, from individual biographic profiles to collections, from iconic figures to relatively unknown heroines  A great place to find outstanding recommendations is at A MIGHTY GIRL website, which offers well-curated, up-to-date lists of titles for various ages and interests. (HERE). Resources like this provide yet another reason for me to pass on some reviews. Why try to outdo the best of the best?

But then my library hold notification "dinged" and SHE PERSISTED made its way into my hands. It appealed to me on many levels, and yet some elements seemed to "break the rules" of picture books. I read it several times and evaluated carefully, finally deciding to share my thoughts here. 
On the plus side, I adore the art and book design. It has dramatic, red end papers, presents figures that are diverse and expressive, and displays full spreads that feature women with notable accomplishments, including short quotations from their bodies of work.Those quotations, the well-suited and distinctive illustration style for each, and the range from familiar to unknown women are all powerful plusses.I particularly enjoyed the decision to feature a baker's dozen of women as having quirky appeal, although I am aware that is likely as much due to book length as to a conscious choice. I'm always curious about dedications, and both Clinton's and Boiger's do not disappoint.
As much as I enjoy and admire this book in those ways, I feel compelled to add a few "yes, but" comments. The instructive/narrative text is a compressed introduction, an little more than an invitation to investigate further. It feels a bit old for the youngest readers and a bit young for established readers. It does invite research, reading, and investigation, though. That's the point at which I wondered if one of the more familiar women (Helen Keller, perhaps?) might have been omitted in favor of a spread of accessible recommended resources on the back pages. I also longed for citations for the quotations on the back pages. 
The power of this appealing book is to incite curiosity about these (and other) American women, and yet there is no readily available option or comparable books suggested to readers. Some reviewers have commented, too, that the profiles, taken as a whole, demonstrates an oppressive system holding a thumb down on the women's success. Yes, that fits well with the conceptual "persistence" or "grit" theme, but it came off as a bit discouraging.

A curious reader can go to Amazon and find comparable books, or Wikipedia to search for more content, but neither is considered a valid research tool. At least not one as reliable as a curated list in the back of a book that could easily have been included by such a reputable publisher. 
In addition, Senator Elizabeth Warren has made "She persisted" such a catch-phrase that a Google search takes one to memes, merchandise, and to Senator Warren herself, but not immediately to the book. My search for a Chelsea Clinton website in support of this book took me to the Clinton Foundation or to her Facebook page, neither of which references the book or provides further links. The publisher's page, here,  offered little to no additional content or optional links. 
In that sense, I found this to be a book I'd buy, give, and use, but with reservations. I generally feel that celebrity books, especially picture books, rely on the name-value of the author with less-than-industry-standard attention to details like these. Sometimes, as in this case, it feels a bit rushed-to-market. The target age noted is 4-8, and yet I believe sales will trend toward adult fans of Clinton, Warren, and the concept itself. Yes, adults are the buyers of picture books, and they will then share with young readers. In this case, though, I feel it is the illustrator's  work rather than the text that will manage to draw young reader/listeners into the book. I'm not anticipating a rash of "read it again" requests.

Even with those cautions, it is a worthy choice and one that merits a place on your shelves. Read Publishers' Weekly starred review here, and the Kirkus review here, one that noted some of my concerns. With the potential for reaching such a wide audience, I wish that a few more months had been devoted to allow it to reach its full potential.

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.