Nov 28, 2016

Women (and Girls) and Glass Ceilings: Awesome Icons

Alfred A. Knoopf, 2016
When it comes to icons, perhaps no young girl has inspired as many people as Anne Frank. At a time when many people are Clinging to hope that these challenging, even threatening times will ever improve, we can turn to Anne as an example of hope in the face of hardship. 
Author Jeff Gottesfeld has explored Anne's source of inspiration and hope in 
THE TREE IN THE COURTYARD: Looking Through Anne Frank's Window
The focus is on the glorious and stoic chestnut tree outside the annex building in which Anne and her family hid before their eventual capture. Visible day after day, month after month, through the only window was that tree. Throughout their long exile in that hidden space, throughout seasons of change and  increasing threats, the tree's view of events is personified by the author. From the point of view of the tree the author emphasizes the universal humanity of Anne and her family by referring to them as "the girl", "the father", a "woman helper", and "men in gray uniforms". 
The chestnut tree's life eventually ends, but not without a concerted effort to support, sustain, and rescue the tree from eventual death. Lines like this are powerful without being maudlin:
"The tree recalled how few had tried to save the girl."

Both the girl and the tree passed on, and both live on. Anne's story is universally known, but this book shares the less-well-known story of Anne's inspiring chestnut tree's legacy. Seeds and saplings now grow in New York City where the Twin Towers once stood, and other chestnut tree offspring grow in significant memorial spaces around the world, along with this excerpt from Anne's diary: 

"The two of us looked out at the blue sky, the bare chestnut tree glistening with dew....
and we were so moved and entranced that we couldn't speak."

Illustrator Peter McCarty enhances this portrayal of Anne's family as representing universal humanity with muted details and facial features, minimal backgrounds, and grainy sepia monochrome on off-white pages.
* * *
Simon & Schuster BYR, 2016
While Anne Frank was hiding, then losing her life in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, another young Jewish girl was growing up in Brooklyn, New York.  Ruth Bader, daughter of a Russian immigrant, was raised among a city of immigrants with vastly different cultures, but a common understanding:  Boys could do anything, but girls got married. 
That, her mother believed, was foolish. Ruth's childhood was filled with contradictions: books about inspiring female leaders and signs like "No Dogs or Jews Allowed". 
Following her mother's example, Ruth disagreed, spoke out, dissented, and argued when confronted with injustice- toward her, her gender, her religion, or anyone else's, for that matter.
I DISSENT: Ruth Bader Ginsberg Makes Her Mark is a biography that humanizes the iconic side of Ginsberg while presenting her childhood story as one kids today can emulate. 
Author Debbie Levy's narrative is as straightforward and energetic as her subject, enhanced by colorful and dramatic book design that expands and magnifies repeated key words. The narrative reveals the heartfelt core to Ginsberg's  will of iron. 
Elizabeth Baddeley's illustrations play a significant role in allowing young readers of either gender to recognize and respect that Ruth Bader Ginsberg confronted challenges, even welcomed them, despite her very human fears and heartbreak. 

In the midst of uncertain and even frightening times for many young people (and others!) these are stories worthy of reading and rereading, inviting discussion and questions. During any year I'd recommend both titles, but this year they feel especially deserving of our attention.

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