3 Newsletters you need to read during Women’s History Month — and all year round


We all get way too much email, I know, but some things are worth adding to your inbox. Like these 3 fantastic newsletters.

  1. A Woman to Know | This well-researched yet concise newsletter is the perfect daily morsel of rad history/inspiration that I can read at some random spare moment and then immediately archive. Created by Washington Post writer Julia Carpenter.
  2. Unladylike | This one comes from Cristen Conger and Caroline Ervin, the sharp and sassy ladies who formerly hosted one of my favorite podcasts. Unladylike takes more dedicated reading time, but it catches me up on the good, bad and the ugly of the past week’s societal (and global) conversations about women, gender and feminism.
  3. Women in the World | In a conversational tone, this newsletter shares the gist of stories from the NY Times page of the same name. Full of links to the NY Times stories of course.

5 must-read children’s books about the Women’s Suffrage Movement

You know that phrase “I can’t even” that’s been floating around the past few years?

That’s how I feel about discussing this year’s election.

But when it comes to voting, I can.

And I will.

In the meantime, I’ll be distracting myself with these wonderful picture books about the women who made my vote possible. Let me know in the comments if you have favorites not listed here. In particular, I’d like to find a strong contemporary picture book about Sojourner Truth.

Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragists, a Kitten, and 10,000 Miles1. Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragists, a Kitten, and 10,000 Miles by Mara Rockliff

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book has it all! A cross-country road trip, activism for women’s suffrage, great female friendship, and a kitten.
By introducing readers to Nell Richardson and Alice Burke’s 1916 adventure, Mara Rockliff and Hadley Hooper show children that many people were part of a long journey to getting women the vote.
The text and illustrations work together to capture Alice and Nell’s verve and zeal. You’ll have the refrain “Votes for women!” running through your head well after setting the book down.

I Could Do That!: Esther Morris Gets Women the Vote2. I Could Do That!: Esther Morris Gets Women the Vote by Linda Arms White

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well before women won the vote across the U.S., women in Wyoming had a say in their state government. This story shows how Esther Morris helped make that happen with a can-do spirit and a bit of tea time cleverness.

This biography covers the span of Morris’s compelling life. I’d love to see a picture book that focuses in more on how women in Wyoming got the vote and who else was involved. Continue reading

Weekend Round-up: #WhereIsRey & other problems in children’s toys and media


I’ve been reading/listening to some interesting debates and discussions on social issues in children’s books and toys lately. Here are a few links worth checking out.

1. Missing in action figures

Without seeing “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” I’ve heard enough about to know that the main protagonist, Rey, is female. So I was surprised to hear about her absence from most of the film’s merchandise. The Brood, a parenting podcast/radio show, dives into the details, reactions and corporate explanations.

2.  More smiling slaves making desserts, more controversy

You may have heard about the backlash a few months ago over the portrayal of slaves in “A Fine Dessert.” Now a new picture book, “A Birthday Cake for George Washington” is receiving similar scrutiny.

3. ALA’s Youth Media awards are here, and so are some ugly reactions

The Caldecott, the Newbery and all the other annual Youth Media Awards from the American Library Association were announced Monday. I was happy to see many great books I read last year in the mix, including a good number with diverse characters and authors. Apparently not everyone was as pleased. The Reading While White blog rebuts some commenters’ claims that committees must have been kowtowing to PC-ness. The short post ends in a perfect way, by using the beautiful last line from Newbery winner “Last Stop on Market Street.”

Pippi’s a feminist, and what the characters you loved as a kid say about you

Author Astrid Lindgren and a movie version of Pippi Longstocking

Author Astrid Lindgren and a movie version of Pippi Longstocking

Children’s author Emma Shevah had a great post in The Guardian’s children’s book section last week, detailing why Pippi Longstocking inspired her as a kid, and still does. Here’s a snippet:

What I didn’t realise then is that she’s also a feminist, an optimist and a free thinker. We could all do with being a little more like her. She doesn’t get angry or offended even when she’s insulted. She’s happy with who she is and what she looks like. It’s not awful but “really rather nice” that she doesn’t have parents because there’s “no one to tell her to go to bed just when she’s having the most fun and no one to make her take cod liver oils when she felt like eating peppermints”. She’s generous, champions the downtrodden and amuses her sick friends by doing acrobatics at their window, hugging them and even the wrapping paper when they give her a present.

Surprisingly, I didn’t read the Pippi books as a kid. But I did love Pippi by way of a movie, “The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking.” I wore out the VHS tape from watching it so many times.

Shevah suggests that the books you liked as a kid reveal your innate character, and I agree. Like Shevah, I loved Pippi’s nonconformity and her ability to make all of life an adventure. These are qualities that have persisted with me into adulthood (though I’m not sure how much of the latter I’m doing currently). And they’re similar to traits and themes found in other books I loved as a child.

For example, there was “The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles” by Julie Andrews (yes, the Julie Andrews). I found it through serendipity on the shelf at my middle school library. It’s all about imagination, and I relished it at a time when dances and boy crushes and social awkwardness surrounded me, but I still loved doing creative things like making haunted houses with my friends.

Recently something reminded me of the “Whatif” poem by Shel Silverstein. In 6th grade, my teacher assigned everyone to write our own Whatif poem. Most of the resulting works followed a similar “what if XYZ bad thing happens” format, but for mine, I wrote things like “What if poverty didn’t exist?” and “What if no wars were fought?” (Though I assure you it was in stupendous rhyme.) I wasn’t regularly exposed to social ills as a child, and I don’t from where that poem sprung. But like Shevah’s love of Pippi, it seems telling of my adult concerns. What about you? What books did you love as a kid? Do you think they reflect qualities that are still true of you today? I’d love to know!

P.S. Did you know that there’s an Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, and it’s the biggest global prize for children’s authors? I recognize some of the names on the list of laureates, but I want to check out the rest.

Happy book birthday to “George” by Alex Gino

George by Alex Gino

I just heard about “George,” a new middle grade novel featuring a transgender main character. It was released today by Scholastic The book is Alex Gino‘s debut, so congrats to Alex and happy book birthday!

Here’s the description of “George” from Alex’s website:

“When people look at George, they see a boy. But George knows she’s a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part … because she’s a boy.

With the help of her best friend Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte – but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

GEORGE is a candid, genuine, and heartwarming middle grade about a transgender  girl who is, to use Charlotte’s word, R-A-D-I-A-N-T!”

Hopefully I can get my hands on this soon. If you read it first, let me know what you think.

For a picture book and young adult titles featuring transgender main characters, see this post from June.

P.S. I heard about “George” from the “All the Books” podcast, a weekly show about great new releases. Children’s books aren’t talked about much on the show, but it’s a great listen for avid adult readers.

2 (true) children’s books about transgender youth

I am Jazz and Beyond Magenta

With all the buzz this month around Caitlyn Jenner — formerly known as Bruce Jenner, the Olympic gold medalist — making her first appearance as a woman, you might be wondering how to help the kids in your life understand what “transgender” means. Here are two good nonfiction resources published last year. One is for young kids and one is for teens, though plenty of adults could learn from both.

In “I am Jazz” by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, the story arc is straightforward — Jazz introduces herself, her favorite things and best friends, then tells us that she’s not quite like the other girls. “I have a girl brain but a boy. This is called transgender. I was born this way!” she explains before describing her and her family’s journey. The simple delivery of course makes this book a good mirror for trans kids or window for cis-gender ones, but beyond the subject of gender, it offers a entry into broader conversations about empathy.

“Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out” is written and photographed by Susan Kuklin, but much of the text is directly in the teens’ own words. That’s what makes it powerful. Six teens share early memories of gender identity, struggles with un-accepting family members, experiences with taking hormones and much more. The text is accompanied by sometimes serious, sometimes playful photographs of the featured teens.

If you’ve read these books, let me know what you think in the comments. What children’s books featuring transgender individuals would you recommend?

Flamingo Rampant Book Club: Support a small press that celebrates diversity

One summer in college I interned at the Human Rights Campaign (a national nonprofit that advocates on LGBTQ issues). My supervisor quickly noticed my keen eye for spelling and grammar errors and put me to work on long hours of copy editing bibliographies. I can’t think of a more boring thing to copy edit, since it’s not even sentences and paragraphs, but the upshot was that some of the sections were lists of children’s books with LGBTQ themes. At the time, I hadn’t read any books like And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson.

How cool! I thought immediately. Most of the books seemed to have a message that having gay parents or being a gender non-conforming kid is A-OK, like the two more recent picture books I reviewed on this site in June. So my next thought was, Now we need children’s books where gender and sexuality’s not the theme, but those characters are a normal part of the landscape. And I made that one of my writing goals. Luckily, I’m not the only one to whom this idea/goal has occurred.

Continue reading

From “I didn’t know that!” to “Why didn’t I know that?”

Susan B. Anthony organize agitate

I love when I read something that makes me exclaim, “Wow, I didn’t know that!”

Often when the “wow” subsides, the “why” chimes in.

Why didn’t I know that before, I wonder, since most of the time these facts are details about people and events from a part of history that I did learn about as a child.

For instance, I recently read that Susan B. Anthony’s entry into women’s rights activism came from her frustration at getting paid significantly less as a female teacher ($2.50 per month) than male teachers were paid ($10 per month) in the 1840s/50s.

Continue reading

Two picture books about … Girls who dared

2 pic books

You know how a lot of people have been binge-watching TV shows like “Orange is the New Black” on Netflix? Well, I’ve been binge-reading books by Shana Corey.

That’s because she writes about “old-time gals with gumption.”

Who doesn’t love an old-time gal with gumption?

Okay, maybe kids who love truck books and the like, but the description applies to many of my beloved children’s book characters, like Anne Shirley. Continue reading

2 picture books about … boys who like dresses

2 pic books

These two picture books came to my attention through the May discussion on the Cooperative Children’s Book Center listserv, which is focused on gender non-conformity.

Jacob’s New Dress by Sarah and Ian Hoffman and Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino both feature a main character who’s a preschool/early elementary school boy in love with a dress at the classroom dress-up center. Continue reading