This book is truly a wonderful find: Lives of Extraordinary Women: Rulers, Rebels (and What the Neighbors Thought) by Kathleen Krull and Illustrations by Kathryn Hewitt. It fits our bimonthly theme on Girl Power and Women’s Wiles perfectly, and it is also a lovely contribution to Nonfiction Monday, which we are hosting this week. Click here to be taken to the round-up post.

The Women Portrayed in this Book. There are twenty women who are portrayed in this book, ranging from Cleopatra to Aung San Suu Kyi – from Eva Peron to Tz’u-Hsi from China. In the Introduction written by Krull, she explained how the book came about:

Not all governments have been run by men. Here, in chronological order, are twenty women who wielded significant political power, as queens, warriors, prime ministers, revolutionary leaders, Indian chiefs, first ladies, or other government officials.

Each of these extraordinary women triumphed (some at a very young age) over attitudes and conditions that couldn’t have been more adverse. Many of the women who are today’s beloved heroines were once candidates for “Most Hated Woman on Earth” – and were spat upon, jailed, even murdered. Their electrifying personalities can seem larger than life – but are they really so different from us? What were they like as human beings? What might their neighbors have noticed? (p. 9)

Cleopatra, described as “Queen of Ancient Egypt, famous for glamorous love affairs, ambition, and political genius” – lovely portrait by Kathryn Hewitt

What worked for me most about this book is that rather than focusing on the injustices suffered by these women (and there were many), the tone and overall feel of the book is empowering and celebrates the resilience of these powerful personalities. Rather than portraying them as possible ‘victims’ of oppression during their time, it celebrates their rise to power, fame, even notoriety. It would have been great though if Krull also shared what made her choose these twenty women out of all the influential female figures in the world.

The snapshots are also quite short (around two spreads long inclusive of a portrait of the women as beautifully illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt), and would be able to capture the attention of a middle grade student. The facts are presented in such a way that it would bring to light a more textured portrait of these women, making them come alive in the readers’ eyes. There is also a two-line teaser of who the women are before one reads through the narrative and a brief Ever After postscript-type which shares the aftermath of the women’s contributions to their society or to the world in general.

Aung San Suu Kyi described as “Revolutionary leader in Burma (Myanmar), general secretary of the National League for Democracy”

Tidbits and Trivia. Krull did not only focus on the aspirations and accomplishments that made these women famous, she also has a pulse for information that would resonate to young readers – the quirky little tidbits that would immediately capture a young child’s attention and make them remember these women for certain. Here are a few tidbits shared about these powerful women:

At night she read novels (Jane Austen was a favorite author), or sat at her spinning wheel while someone read poetry to her, a plate of pralines and fondant cookies and a glass of whiskey nearby. She loved food, the richer the better, and she ate it fast and often. Playing solitaire was a treat, but only if she won.

The reader would also be privileged to know who among these women only took two baths in her life (I could not get that out of my head) or wrapped herself in an Oriental carpet as a gift to one of Rome’s brilliant military leaders (talk about panache), or who managed to combine ‘tremendous will power’ with great ‘kindness and love’ and took such painstaking care of her Pekingese dogs they even had their own palace with marble floors. Here are a few of the women you’d be privileged to meet in Krull and Hewitt’s book:

Eva Peron, described in the book as the “First lady of Argentina and the most powerful woman in Latin America” – click on the image to be taken to the websource.
Indira Gandhi – described in the book as “Prime Minister of India, once one of the most popular leaders in the world” – click on the image to be taken to the websource.
Catherine the Great. Described in the book as “Russian empress for thirty-four years, during which Russia became a world power” – click on the image to be taken to the websource.
Rigoberta Menchu – described in the book as “Guatemalan leader who drew the world’s attention to native Indian rights” – click on the image to be taken to the websource.

Further Recommendations: A Part Two, perhaps? If there was a part two of the book, I would also recommend the following women whom I feel young readers would also be inspired to know further:

Corazon Aquino – former Philippine President who led the famed EDSA Revolution. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.
Benazir Bhutto who served as the 11th Prime Minister of Pakistan. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.
Mother Teresa who founded the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.
Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, former United States Senator and the wife of the 42nd President of the United States, Bill Clinton. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

How about you? Who are among the ‘extraordinary women’ you would have liked to see included in such a compilation?

Lives of Extraordinary Women: Rulers, Rebels (and What the Neighbors Thought) by Kathleen Krull and Illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt. Harcourt, Inc., Florida, 2000. Book borrowed from the NIE Library. Book photos taken by me.

Booklinks “2000 Lasting Connections” , New York Public Library’s 2001 Books for the Teen Age , 2001 Burr Award for Best Book of the Year by a Wisconsin book creator, Voice of Youth Advocates’ Nonfiction Honor Book

AWB Challenge Update: 43 of 35

PictureBook Challenge Update: 53 of 120

Nonfiction Picture Book Update: 16 of 12

PoC Reading Challenge Update: 14 of 25

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

18 comments on “Nonfiction Monday: Lives of Extraordinary Women

  1. Thanks Myra for hosting Nonfiction Monday today AND for the terrific review of Lives of Extraordinary Women. I particularly liked what you said about the book not “focusing on the injustices suffered by these women (and there were many), [but instead celebrating] the resilience of these powerful personalities.” On True Tales & A Cherry On Top, I echoed your sentiment and wrote about the picture book biography of Josephine Baker called Jazz Age Josephine at


    • Hi Jeanne, Jazz Age Josephine looks really great. I’ve been seeing it around, I should really borrow it soon from our library. 🙂


  2. Pingback: Nonfiction Monday Round Up «

  3. Kathleen Krull always offers a unique look at history. Her books are wonderful, and her Lives of the Presidents book was revised last year. As to your question, Golda Meir might make a good addition. I’m sharing some Monday miscellany today at Shelf-employed. Thanks for hosting!


  4. What a wonderful recommendation. I am passing this right on to our school librarian. Love the title! I think I would go back further and throw in Boudica and Mbande Nzinga!


    • Hi Joanna, wonderful suggestion. I think Mbande Nzinga (if I remember correctly) is part of this book. You’d enjoy this book, I’m certain of it.


  5. What a fascinating sounding book – and the illustrations are quite something too. Off to see if it’s in our library system…


  6. Thanks for hosting. I am revisiting my book, Environmental Disasters, at SimplyScience. It’s by Shirley Duke.


  7. Beautiful book and post. I think I would add Gloria Steinheim, Queen Noor, and Mama Miti.


    • Hi Pat, I’m sure all these three lovely ladies would be a wonderful add-in to the compilation. I’m glad you liked the post, I hope you’d get a chance to find and read the book as well.


  8. Thanks, Myra, this is a great post and a very needed one for women nowadays. Like Patricia, I would also include Gloria Steinheim, and Billy Jean King for what she did for improving women’s sports in and out of school (Title 9)


    • Hi Alex, we missed you this week for Nonfiction Monday. Billy Jean King sounds like an awesome addition! 🙂


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  10. Pingback: List of Girl Power Themed Books and Poems: Picture Books, YA, Adult Lit, and Poetry «

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