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)
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.
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:
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:
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.
A 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
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