It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.
These two books remind me of the song: When she’s good, she’s good; when she’s bad, she’s better.
Written by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple Illustrated by Rebecca Guay
Published by Charlesbridge Publishing (2013)
ISBN: 1580891853 (ISBN13: 9781580891851). Literary Award: The Magnolia Award for 6-8 (2015). Borrowed a copy from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.
Written by mother-and-daughter tandem Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple, this book features 24 short essays about 26 female villains throughout history. The concept of bad is likewise defined in the Introduction, with the recognition that what may be bad for one, may simply be a tough, outspoken, forward-looking woman as perceived by another.
In this book we are taking a look back through history at all manner of famous female felons. We’re looking at the baddest of the bad, as well as those who may have been just misunderstood.
Hence, Cleopatra is presented alongside Salome, Mata Hari alongside Catherine the Great – just to cite a few.
After each essay, there is a very brief commentary presented in comic book format – done by mother and daughter about their views regarding Cleopatra’s culpability or Typhoid Mary’s wilful ignorance. Oftentimes, they argue, and talk about context to examine more judiciously why the women behaved in the manner that they did.
I was especially taken by this description of Elisabeth Bathory, especially since my good friend and I tried to visit her castle when we went to Budapest and Bratislava back in 2013 – but it was sadly under renovation. We were also informed that just taking the trip to her grim and gruesome palace was quite challenging as there are some parts of the road that are not easily navigable. What a missed opportunity.
The essays are written in a very engaging manner, and the art was also visually compelling. While 164 pages in all, this will be a fairly quick and fascinating read even among reluctant readers. While the conversation-inserts in between bad girls by the authors may seem jarring to some, I found it to be a refreshing and inspired format. My only issue was the way some of the women were depicted to be their famous husband’s girl or girlfriend (see below):
I would have preferred them to stand out on their own “badness” (as opposed to merit), rather than presented as a seeming appendage to a male. In their Conclusion, the authors also talked about “Modern Times and Changing Gender Roles” which I felt was a nice and much-needed touch to put events into perspective. There is also a fairly extensive Reference list in the Bibliography section which readers could look out for if they want more information.
Written and Illustrated by Ann Shen
Published by Chronicle Books (2016)
ISBN: 1452153930 (ISBN13: 9781452153933). Borrowed a copy from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.
As most of you might know, I have been featuring quite a number of biographies of fierce women for our reading theme this year. I will have to admit, though, that this in particular, ranks as one of my favourites.
The fact that the collection begins with Lilith already caught my attention. The description of each “bad girl” is quite short. It is snappy and conversational. While the purpose may be deemed as primarily for entertainment (as opposed to being an actual research material), I found the information sufficiently substantive – maybe because I already have a peripheral familiarity with some of the women presented here.
The usual suspects are featured, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Joan of Arc, Catherine the Great, Billie Holiday, Ada Lovelace, Sojourner Truth, the ubiquitous Malala Yousafzai – among others. Yet, I still managed to glean something new with the way their lives are presented here – with evident joy, pride, and awe. I also learned more about other fierce females such as Lady Godiva who apparently “rode horseback covered only in her hair.” They do things differently in eleventh century England, looks like – or not, what do I know about naked women riding horseback in this century, really?
There is also the descendant of Genghis Khan, Khutulun, known as “The Wrestler Princess” who has never lost a battle in her life, and was even named as the successor of her father, the King, despite having over fourteen older brothers. Talk about a progressive family.
This was a book that I truly looked forward to reading. I have to admit that after reading so many biographies, I was already feeling somewhat desensitized – call it biography-fatigue, if you will, but this book has enervated me to learn more about females whom I did not even know before:
While still predominantly American, there are commendable attempts at representation across a variety of women from various fields and disciplines and cultural backgrounds.
Yet, somehow, for most of these women – their fame only became even more solidified – or dare I say, legitimized – when they started becoming recognized in the United States or in the United Kingdom (see the depiction of Carmen Miranda above). I suppose this idea of gaining international acclaim from the West is so pervasive, that one may not really perceive it to be problematic – but, it is indeed worth noting.
Admittedly, I am not a huge fan of the typography used in this book – the calligraphic font seemed far too common these days, that maybe I was looking for something less cursive-y or flowy – for lack of a better term.
Regardless, it did not detract in the least from my enthusiasm in lapping up the subversive, tongue-in-cheek, delightfully unapologetic stories in this collection. This is a must-find and a must-own.
#WomenReadWomen2019: Jane Yolen, Heidi E. Y. Stemple, and Rebecca Guay – and Ann Shen – are all from the United States.