Monday, July 15, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: Bad Girls by Jane Yolen and Heidi Y. Stemple, illustrated by Rebecca Guay

This looked really interesting when I glanced through it at ALA Midwinter last January and I got tired of waiting for someone to buy it so I could read it, so I went ahead and purchased it for our library. I'm a little disappointed, as it didn't turn out to be as unique (or interesting) as I had hoped, but it's still a good read.

The brief introduction talks a little about how we see women and how we decide who's "bad". Did they commit crimes or were they just strong women in a time that was viewed as wrong? What was the context of their actions? It ends with a one-page comic introducing the authors, Jane Yolen and her daughter Heidi, and a little dialogue about their opinions on the women ensues.

Each chapter features a different woman, telling her story in two or three pages. The chapters open with a stunning painting by Rebecca Guay and end in a comic showing the two authors discussing the personage (as well as cooking, shopping, or just chatting together). The stories begin with Biblical characters, Delilah and Jezebel, then moves on to Cleopatra, Salome, and other well-known "bad girls" including Anne Boleyn, Bloody Mary, Elisabeth Bathory, Moll Cutpurse, Tituba, Anne Bonney and Mary Read, Peggy Shippen Arnold, Catherine the Great, Rose O'Neal Greenhow (Rebel Rose), Belle Starr, Calamity Jane, Lizzie Borden, Madame Alexe Popova, Pearl Hart, Typhoid Mary, Mata Hari, Ma Barker, Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner, Bonnie Parker (of Bonnie and Clyde fame) and Virginia Hill. The book ends with a conclusion, discussing "modern times and changing gender roles" and encourages readers to decide for themselves about the women featured in the book. There's a bibliography divided into resources for each woman and an index.

The stories of the women are written in a conversational, speculative style. Did they really do those things? Is that what they thought/said/felt? You decide. It wasn't to my taste - I like my straight-forward history, but it will probably pull more kids in to read this, as will the short chapters and art. My main disappointments were that all the women featured were pretty old hat, the same people you'd automatically think of when talking about history's bad girls. As the stories moved to the modern day, they were pretty much all American as well. I was hoping for a more diverse grouping and I was familiar with all of them already except a couple of the modern gangster girls and Madame Popova. I also found the comic sections a bit bland - they're mostly just talking heads or swirling skirts, showing Yolen and Stemple chatting as they hang out together.

Audience is tricky on this one. There's a few mild references in the stories that might make this inappropriate for really picky parents or younger kids, but the narrative style doesn't seem like it would attract teens (who don't read much nonfiction in my library anyways). I decided to put this in my juvenile nonfiction, since generally speaking I've found parents are a little more relaxed about "content" if it's historical and I think this would be perfectly appropriate for most middle school readers, and probably down to age 9 depending on the child.

Verdict: I prefer Goosebottom's collections of Dastardly Dames and Real Princesses for learning about a wider variety of historical women, but this was an interesting browsing collection and I think the art will attract readers. An optional purchase if you think there's an audience in your library.

ISBN: 9781580891851; Published 2013 by Charlesbridge; Purchased for the library


Anonymous said...

Good point about parents giving more leeway to questionable content when it's within a historical context. Thanks for posting this review!

Resh said...

I can see why this would be attractive to teen readers. Although I would rather read the straight forward biographies myself.