recess radio program

03/14/07
Books for Women's History Month
    by John Cech (Read by Fiona Barnes)

One of the best places to start a young person's journey to find out about women and their many roles in history would be the series of books by Fiona Macdonald called The Other Half of History from Peter Bedrick Books. There are nearly a dozen volumes in this series that go back to ancient Egypt and include a volume that Ms. Macdonald delightfully calls, Cleopatra, the Queen of the Kings. Each of these surveys is profusely illustrated with pictures from original works of art, historical objects, manuscripts, and, in the books about more recent times, like Women in a Changing World, 1945-2000, newspaper, photographic, and other popular images.

Essentially, each of these are overviews of a time, like Ancient Greece, and its customs, traditions, and beliefs with regard to women. Often these are a record of the various kinds of repression and subjugation that women experienced in their societies, and Ms. Macdonald does not try to sugar coat this part of the history with excuses or rationalizations. But she does not linger there either, and she has provided key volumes in the series to look at the significant changes that began to take place in women's lives in the 19th and 20th centuries and at the women who led this sweeping and continuing transformation.

The Sky's the Limit, Stories of Discovery by Women and Girls and Girls Think of Everything, Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women, both by Catherine Thimmesh examine the crucial parts that women have played in scientific discovery. Did you know, for example, that the children's book writer, Beatrix Potter, was the first to explain the connections between lichens, algae, and fungi? Or that it took the astronomer Vera Rubin to point out to the scientific community that we were only seeing a 10th of the universe -- the other 90% was invisible to us -- it was what she called "dark matter?" Thimmesh's books are chock full of these important and inspiring stories and are a must read for all young discoveresses.

But perhaps my favorite of all these books is Phyllis Root's delightful picture book, Big Momma Makes the World, with gorgeous mythic illustrations by Helen Oxenbury about how the feminine spirit, with a child on her hip and a vision for how things should be, brings it all into being. It's a creation story for this month, this new century, and a new chapter in women's history.

Copyright 2007 John Cech

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